Westward Ho!

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Those lucky enough to be well and staying at home have turned to various things to stay engaged.  My husband and I are watching Westerns.  I couldn’t be more surprised!  The solitary, tough, taciturn tall man-in-the-saddle image is an anathema to the kind of guy I like to see in the movies. But, for the moment, I am hooked.  

It may be the vast landscape I can view on the screen – the plains, deserts and the towering buttes in Monument Valley. The vistas, so immense, majestic and eternal reduce the concerns of men to an inconsequential size. I like to see the bandannas worn around the neck instead of covering nose and mouth, except in the case of bad men.  Unlike us, the cowboy hero is free to wander from place to place, fighting visible villains, instead of an invisible virus.  Most of all there is a code of honor.  The good guys have it, in spades.  That is not to say that all Westerns have simple right and wrong plots, the best introduce some shades of gray. The movies often wrap up nicely and are mostly resolved in just over an hour.  They are a brisk ride with lots of suspense, pretty good scripts and beautiful horses.  

A typical Western is not progressive in its depiction of women (nor any people other than white).  The misogyny was particularly noticeable in the movie Once Upon a Time in the West.  And yet, the women in the movies we have seen so far, carry the same gritty flintiness as the men; they are survivors.   

My favorite cowboy is Randolph Scott, a well-known leading man in his day, but not well-known today.  He is good-lucking, a wonderful horseman, silent and strong.  But I also like Charles Bronson, Ward Bond, Jason Robards, and a really evil Henry Fonda.  The following is a list of the movies we’ve seen.    

Rio Bravo is a Howard Hawks 1959 masterpiece in which the stars John Wayne, Dean Martin, Ricky Nelson, Ward Bond, Angie Dickinson and Walter Brennan work together, despite their flaws, to defeat the villain who threatens a town.

Seven Men from Now (1956) is the first of a seven-film collaboration between director Budd Boetticher and actor Randolph Scott.  Scott plays a stoic man tracking the men who murdered his wife. Short, complex and suspenseful.   

Ride Lonesome (1959) is another Boetticher/Scott gem.  Its script is spare, much like the taciturn Scott, a bounty-hunter and another grieving widower, who leads the villain into a trap.

Wagon Master (1950) is now considered to be one of John Ford’s masterpieces and the one Ford considered his favorite.   It does not feature a lone cowboy and the usual gunfight.  Instead it depicts a wagon train of Mormons in their grueling trek to the promised land.  Ward Bond, Ben Johnson and Harry Carey are the prime actors.

Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) clocked in at two hours and 25 minutes.  We ate a lot of popcorn watching it.  Sergio Leone directed Henry Fonda, Jason Robards, Charles Bronson and Claudia Cardinale.  It is a complicated story about a fight over valuable land destined to be near a newly constructed railway. 

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