FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

America’s Most Noble Creation

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  

More articles by:

David Macaray is a playwright and author. His newest book is How To Win Friends and Avoid Sacred Cows.  He can be reached at dmacaray@gmail.com

December 11, 2018
Eric Draitser
AFRICOM: A Neocolonial Occupation Force?
Sheldon Richman
War Over Ukraine?
Louis Proyect
Why World War II, Not the New Deal, Ended the Great Depression
Howard Lisnoff
Police Violence and Mass Policing in the U.S.
Mark Ashwill
A “Patriotic” Education Study Abroad Program in Viet Nam: God Bless America, Right or Wrong!
Laura Flanders
HUD Official to Move into Public Housing?
Nino Pagliccia
Resistance is Not Terrorism
Matthew Johnson
See No Evil, See No Good: The Truth Is Not Black and White
Maria Paez Victor
How Reuters Slandered Venezuela’s Social Benefits Card
December 10, 2018
Jacques R. Pauwels
Foreign Interventions in Revolutionary Russia
Richard Klin
The Disasters of War
Katie Fite
Rebranding Bundy
Gary Olson
A Few Thoughts on Politics and Personal Identity
Patrick Cockburn
Brexit Britain’s Crisis of Self-Confidence Will Only End in Tears and Rising Nationalism
Andrew Moss
Undocumented Citizen
Dean Baker
Trump and China: Going With Patent Holders Against Workers
Lawrence Wittner
Reviving the Nuclear Disarmament Movement: a Practical Proposal
Dan Siegel
Thoughts on the 2018 Elections and Beyond
Thomas Knapp
Election 2020: I Can Smell the Dumpster Fires Already
Weekend Edition
December 07, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Steve Hendricks
What If We Just Buy Off Big Fossil Fuel? A Novel Plan to Mitigate the Climate Calamity
Jeffrey St. Clair
Cancer as Weapon: Poppy Bush’s Radioactive War on Iraq
Paul Street
The McCain and Bush Death Tours: Establishment Rituals in How to be a Proper Ruler
Jason Hirthler
Laws of the Jungle: The Free Market and the Continuity of Change
Ajamu Baraka
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights at 70: Time to De-Colonize Human Rights!
Andrew Levine
Thoughts on Strategy for a Left Opposition
Jennifer Matsui
Dead of Night Redux: A Zombie Rises, A Spook Falls
Rob Urie
Degrowth: Toward a Green Revolution
Binoy Kampmark
The Bomb that Did Not Detonate: Julian Assange, Manafort and The Guardian
Robert Hunziker
The Deathly Insect Dilemma
Robert Fisk
Spare Me the American Tears for the Murder of Jamal Khashoggi
Joseph Natoli
Tribal Justice
Ron Jacobs
Getting Pushed Off the Capitalist Cliff
Macdonald Stainsby
Unist’ot’en Camp is Under Threat in Northern Canada
Senator Tom Harkin
Questions for Vice-President Bush on Posada Carriles
W. T. Whitney
Two Years and Colombia’s Peace Agreement is in Shreds
Ron Jacobs
Getting Pushed Off the Capitalist Cliff
Ramzy Baroud
The Conspiracy Against Refugees
David Rosen
The Swamp Stinks: Trump & Washington’s Rot
Raouf Halaby
Wall-to-Wall Whitewashing
Daniel Falcone
Noam Chomsky Turns 90
Dean Baker
An Inverted Bond Yield Curve: Is a Recession Coming?
Nick Pemberton
The Case For Chuck Mertz (Not Noam Chomsky) as America’s Leading Intellectual
Ralph Nader
New Book about Ethics and Whistleblowing for Engineers Affects Us All!
Dan Kovalik
The Return of the Nicaraguan Contras, and the Rise of the Pro-Contra Left
Jeremy Kuzmarov
Exposing the Crimes of the CIAs Fair-Haired Boy, Paul Kagame, and the Rwandan Patriotic Front
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail