From the 1910’s to ’50s there was one genre’ of filmmaking that made a point to stress values, while at the same time providing action and adventure for the whole family.
These were the Westerns dominated with “B” films starring the likes of Hopalong Cassidy, Lash LaRue, Peggy Stewart and Randolph Scott. They also included the great faces of Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, Dale Evens, and before he went into big epic Westerns, the biggest Western hero of them all, John Wayne.
The alphabet ratings in those days meant nothing to kids, as a number of mainstream stars clamored to be in “A” Westerns including Gary Cooper, Jimmy Stewart and Henry Fonda.
“Slap some bacon on a biscuit and let’s go. We’re burning daylight.”
~’The Cowboys (1972). John Wayne
“Well, there are some things a man just can’t run away from.”
~The Ringo Kid (John Wayne) in Stagecoach
Westerns were in demand and Hollywood studios followed the money. The new media of television recognized the popularity of Westerns, and jumped on the bandwagon. At one time there were approximately thirty Western shows running on the tube when you could only get three channels.
Today a big budget Western is as popular as a pair of gloves and a top hat. If Hollywood makes one at all, they require the standard degree of sex, violence and of course, profanity.
“The time to live and the place to die. That’s all any man gets. No more, no less”
~Parson (Hank Worden) in The Alamo, 1960.
The sole exception in recent films was The Lone Ranger, starring Johnny Depp, which despite bombing at the box office had a good response from the 12-18 year old audience.
Yet there is proof that these films have been missed as seen with the popularity of Western film conventions. One such festival is the Western Film Fair which was recently held in Winston-Salem, North Carolina July 11-13.
Film and TV stars gathered to meet with fans and enjoy hundreds of classic Western films. There were autograph sessions, panel discussions and great country music. One topic seemed to come up again and again — how to return to those “thrilling days of yesteryear” when cowboys and cowgirls ruled the silver screen.
” Badges? We ain’t got no badges. We don’t need no badges. I don’t have to show you any stinking badges”.
~Treasure of the Sierra Madre’ (1948).
Clu Gulager, a veteran of many TV Westerns opined that Westerns, as we once knew them, were hurt by films with Clint Eastwood types who introduced the anti-hero.
Rex Allen, Jr. advocated a need for us to go back to the type of films that were so popular for so many years.
He commented “Tom Brokaw wrote a book titled The Greatest Generation in which he writes about America’s citizen heroes and heroines who came of age during the Great Depression and the Second World War, and went on to build modern America. This generation was united not only by a common purpose, but also by common values–duty, honor, economy, courage, service, love of family and country, and, above all, responsibility for oneself.”
We agree with Brokaw on what made that generation great.
From “The War Wagon” 1967; they just shot two Bad Guys.
Kirk Douglas: “Mine hit the ground first.”
John Wayne: “Mine was taller.”
That generation grew up with the Western films of the 20s, 30s and 40s. These films extolled the virtues of morality and ethics. They saw the importance of honesty, purity and a strong sense of justice.”
I must add that these were also films where people went to church and prayer was more than just saying grace at meal time.
When it was voiced that kids today would never respond to this style of film, a reminder was given by Carol Webster, a drama teacher from Roanoke, Virginia.
In the early seventies when the old “Space Operas” with Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers were deemed to be dead along came the Star Wars series which broke all records.
The Adventure Serial was also considered a thing of the past and suddenly box office records were again shattered with the Indian Jones series. All ages responded and once again we had kids cheering and applauding like they did for the classic Westerns.
The question was how do we bring back the Westerns? The board of the Western Film Fair came up with an exciting solution – now being announced for the first time anywhere.
It is a proposed short Western filmmaking contest what will be open to cinematic departments in high schools and colleges. Steps are being taken in this direction by the Western Film Fair and other groups are expected to follow.
There will be prizes and as with most film festival programs, winners will want to get involved in other competitions and may even want to start projects to create new full length Western feature films.
This is the type of strategy that is expected to encourage more young people to make Westerns.
One guest, actress Sandra Van Natta who attended the event for the premiere of her film, Season of Miracles, definitely saw the point behind holding programs like this, and the desire to rebuild the genre’ to bring back those thrilling days of yesteryear.
She wrote “I was immersed in history and the genteel manner while at the Western Film Fair. I was reminded of what it means to have a conversation and look into the eyes of others and hear their stories. I put my phone and laptop to the side and reminisced of my childhood. I am thankful to meet heroes and heroines.”
From The Virginian (the 1929 version with Gary Cooper):
Trampas: When I want to know anything from you, I’ll tell you, you long-legged sonova –
The Virginian: If you wanna call me that, smile.
Trampas: With a gun against my belly, I always smile.
To the event organizers she said “Thank you for inviting me to commune with you. You prevail with a culture that must not be forgotten. Let’s teach our children and grandchildren by example and by Westerns captured on film.”
Miss Sandra, you definitely understood what this is all about, and we hope this message will reach a great many other people.
“I may sound like a bible beater yelling up a revival
at a river crossing camp meeting
but that don’t change the truth none, there’s right and there’s wrong.
You gotta do one or the other.
You do the one and you’re living, you do the other and you may be walking around
but you’re dead as a beaver hat.”
– Col. Davy Crockett in The Alamo 1960, directed by John Wayne
If you love movies, you might also enjoy A Compelling Interview with Christian Actor – Bruce Marchiano.
Dr. Fred Eichelman has written five books, four of them textbooks and one co-authored novel. For thirty years he was involved in creating and running media conventions. He is a retired educator and one of the founders of a Christian media organization. He is the editor of its publication, For information about this organization or to subscribe to receive it free on the net, contact firstname.lastname@example.org
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