The Summer of the Western
In the western movie, “Bite the Bullet,” Gene Hackman alludes that his wife was better than him. I felt he was too hard on himself. I thought he should have said, that he was not, who she was, but God, she was bodacious. A cowboy is hard working and individualistic, not Old Confederacy and violating the parole at Appomattox.
In the movie “Hud,” starring Paul Newman as a modern day cowboy in Texas in the mid 60’s, the old man tells his grandson that the quality of our world changes by the men we look up to. One reason I watch westerns is I like to see ideals win out, not going along with violent destructive people occasionally doing good things, the destructiveness smoothed over by good moments.
John Wayne said about the “The Shootist,” that his character, who is dying of cancer, “was a man with a code being outstripped by events.”
In February 2022, Vladmir Putin attempted to invade Ukraine. I began watching news daily. Eventually, the news began covering the mass shootings in the United States, and finally, the Jan. 6 Congressional Hearings. There is a new attraction to Westerns, which were popular in the 1950’s, defined by sociologists as working men’s reactions to abuse by supervisors. The workers liked the Wild West ‘setting things right’ mentality. Present day times are referred to as a second great era in television, as the technology is quite impressive. However, these times do not require “meanness.”
In “Lonesome Dove” (the never made “Streets of Laredo” for John Wayne, James Stewart, and Henry Fonda) renegades hang ‘sod busters’ and then get hanged themselves by Texas Rangers. Mother Joad in “The Grapes of Wrath” explains “mean mad,” and that she doesn’t want a “mean” son. It is when people come to understand each other, it doesn’t matter if we disagree, we are friends and belong. The times require hope and a feeling that we can fix things.
Our United States people need to see reflected back in their television shows, that they are connected, and we can turn things around. American Western theme music is Aaron Copeland—majestic, climbing, forward moving. In John Milius’, “The Wind and the Lion,” wherein 1906, an American ambassador boggles the mind of one of the Sultan’s Captains by telling him that the United States has people who can do anything. The United States has people that can fly. Candice Bergen plays the strong, Mrs. Pedecaris, a good woman protecting her children.
In John Ford’s “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” Tom Doniphon (John Wayne) is trying to drink in the saloon right after Liberty Valance is killed. Lee Van Cleef and Strother Martin, Valence’s toadies, try to stir up a lynch mob to avenge the despicable Valence’s unexpected departure. Wayne literally bounces Strother Martin out of the saloon. Van Cleef pulls his revolver, Wayne then knocks Van Cleef unconscious, “buffaloing” Van Cleef with his own pistol. The dispatch of Van Cleef and Martin is not “meanness”; it is economic violence. It is effective use of martial ability portrayed. (Fisticuffs in “Shane” is the real deal, code of honor, with Van Heflin protecting his friend, as compared to the silly wrestling match [it’s meant to be] between Jeffery Hunter and Ken Curtis in “The Searchers”.)
When I was a little boy, I went to “How the West was Won” in a movie theatre ‘in the round’, and witnessed John Ford’s reenactment of the battle of Shiloh in 1862. I was completely fascinated by the United States Civil War. The Civil War and westerns became a focus of interest across my life. I read a description of Civil War soldiers by Bruce Catton that, in effect, it was “pugnacity”—aggressive frontiersmen fighters who would not give up until the other side was totally beaten into submission.
The business man, Cornelius Vanderbilt, was described in his younger life, as a river boat Captain, a man who would ‘fist fight’ other men, pummeling them, and beating them violently until they would fall asleep.
In Ted Turner’s production of “Andersonville,” the entire prison finally rises up and overthrows the organized criminal “Raiders” camp, who have been murdering and thieving inside the stockade. The story featured a Union army unit from Massachusetts who organize the trial for the captured Raiders.
I am impressed with the goodness of these men, made naked and murdered by gangsters. Still, they believed a trial would be superior to vengeance. I thought of Iowan values when I saw it. Unfortunately, the only Iowa unit that appears in the movie, is pulling a giant ball and chain for getting caught digging a tunnel. One of the problems with Iowans is that they like keeping things regular and sometimes shy away from looking behind the scenes at what’s going wrong, trusting serendipity. They should have let those ‘ball and chain’ Iowans organize the Raider’s trial. It would have made the movie better.
In “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” when John Wayne ‘bounces’ Martin and Van Cleef out of the Saloon, he seems distraught. The movie shows change happening in the old west. (Wayne becomes a farmer.) Often, (if you watch the movie, its black and white) there is confusion about what happens in the background of things, and the truth is sometimes not readily apparent. “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” ends with a train conductor saying to Stewart and his wife, that helping them is the least that can be done for the man who brought down Liberty Valence, and the train goes off into the distance.
In Spielberg’s “Lincoln,” Lincoln says to Confederate Vice President Alexander Stevens, there is a large unseen strength in a Union of people, that people can withstand violent sacrifice and upheaval, that we can use the structure of democracy to continue to grow stronger. Had the South accepted the election, says Lincoln, and worked with the North; new advantages would have appeared.This sounds like a conservative perception to learn from adverse circumstances and turn them to advantage. Anything of or about Abraham Lincoln (including the movie “Vampire Killer”) is “good message,” even the memories of Lincoln’s life beyond death, gives hope for bravery in the face of the overwhelming. Perhaps there is a message here for any reader disillusioned, trying hard to help others adjust to all the present day problems, and tragedies. [John Wayne quote from Scott Eyman’s book “John Wayne: The Life and Legend”. ]