Thursday, March 21, 2019

"I Miss The Old Westerns"

I know.

Nothing about them was true.

You don’t need the list.

I’ll say “Mistreatment of Indians” and I’ll leave it at that.

“Go West, Young Man!”  You know who said that?

Someone selling land in the West.  

Or some freelance phrasemaker in their gainful employ.

Still, for me, there was something about those old-time westerns, with their reliable scenarios:

Was there trouble in “The Unreal West?” 

Yer dern tootin’! 

There was no law west of… wherever there was law.  If you were a small rancher refusing to sell, a prospector who “struck it rich” and carelessly blabbed about it, or a crusading reporter in a town rife with corruption, things were likely to go bad for you. 

Real bad.

But when the dust finally settled,

The “Good Guys” won out, and the “Bad Guys” got shot in the hand.

And hauled off to the calaboose.

Kind of refreshing, isn’t it?

Compared to today, which feels like the chaotic middle of a western.

And we can’t seem to get to the “turn.”

Besides the comforting outcome of old westerns – plus the “thrill-packed adventure of it all –

There was an indomitable spirit in westerns, reflecting, perhaps, something actually real.

In earlier days, this land was rugged and torturously demanding.  But somebody – a lot of “somebodies”, most of them unknown to history – was determined to survive. 

And ultimately prevail.

And they did it.

Mixing reality and fiction – though to what degree I am entirely uncertain –

I am watching Northwest Passage, starring Spencer Tracy.  Tracy plays Robert Rogers, leader of “Rogers’ Rangers”, a colonial reconnaissance adjunct to the British army during the (pre-Revolutionary) “Seven Years War.”  The assignments were dangerous, their outcomes harrowingly in doubt.  But listen to this.  One random example of the indomitable spirit I was talking about.

Deep in “Indian Territory” and cut off by the enemy French, the Rangers are stopped at a raging river.  No boats.  No bridges.  No way of traversing the stymying terrain.

Do they give up?

Not hardly.

Rogers suggests the idea of forming a “Human Chain” across the river.  And when he is told it’s impossible, Rogers confidently retorts,

“It may never have been done.  But that does not mean it can’t be.”

“And they all drowned in the river.”

No.  They constructed a “Human Chain” and they crossed it.

Despite the admitted atrocities in “Winning the West”, regular people did stuff like that. 

And I say, “Hats off!”

Not meaning to trivialize by comparison, but the amount of writing required for a single season of television episodes, the stress of maintaining a standard and delivering on time… what we – and others like us – did on a weekly basis was, in its way, similarly impossible.

But it did not mean that it couldn’t be done.

Who knows?

Maybe the message in those westerns kind of rubbed off on me.

Just a little.

Say, Buckaroos and Buckarettes, if you’re interested in checking some of them out, here’s a list of my favorite westerns.  It is not a complete list.  A film I hadn’t considered appears on TV and I go, “Yeah, that too.”

But it’s a start.

My Top Ten List of Favorite Westerns:  (In no particular order, after the first eight.)

Red River

High Noon



My Darling Clementine

The Westerner

Winchester ‘73

Dodge City

Buffalo Bill

Rio Bravo

The Man From Laramie

Okay, my “Top 11” list.

The Plainsman

My “Top 12.”

Drums Along the Mohawk

My “Top 13.”  But that’s it.

She Wore A Yellow…

I said that’s it!


(Note:  There are also some good ones from “after”, like Unforgiven, Wyatt Earp and The Outlaw Josie Wales.  And a TV movie called Open Range.  But the new ones get cynical, and I prefer “Simplistic Illusion.”)


Pidge said...

How about listing your favourite Westerns on TV? I personally know you know all the theme songs!
As a young girl, I wouldn’t miss Annie Oakley, the only female heroine, unless you include Dale and Buttermilk.
Annie made me feel confident that I, too, could hit a bullseye backwards, over my shoulder, while standing in the saddle of a galloping horse. (This might explain lot).

Pidge said...

I didn’t see “They Died With Their Boots On” or “The Big Country”.
More recently, “The Sisters Brothers” and “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs”.
But they may not be in your top 10, 11 or 12.
Too many to choose from.

Mike Barer said...

The networks brought Maverick back in the '80s. That's the last I remember any western attempted on TV.