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Ride, Boldly Ride: The Evolution of the American Western

Mary Lea Bandy
Kevin Stoehr
Copyright Date: 2012
Edition: 1
Pages: 344
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt1ppwnz
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  • Book Info
    Ride, Boldly Ride
    Book Description:

    This comprehensive study of the Western covers its history from the early silent era to recent spins on the genre in films such asNo Country for Old Men,There Will Be Blood,True Grit, andCowboys & Aliens. While providing fresh perspectives on landmarks such asStagecoach,Red River,The Searchers,The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, andThe Wild Bunch, the authors also pay tribute to many under-appreciated Westerns.Ride, Boldly Rideexplores major phases of the Western's development, including silent era oaters, A-production classics of the 1930s and early 1940s, and the more psychologically complex portrayals of the Westerner that emerged after World War II. The authors also examine various forms of genre-revival and genre-revisionism that have recurred over the past half-century, culminating especially in the masterworks of Clint Eastwood. They consider themes such as the inner life of the Western hero, the importance of the natural landscape, the roles played by women, the tension between myth and history, the depiction of the Native American, and the juxtaposing of comedy and tragedy. Written in clear, engaging prose, this is the only survey that encompasses the entire history of this long-lived and much-loved genre.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95347-5
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
    Mary Lea Bandy and Kevin Stoehr
  5. Foreword
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
    Clint Eastwood

    Most filmmakers tend to be devoted to movie history. Any new motion picture with serious intentions provides an opportunity for a director to respond to cinematic traditions, whether reverentially or critically. For example, the first major Western in which I was featured,A Fistful of Dollars,was a remake of Akira Kurosawa’sYojimbo,which was in turn a playful parody of Kurosawa’s own earlier samurai films. Like most members of the cinematic community, I have always taken pleasure in exploring connections and chains of influence like these.

    I also recognize influences in my own work. I dedicatedUnforgivento a...

  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    [Anthony Mann on the Western]: Well, I think the reason why it’s the most popular and long-lasting genre is that it gives you more freedom of action, in landscape, in passion. It’s a primitive form. It’s not governed by rule; you can do anything with it. It has the essential pictorial qualities; has the guts of any character you want; the violence of anything you need; the sweep of anything you feel; the joy of sheer exercise, of outdoorness. It is legend—and legend makes the very best cinema. It excites the imagination more—it’s something audiences love. They don’t...

  7. CHAPTER 1 Diverse Perspectives in Silent Westerns: Landscape, Morality, and the Native American
    (pp. 9-37)

    The movie “oater” was born during the last decade of the nineteenth century, as the world of cinema was first emerging and around the time that the American West was closing its final frontiers. In the decades between the Civil War and World War I, by which time the territories of Arizona and New Mexico had been granted statehood, the nation could savor a nostalgia for a fading frontier while hearing news of the actual dangers of its concluding scenes. One could traverse the continent on the Southern Pacific in the 1880s, riding through territory not far from where the...

  8. CHAPTER 2 Not at Home on the Range: Women against the Frontier in “The Wind”
    (pp. 38-58)

    Nature appears in most Western films as a setting, obstacle, metaphor, or source of inspiration, or as a combination of the above. InThe Wind(1928), nature is manifested chiefly as a threatening, sinister, destructive power that transforms as well as tests the psychology and character of its human protagonist. At the symbolic level, the desert winds of the early frontier become a supernatural, erotic force that drives Letty Mason (Lillian Gish) to the brink of madness. Tautly directed by Victor Sjöström (known in Hollywood as Victor Seastrom), the film is marked by persuasive terror and sexuality, which were shaped...

  9. CHAPTER 3 “He Went That-Away”: The Comic Western and “Ruggles of Red Gap”
    (pp. 59-78)

    Throughout the rich history of the Western film, the most enduring and successful, or at least most beloved, productions have been notable for their romanticism, comedy, or both. They have often presented comrades who joyfully and delightedly indulge those who yearn to become heroes. The Western genre has been consistently supple enough to encourage satire and parody of its formulaic plots, its expansionist themes, and particularly its notion of the westerner as an occasional antihero, put forth as early as 1911 in the delightful shortWas He a Coward?In this D.W. Griffith production for the Biograph Company, which had...

  10. CHAPTER 4 Landscape and Standard-Setting in the 1930s Western: “The Big Trail” and “Stagecoach”
    (pp. 79-100)

    Western mythology had emerged and been given shape by author James Fenimore Cooper, and then by storytellers in the years following the Civil War, as much as a half century before Griffith and Ford staged their first filmed shoot-outs. By concentrating on this not-too-distant past, the last half of the nineteenth century, the Western has led people to believe that it is a vital record, or at least a meaningful interpretation, of America’s expansionist history. That history began well before the Civil War and was intimately connected with the geography of the country. All told, no breed of film developed...

  11. CHAPTER 5 Indian-Fighting, Nation-Building, and Homesteading in the A-Western: “Northwest Passage” and “The Westerner”
    (pp. 101-127)

    Some students of Western cinema have argued that the sudden rise in the number of high-quality big-budget Westerns between the years 1939 and 1942—what has been labeled as “the A-Western Renaissance” and described in chapter 4—had much to do with a growing recognition on the part of studios and filmmakers that the Western was able to reflect a contemporary culture caught in a process of intense transition and self-definition. The Western could represent in a dual fashion both the new seeds of optimism in the late 1930s, given that the Great Depression was coming to a close, and...

  12. CHAPTER 6 Howard Hawks and John Wayne: “Red River” and “El Dorado”
    (pp. 128-155)

    Howard Hawks’s greatest contribution to the art of the Western isRed River,which he produced and directed in a protracted period from 1946 through 1948. His three other major contributions to the genre areThe Big Sky(1952),Rio Bravo(1959), andEl Dorado(1967). Hawks had told stories about real heroes before, as inViva Villa!(1934),Sergeant York(1941),The Dawn Patrol(1930),Air Force(1943), andOnly Angels Have Wings(1939). ButRed Riverwas a major departure for Hawks as a storyteller of American culture. This time he focused on the expansion of the frontier,...

  13. CHAPTER 7 The Postwar Psychological Western (1946–1956): “My Darling Clementine” to “Jubal”
    (pp. 156-184)

    Hawks’sRed River,as mentioned at the outset of the previous chapter, hit theaters on a wave of visually and psychologically expressive Westerns released between the end of World War II and 1950. These ranged from John Ford’sMy Darling Clementineand King Vidor’sDuel in the Sun(both 1946) to Delmer Daves’sBroken Arrowand Anthony Mann’sThe Furies, Devil’s Doorway, andWinchester’73 (all 1950). These films typically summon the viewer to consider complex situations in which characters struggle with their own demons and desires in attempting to realize their goals or in trying to justify the righteousness...

  14. CHAPTER 8 John Ford’s Later Masterpieces: “The Searchers” and “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance”
    (pp. 185-215)

    The great master of the American Western film, John Ford, played a key role in the transformation of the genre that took place between the end of World War II and the mid-1960s. Ford’s postwar cavalry films, as discussed in chapter 7, introduced narrative-related elements of revisionism that included critical views of expansionist idealism, Western heroism, and the confrontation with Native Americans. His classicMy Darling Clementineis noirlike in certain aspects of its visual scheme and most especially in its focus on the morally and psychologically complex character of Doc Holliday. It should not be surprising, therefore, that Ford...

  15. CHAPTER 9 The Existential and Revisionist Western: “Comanche Station” to “The Wild Bunch” and Beyond
    (pp. 216-237)

    Along with Anthony Mann, Delmer Daves, and John Ford, one of the most important directors in the postwar transformation of the genre was Budd Boetticher, who directed a cycle of films that has become known as the “Ranown cycle” because of the films’ production company name. Film scholars Jim Kitses and Peter Wollen similarly describe Boetticher as a dedicated individualist whose Western hero, played by the reliable Randolph Scott in all of the Ranown movies, confronts obstacles with a stoic self-reliance and pragmatic self-centeredness. These are not movies framed by ideals of American expansionism or the building of transcontinental railroads...

  16. CHAPTER 10 Eastwood and the American Western: “High Plains Drifter,” “The Outlaw Josey Wales,” and “Unforgiven”
    (pp. 238-268)

    Clint Eastwood’s diverse acting performances and directing accomplishments in Western films have earned him a solid place high in the pantheon of such genre artists as Ford, Hawks, Wayne, Cooper, Fonda, and Stewart. The action-oriented audience long ago fell in love with the icy but tongue-in-cheek style of Eastwood’s grizzled, cigar-chomping antihero in Sergio Leone’s “Dollars” trilogy of the 1960s (A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More,andThe Good, the Bad, and the Ugly). And many fans appreciated the return of such a character in Eastwood’s ownHigh Plains Drifter(1973) andPale Rider(1985). In many...

  17. CHAPTER 11 Coda: From “Lonesome Dove” (1989) to “Cowboys and Aliens” (2011)
    (pp. 269-280)

    Film critics and scholars have occasionally and mistakenly predicted the decline or even death of the Western film since the days of silent cinema.¹ There have indeed been brief lulls in the making of Western films, especially when contrasted with such prolific periods as the first half of World War II and the 1950s. The decade of the 1980s, in particular, was graced by a mere handful of significant Westerns: Michael Cimino’sHeaven’s Gateand Walter Hill’sThe Long Riders(both 1980), Eastwood’sPale Riderand Lawrence Kasdan’sSilverado(both 1985), and Simon Wincer’s impressive television miniseriesLonesome Dove(1989)....

  18. Notes
    (pp. 281-300)
  19. Bibliography
    (pp. 301-310)
  20. Index
    (pp. 311-330)