I’ve written a number of various ramblings on this blog, but I’ve not yet taken the time to write about one of my favourite genres of cinema; the western was once a cinematic staple, the big screen’s hottest trend. In the 50’s and 60’s Hollywood’s biggest actors could not truly call themselves a ‘star’ until they’d put on a Stetson and sat in the saddle.
When I was younger, I was oblivious to the history and value of the western in Hollywood. To me they were simply cowboy films, vintage movies shot in hazy cinemascope that I watched with my Nan on peaceful afternoons. I loved them from an early age and always found something quite hypnotic about them. The epic backdrops and shoot-outs in saloons, the gun-slinging antiheroes, on quests for vengeance helped feed my imagination.
The films are best remembered for the multiple iconic actors in their lead roles; Randolph Scott was renowned for his portrayals of tough sheriffs on horseback on the hunt for corrupt ranchers in such movies as ‘A Lawless Street’ and ‘Ride the High Country.’ James Stewart and Audie Murphy also made considerable contributions to various Wild West pictures, but the genre would have been nothing without the quintessential cowboy himself, John Wayne.
In his long career, Wayne continually returned to the saddle in classic films like ‘True Grit’ and ‘El Dorado.’ These westerns are not iconic merely because of their actors, but their enduring success is also due to the individuals behind the camera. The most famous of those directors were Howard Hawks who shot the classic ‘Rio Bravo’ with John Wayne and Dean Martin and of course, John Wayne’s long-term collaborator and friend John Ford. Wayne and Ford remain to this day, one of the most iconic partnerships in cinematic history with such enduring movies as ‘The Searchers’ and ‘She Wore a Yellow Ribbon,’ not to mention a multitude of other frontier tales, all framed in the majestic backdrop of Monument Valley. Those moving pictures often chronicled the battle between gunmen and Native Americans in epic fashion have been a major source of inspiration for multiple directors and writers who have followed the duo. Director Martin Scorsese named ‘The Searchers’ as one of the first films that inspired him to make movies.
These films may not be the most historically accurate or in some cases, the most well rendered pieces of cinema ever made, but they are undoubtedly timeless. Their stirring scores and charming performances give them a timeless quality, transporting the viewer back to a simpler time before cinema had been transformed by the advent of 3D and special effects and the cinematic audience had discovered an appetite for blood and guts in the decades that followed. The performance-driven movies of John Wayne and other actors of that era aren’t the most thrilling to be created but they hold a vital place in cinematic and cultural history and have proven themselves truly immortal.