FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

America’s Most Noble Creation

by DAVID MACARAY

Yes, they were racist and sexist; yes, they were corny and formulaic and historically inaccurate (if not downright fantastic), and yes, the rules protecting animals from being treated cruelly weren’t in place yet. But nonetheless, there was a time when the “Western” (the “cowboy movie”) was not only Hollywood’s bread-and-butter staple, it was the idiom by which the rest of the world recognized and got to know us.

Despite what we may have been told, America didn’t invent the automobile, airplane, bicycle, or electric light bulb. While we modified and improved them, we didn’t invent them. But we did invent the Western movie. And, in a sense, the Western movie invented us. It’s no exaggeration to say that what the average American knows about branding irons, mining towns, cattle rustling, and frontier saloons, they learned from Western movies and TV shows.

When I lived in India (Malerkotla, Punjab), the town’s only cinema couldn’t afford to show any first-run American movies, so it showed older movies, movies which it could afford and which were guaranteed to attract a good-sized, appreciative audience. Which is to say, it showed Audie Murphy “Westerns.”

Because this was literally the only show in town, and because I’d always been a fan of the Western genre, I wound up seeing Apache Rifles, Hell Bent for Leather, and Gunfight at Commanche Creek several times each. Before India, I had never been much of an Audie Murphy fan. I was more of a Steve McQueen and Clint Eastwood aficionado.

This will sound petty, but there was something about Murphy’s face I didn’t care for. To me, despite him being a real-life Medal of Honor-winning World War II combat hero, he didn’t seem like a “serious” person. He looked too whiny to be dangerous. But an Indian gentleman (my neighbor) once told me the reason he liked the boyish, square-jawed Audie Murphy was because “he looked so much like an American.”

Why do we no longer have a steady supply of Western movies? Why did we stop making them? The last two really good Westerns were, Unforgiven (with Eastwood, Morgan Freeman and Gene Hackman) and Silverado (Kevin Kline, Scott Glenn, Kevin Costner), both of which were excellent films, as good as any of the so-called “classic” Westerns.

Could the reason be logistical? Given all the necessary horses and cattle, and the unpredictability of animals, did Westerns become too unwieldy or complicated to make? Or did Hollywood simply decide the average movie-goer wasn’t interested in seeing a movie set in the Old West? Vampires and zombies were in, cowboys were out. Or was it harder to get young actors today to agree to learn how to ride a horse or, at the very least, look comfortable atop one?

An actor I know, the very talented David Clennon (Syriana, The Right Stuff, et al), once played the part of William Henry Harrison (before Harrison became president), in a movie called, Tecumseh: The Last Warrior. In a couple of his scenes he had to dress up in an elaborate military uniform, including wearing a sword, and ride a very large horse.

Because he looked surprisingly good up there, comfortable and steady, I asked if he’d ever ridden a horse before. He said he hadn’t. As was customary, the studio hired an experienced wrangler to show him exactly what to do. The rest was easy. Also, these Hollywood nags aren’t exactly wild beasts. They’re movie horses. Show biz horses. The last thing one of them is going to do is bite or kick an actor, and risk losing his union card.

I heard it said that the “crime movie” has replaced the Western as Hollywood’s go-to genre. Crime movies—caper movies, heist movies, terrorist movies—are where the action is now. I’ve heard it said that, other than as a cinematic/cultural reference point, the Western movie will one day be completely forgotten. Western movies will eventually be as dead as the cattle rustlers they used to depict. And that will be a sad day.

David Macaray, an LA playwright and author (“It’s Never Been Easy:  Essays on Modern Labor,” 2nd edition), was a former union rep.  He can be reached at dmacaray@earthlink.net  

David Macaray is a playwright and author. His newest book is “Nightshift: 270 Factory Stories.” He can be reached at dmacaray@gmail.com

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
July 29, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Michael Hudson
Obama Said Hillary will Continue His Legacy and Indeed She Will!
Jeffrey St. Clair
She Stoops to Conquer: Notes From the Democratic Convention
Rob Urie
Long Live the Queen of Chaos
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
Evolution of Capitalism, Escalation of Imperialism
Vijay Prashad
The Iraq War: a Story of Deceit
Chris Odinet
It Wasn’t Just the Baton Rouge Police Who Killed Alton Sterling
Brian Cloughley
Could Trump be Good for Peace?
Patrick Timmons
Racism, Freedom of Expression and the Prohibition of Guns at Universities in Texas
Gary Leupp
The Coming Crisis in U.S.-Turkey Relations
Pepe Escobar
Is War Inevitable in the South China Sea?
Margot Kidder
My Fellow Americans: We Are Fools
Norman Pollack
Clinton Incorruptible: An Ideological Contrivance
Robert Fantina
The Time for Third Parties is Now!
Andrew Tillett-Saks
Labor’s Political Stockholm Syndrome: Why Unions Must Stop Supporting Democrats Like Clinton
Andre Vltchek
Like Trump, Hitler Also Liked His “Small People”
Serge Halimi
Provoking Russia
Andrew Stewart
Countering The Nader Baiter Mythology
Rev. William Alberts
“Law and Order:” Code words for White Lives Matter Most
Ron Jacobs
Something Besides Politics for Summer’s End
David Swanson
It’s Not the Economy, Stupid
Erwan Castel
A Faith that Lifts Barricades: The Ukraine Government Bows and the Ultra-Nationalists are Furious
Steve Horn
Did Industry Ties Lead Democratic Party Platform Committee to Nix Fracking Ban?
Robert Fisk
How to Understand the Beheading of a French Priest
Colin Todhunter
Sugar-Coated Lies: How The Food Lobby Destroys Health In The EU
Franklin Lamb
“Don’t Cry For Us Syria … The Truth is We Shall Never Leave You!”
Frederick B. Hudson
Well Fed, Bill?
Harvey Wasserman
NY Times Pushes Nukes While Claiming Renewables Fail to Fight Climate Change
Elliot Sperber
 Pseudo-Democracy, Reparations, and Actual Democracy
Uri Avnery
The Orange Man: Trump and the Middle East
Marjorie Cohn
The Content of Trump’s Character
Missy Comley Beattie
Pick Your Poison
Joseph Grosso
Serving The Grid: Urban Planning in New York
John Repp
Real Cooperation with Nations Is the Best Survival Tactic
Binoy Kampmark
The Scourge of Youth Detention: The Northern Territory, Torture, and Australia’s Detention Disease
Kim Nicolini
Rain the Color Blue with a Little Red In It
Cesar Chelala
Gang Violence Rages Across Central America
Tom H. Hastings
Africa/America
Robert Koehler
Slavery, War and Presidential Politics
July 28, 2016
Paul Street
Politician Speak at the DNC
Jeffrey St. Clair
Night of the Hollow Men: Notes From the Democratic Convention
Renee Parsons
Blame It on the Russians
Herbert Dyer, Jr.
Is it the Cops or the Cameras? Putting Police Brutality in Historical Context
Russell Mokhiber
Dems Dropping the N Word: When in Trouble, Blame Ralph
Howard Lisnoff
The Elephant in the Living Room
Pepe Escobar
The Real Secret of the South China Sea
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail