FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

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

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
Weekend Edition
April 03, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Omar Shaban
Gaza’s New Conflict: COVID-19
Rob Urie
Work, Crisis and Pandemic
John Whitlow
Slumlord Capitalism v. Global Pandemic
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Strange Things Happening Every Day
Jonathan Cook
The Bigger Picture is Hiding Behind a Virus
Paul Street
Silver Linings Amidst the Capitalist Coronavirus Crisis
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The Control of Nature
Louis Proyect
COVID-19 and the “Just-in-Time” Supply Chain: Why Hospitals Ran Out of Ventilators and Grocery Stores Ran Out of Toilet Paper
Kathleen Wallace
The Highly Contagious Idea
Kenneth Good
The Apartheid Wars: Non-Accountability and Freedom for Perpetrators.
Andrew Levine
Democracy in America: Sorry, But You Can’t Get There from Here.
Ramzy Baroud
Tunisia Leads the Way: New Report Exposes Israel’s False Democracy
David Rosen
Coronavirus and the State-of-Emergency Pandemic
Matthew Stevenson
Will Trump Cancel the Election? Will the Democrats Dump Joe?
Ron Jacobs
Seattle—Anti-Capitalist Hotbed
Michael T. Klare
Avenger Planet: Is the COVID-19 Pandemic Mother Nature’s Response to Human Transgression?
Jack Rasmus
COVID-19 and the Forgotten Working Class
Werner Lange
The Madness of More Nukes and Less Rights in Pandemic Times
J.P. Linstroth
Why a Race is Not a Virus and a Virus is Not a Race
John Feffer
We Need a Coronavirus Truce
Thomas S. Harrington
“New Corona Cases”: the Ultimate Floating Signifier
Victor Grossman
Corona and What Then?
Katie Fite
Permanent Pandemic on Public Lands: Welfare Sheep Ranchers and Their Enablers Hold the West’s Bighorns Hostage
Patrick Bond
Covid-19 Attacks the Down-and-Out in Ultra-Unequal South Africa
Eve Ottenberg
Capitalism vs. Humanity
Nicky Reid
Fear and Loathing in Coronaville Volume 2: Panic On the Streets of Tehran
Jonas Ecke
Would Dying for the Economy Help Anybody?
Jeff Mackler
Capitalism is the Virus!
Andrew Moss
Incarceration, Detention, and Covid-19
Farzana Versey
Prayers, Piffle and Privation in the Time of Pandemic
Will Solomon
In the New Dystopia
Dean Baker
The Relative Generosity of the Economic Rescue Package: Boeing vs. Public Broadcasting
Dr. Leo Lopez, III
We Need a Lot More Transparency From the CDC
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Reflections on a Glass of Homemade Cider
Rashid Nuri
Homegrown Crisis Response: Who Grows Your Food?
Mark Luskus
Worst Case Scenario: Healthcare Workers Need Masks, ASAP
Volker Franke
The Virus That May Bring us Together
Mitchell Zimmerman
A Q & A on the GOP’s Call for Elder Sacrifice
Olfat al-Kurd
COVID-19 Could Be Catastrophic for Us: Notes From Gaza
Eileen Appelbaum - Roesmary Batt
Hospital Bailouts Begin…for Those Owned by Private Equity Firms
Nabri Ginwa
Carcinogens
Jill Richardson
Efficiency vs. Resilience
Lee Ballinger
Eddie Van Halen and the Future of Humanity
David Yearsley
Beset by Bach
Robert Koehler
Developing a Vaccine Against War
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail