Posts tagged ‘westerns’

May 13, 2010

The Truth of Memory; or, Cisco Kid + Telecaster = Heaven

by cowboylands

Remember the whiz-bang shoot-’em-ups of Saturday afternoons of yesteryear?

I don’t (having been weaned on monster movies and Tarzan flicks, which I watched with my sister during those rare moments when we weren’t pulling each other’s hair). But somehow the  flickering, galloping images from oaters are in me. (Perhaps they are inculcated by a potent combo of formula and Tang and suburban development living?

I came to westerns late, but fell hard. Now I watch reel after reel of anything with a holster and cartridge belt. But even I can get a little bored by early westerns. Talky, with long spaces of silence, fakey sets, and deadly dull plots. And the heroes!

You ever notice how cowboy heroes have gotten younger, trimmer, and maybe a little meaner? Back the heyday, westerns had pot-bellied middle-aged heroes who could have used some Elvis swagger. Not that there’s anything wrong with that–I have a fondness for middle-aged men. So I’m happy when I find something that reminds me not of the kinda boring episodes but my memory of those episodes: fast and furious, kinda dirty sexy. I get my Cowboy Moment shiver every time I see it.

Buckaroos and Buckarettes, a Wild Western Web find, from (I think) En Petit Comite:


May 11, 2010

Cowgirls Gone Wild; or, I Can Has Cheezcake?

by cowboylands

Western porn.

Linda Stirling as the Black Whip in Zorro’s Black Whip, 1944, from

For me western porn is film stills and posters and book covers of hunks and hunkettes loaded down with western gear like holsters and chaps and cowboy boots and spurs and Colts and maybe a hard-edged stare or two.

And, oh yeah, I was doing some serious research to find some cowgirl heroes, the gunslinger or lawgiver kind.

And lo, I found both on Wild Western Web site Wanted Cowgirls. It has everything for the western fetish–strong women, especially. It’s got movies and pics, from straight-up singing cowgirls like Dorothy Page to recent fails like Penelope Cruz (my opinion, folks, put your guns back in your holsters).

It’s got movies and TV shows and pulse-pounding cowgirl pulps. It’s got arcade cards with winsome starlets and album cover hotties.

OK, maybe Cowgirl Catfight Outtakes gave me a stomachache, but it’s all in good, clean (kinda) fun, with a dose of healthy red-blooded lust and respect for these six-shooter-wearing goddesses.

My fave cowgirl? Barbara Stanwyck of Forty Guns and The Furies, a warrior woman who takes no prisoners…including any man she loves.

In Forty Guns you first see her riding a black horse at the head of a column of hard-bitten gun-toting cowboys. Awesomeness. I can’t do better on making a love capsule for Forty Guns than this, at Lightning Bug’s Lair.

Jessica Drummond: I’m not interested in *you*, Mr. Bonnell. It’s your trademark.
[gestures at his gun, purring]
Jessica Drummond: May I feel it?
Griff Bonnell: Uh-uh.
Jessica Drummond: Just curious.
Griff Bonnell: It might go off in your face.
Jessica Drummond: I’ll take a chance.

Forty Guns, directed by Samuel Fuller, 1957

April 12, 2010

Lonely Are the Brave; or, Hearting/Hating That Brave Cowboy Thing

by cowboylands

Another movie for the Iranian president to see, or any other person who yearns to be a movie-type cowboy instead of a real one.

Lonely Are the Brave, filmed in 1962 with Kirk Douglas as the drifter rejecting the modern West, and the great Gena Rowlands and Walter Matthau as his costars.

It was based on The Brave Cowboy, by Edward Abbey, written over twelve years before Desert Solitaire. In its pages his unsentimentality about the West and humanity’s cherished dreams crashes into pretty-sunset-cowboy-romance pictures with forty tons of steel and the shriek of air brakes, literally two short pages before the last line.

The Brave Cowboy, by Edward Abbey, cover illustration by Roy Gifford, Pocket Books, 1957. from the collection of E. Smith

The book begins like most other mid-fifties western novels, with a cowboy drifter in the mountains, at peace with himself and his surroundings. “He was sitting his heels in the cold light of dawn, drawing pale flames through a handful of twigs and dry crushed grass,” Abbey writes, letting the drifter then enjoy a smoke under a juniper, scour his pan with sand, and then cajole and outsmart his horse, Whiskey, “the bitch”–a pastoral of the human as one with the wilderness. But the book ends with this elemental being struck from the face of the earth, as “…the traffic roared and whistled and thundered by, steel, rubber, and flesh, dim faces behind glass, beating hearts, cold hands–the fury of men and women immured in engines.” Damn that Abbey. If it weren’t such a good book, I would’ve sank into depression the size of Hells Canyon, Idaho.

Blowing through the text is a deep ambivalence about humans’ place in the wilderness and the movie kept that uneasy love/hate relationship with the mythic cowboy.

Although Jack Burns (Douglas) boldly proclaims his manifesto…

A westerner likes open country. That means he’s got to hate fences. And the more fences there are, the more he hates them…. Have you ever noticed how many fences there’re getting to be? And the signs they got on them: no hunting, no hiking, no admission, no trespassing, private property, closed area, start moving, go away, get lost, drop dead! Do you know what I mean?

…he’s fully aware (okay, okay, the scriptwriter is aware) that that drifty thing comes with a steep price:

Know what a loner is? He’s a born cripple. He’s a cripple because the only person he can live with is himself. It’s his life, the way he wants to live. It’s all for him. A guy like that, he’d kill a woman like you. Because he couldn’t love you, not the way you are loved.

(Note that “you” was Gena Rowlands–honestly, I would hang up my spurs for her. That Burns guy was nuts.)

So there’s a movie for the Human Beings Versus the West and the West Wins Category.

BTW, it’s not a movie from the fifties though; if you want one of those, check out *Wild Western Web newflash50 Westerns from the Fifties, which promises to reveal plenty of undervalued gems.

July 20, 2008

Bad Cowboy; or Cowboy Fact #26

by cowboylands

Steamy urban heat waves makes me the anti-Cowboy. I get mean and petulant. Kind of like Jack Palance in Shane, but without the lethal grace. How did the real cowboys handle the smells, the dust, the boredom, the loneliness of the West? They couldn’t have just dismissed the heat with an airy “oh, but it’s a dry heat.” I Don’t CARE. I just want it to end, so I will think of myself in a cool theater, grooving along with some Westerns.

Here’s a wish-I-was-there, with Batboy42 and the Picksburg Kid:The thirteenth annual Bicknell International Film Festival* in the town of Bicknell, Utah, west of Capitol Reef Park has the theme “Wild, Wild Worst: Bad ‘B’ Westerns.” Worst? Bad? Westerns?? Hmmm. Sounds familiar.

Here’s their line-up:

The Outlaw, 1943, directed by Howard Hughes (with an uncredited assist by Howard Hawks)
The Master Gunfighter, 1975, written by and starring Tom Laughlin (“Billy Jack”)
The Terror of Tiny Town, 1938, famous for its all-dwarf cast riding Shetland ponies

All good bad movies, but they really should consider including Gone with the West, which, in my humble opinion, is not as much in the “so bad they’re good category” as in the “so bad they’re offensive category.” Things get truly western in that movie, although Jane Russell’s Grand Tetons are a sight to behold in The Outlaw.

Which leads me to Cowboy Fact #26:

26. Cowboys see the West in everything.

From The Outlaw, in which Pat and Doc rescue Rio (Russell), whom Billy has left bound, gagged and strung up by wrists within sight of a desert waterhole
Doc Holliday: You know, I think he’s in love with you. 
Rio: What are you talking about? 
Doc Holliday: The crazier a man is for a woman, the crazier he thinks and the crazier he acts. 
Rio: He’s only crazy about one thing – himself. 
Pat Garrett: Hey, that gives me a thought. Maybe we’ll get Mr. Billy after all. 
Rio: How? 
Pat Garrett: Like you said – if he’s crazy enought to do you like this, maybe he’s crazy enough to come back to turn you loose. 

*One nicely modern touch is the Bicknell festival kickoff, a “Ride Off Into the Sunset” parade, billed as the world’s fastest parade because the speed limit on the eight miles of road they are traversing is 55 mph. Welcome the the New West.


July 17, 2008

Gone, Gone, Gone; or, Picksburg Kid Picks

by cowboylands

Any western where the Hero bombs a town with trebuckets, and a TNT-dropping kite…

Well, folks, from the dead-eye aim of the Picksburg Kid, that can only be Gone with the West, a ’70s-porn-soundtracked, leather-clad-Sammy Davis Jr.-co-starring, James Caan-must-have-had-to-fulfill-a-contract-mumbling, weird-debauchery-flavored, shaky-camera-for-drunk-scenes, can’t-recall-the-woman’s-name-starring-but-she-became-famous-and-for-this-role-spoke-only-badly-accented-breathy-Spanish-and-got-pushed-around-by-James-Caan, naked-whip-smacking-opening-scene movie.

You’ve got to see it to believe it. It took me a while to appreciate, only because after I first watched it I had to find my eyeballs that had popped out of my skull and roll up my tongue (brushing off dog hair) when my mouth had dropped open. What a weird, weird movie. 

It uses/abuses a two-fold Vengeance plot in a truly skanky-’70s way, with porn-groove soundtrack, alarming views of men pawing women, and with an odd meta-movie ending: “You killed everyone but the cameraman.” “Vengeance is mine,” saith the Lord, and in this movie James Caan and his mugging co-star take it with homemade catapults while two giants battle in a pig sty. I’m serious. Nothing made me happier than getting a link to this weirdo. 

An even brighter side to this is another list! 

From the Picksburg Kid, ever a discerning movie enthusiast. 

Here’s my list of Top Putrid Shoot-em-ups, culled from many sleepless nights in front of the entertainment center


Cry Blood Apache
It Can be Done Amigo
Gone with the West
(split on this one, I liked it, Bucko didn’t) *see above, amigo. I am in awe of its awfulness
Dan Candy’s Law
The Hanged Man
Dead Aim
Kid Vengeance
Deadwood 76
Hawk of Powder River
The Trail Beyond

And other pithy comments. And my comments. Good thing about blogs is who gets the last word? The last person who posts does! 

I don’t mind saying, I really like Clint Eastwood. The cinematic style of his westerns set the trend for most westerns to come. (He’s also a right good pi-ano player) *Truth! His jazz-inflected mannerisms are true originals. 
My all time fav is Outlaw Josie Wales, but one particularly weird one is The Beguiled. *weird, in a good way!

One thing always on my playlist is my mentor and hero: MacGyver. Before you spit on the ground and drawl “what’s HE got to do with westerns?” He made 3 or 4 western episodes that are classic nice guy w/o a gun fighting off the baddies. *hmmm. will ponder. But if Star Wars is a space-western, and the late, great sci-fi TV series, Firefly, why not? A scrappy hero who doesn’t need a gun is always welcome…  BTW, on Spitting…I’ve stepped in someone’s hawked hoohaw too many times in my best cowboy boots to ever do it myself. 

The one I wanted to see but couldn’t get a copy–Cowboy in Africa, a 1967 series starring Chuck Connors [The Rifleman],a hatchet-faced good guy with a repeating rifle… Hi-ho, Jumbo, away! …This was made into a comic book, believe it or not…… Wow! In which Cowboy Jim battles the green plague and a plot to silence him!

It’s rare to get such a cornucopia of crap…I mean cinematic glory such as these! Thanks, Kid! (and make sure you spend some time playing stickball or something, in the sun)




July 15, 2008

Westerns 101; or, What Owen Wister Gave the World

by cowboylands

Yesterday was Owen Wister’s birthday, the man who almost single-handedly created the Cowboy mythos. He’s both a masterful wordsmith and a cautionary example against using the Cowboy indiscriminately. 

Who the hell is Owen Wister? One of my favorite places on the Wild Western Web for all things Americana, The Library of Congress’s American Memory site describes him succinctly:Robert Vaughan copyright 2008 es

Novelist Owen Wister was born in Germantown, Pennsylvania, on July 14, 1860. His 1902 novel The Virginian helped create the myth of the American cowboy. Reared and educated on the east coast, Wister first visited the West in 1885. Set in Medicine Bow, Wyoming, The Virginian‘s tender romance between a refined Eastern schoolteacher and a rough-and-tumble cowhand, with its climactic pistol gunfight, introduced themes now standard to the American Western.

Simple. But anyone who has not read the book cannot conceive of the power of the Virginian and Molly, his schoolmarm. Their actions reverberate throughout literature of the West and the silver screen. 

The Virginian’s plot is fairly straightforward: woman meets man/man meets woman; woman conquers man; no, wait–man conquers woman!

We have in this scenario one of the major themes in all Westerns: civilization versus the wildness of the West, played out through a battle of the sexes.*

Owen Wister was a total Dude until he lived a while in Wyoming (the most Cowboy of states, I would argue, for good and bad). He found in the West what he could not find in his rather unhappy relationships with his parents—who either squelched his wish to become a musician (father) or relentlessly criticized him in the interest of helping him become the best he can be (mother). Wyoming allowed him to find himself, to put it in a clichéd sort of way. But he was the one who created that cliché, by moving his personal experience into words on the page. Then he got married, and by all accounts every day was a shootout for Mr. and Mrs. Wister, and more of the sniping kind than the romantic full-frontal confrontation….

The final shootout of The Virginian, Jane Tompkins argues in West of Everything: The Inner Life of Westerns, has a two-fold climax: the Virginian takes on his enemy, and he disobeys the woman whom he loves. (She has told him that she will leave if he goes to battle.**) The enemy soon lies in the dirt, but Molly also flies into his arms. Why, he has succeeded both in becoming an individual by separating himself from this strong female figure, and by still keeping the female in his life! Amazing!

Wister’s life wasn’t quite that nicely wrapped up. (Westerns are part of the romance genre, after all.) He had a difficult relationship with his wife, and he never quite found the “self” he had while he was living alone in the West, just him and the other virile cowpokes.

His world of The Virginian and the successful shootout is just a romance, yet perhaps because its images contain the real frustration he felt, these images literally echo through the century, since 1902 repeated again and again in scripts and books until the real world and real people have taken on tinges of this romantic view.

But caution, caution. The author was doing what all authors do: working out his own fear and rage and love and horror with vivid characters and situations. Those who use the tough Cowboy—stoic, forthright, master of all he surveys—should know that…just perhaps…their motivations might mirror Owen Wister’s. Might they also have a little fear and rage and vulnerability inside?

*In this novel, it is described in a rather elevated tone that is like the ballads of the Court of Love of Eleanor of Aquitaine. Indeed, as mentioned by Jane Tompkins, Wister argued that the cowboy was directly descended from the Anglo-Saxon knights. (What happened to the Spanish knights, guy? And Saladin? And he must have forgotten that all the knightly tales of derring-do came from the mouths of women in the Court of Love, not the uncouth knights the women wanted to civilize.)

**Very un-Eleanor of Aquitaine of her. 


June 1, 2008

What Would Gary Cooper Do?

by cowboylands

When life appears frustrating, demeaning, terrifying, unfixable, and/or immutable, it is helpful to ask: “What would Gary Cooper do?”

His example—and that of other western celluloid heroes—provides an antidote to the life of the office drone, the frustrated housewife/husband, or the cog in the machine. Following the Cowboy Way allows one to stand tall in the land of mediocrity.

Why, with the herds of movie stars available, would I pick the Coop? Because he said it best in Along Came Jones (1945): “You gotta look like you’re somebody and act like you’re somebody….You do that, pretty soon you are somebody.” (OK, it’s a comedy and he’s spoofing his cowboy image, but still a good line, dammit!) 

 How to  look like you’re somebody:

  • The boots. Whoever has walked less than a mile* in cowboy boots knows that the steady thud of their stout heels provides a degree of self-assurance that borders on guarantee.
  • The belt buckle. When you wear one, you are the champion. Of the world.
  • The hat. You have to fill the dome with—if not brains—than hot air. Talk like you own the ranch and you will.
  • Which brings us to the talk. Do you have the garrulity of Andy Devine or the laconic impact of the Duke? (Note that one is always the sidekick, and one is the movie star.)
  • The action. Like a quarter horse, you’ve got to be able to turn on a dime and be ready for the shootout, the showdown, the barroom brawl, the attack (doesn’t have to be Apache), the wagons-in-a-circle maneuver, the cutting-a-bullet-out-of-your-leg routine, the lip-lock with the beautiful/handsome love interest, or the ride-into-the sunset trick. Life, fast and furious, isn’t scripted, so it’s good to bone up on the possibilities.

Katy Jurado’s character, the widow Helen Ramirez, describes Gary Cooper’s Marshal Will Kane in High Noon (1952): He’s a man. And it takes more than big broad shoulders to make a man.

Following in the Coop’s footsteps is more than embodying a swaggering cowboy diplomacy, or carrying a big stick/gun/chip on your shoulder.  It’s about striving to take an idealized high road in conduct, as well as looking good on a horse. And not being a good rider myself, I have to add that you don’t necessarily need the other outer trappings (boots, belt buckle, hat), although they are stylish.

All is right in the Western World, then, right? Wrong. Trouble can ensue when following the Cowboy Way. But that’s a subject of another post…All images copyright 2008

Happy virtual trails. 

*If you walk more than a mile you aren’t really a cowboy, as you obviously do not have a horse, ATV, or pickup to your name. 





May 6, 2008

Cowboy Diplomacy Isn't Just for White Men Anymore

by cowboylands

Independent. Rough-hewn. Clean-cut. Hell-raiser, and all in good, clean fun.

But for however many hardworking cowpokes out there, “cowboy” is also code for another array of attributes: rough-and-tumble, no-holds-barred, antiquated, nonrefined, in-your-face. Add that to “diplomacy” and you have a thick brew of Ugly American.

“Cowboy diplomacy” has made it to Wikipedia. In Wiki-speak, it means the “resolution of international conflicts through brash risk-taking, intimidation, military deployment, or a combination.” To quote further from the not so-neutral Wiki-editor: “Overtly provocative phraseology typically centralizes the message, such as George W. Bush’s ‘You’re either with us or you’re with the terrorists.'” That line doesn’t have the terse power of Eastwood’s words, but every time I hear it, it brings home the fact that we are living on a huge movie set, peopled by leaders in Stetsons.

Western story lines are like code, arrangements of elements that satisfy the genre’s structure. One element is a climactic showdown, or what “cowboy diplomacy” inevitably leads to. But, with the arrival of two non-stereotypical stars, Clinton and Obama, we have a chance of having our own revisionist Western. A Western that does not adhere to the dusty, worn plots of yore, and which promises fresh perspectives. Change!
The woman: Clinton is definitely not a tart with a heart of gold. She is not the mild frontier housewife. I have yet to hear of anyone calling her a cowboy, but she can already swig whiskey with the guys.
African American man: Obama’s not the sidekick! He actually has speaking parts! He has a starring role!
Promising! But the more these candidates take pot-shots at each other, the more it seems that these two are in a showdown themselves, filled with intimidation, brash risk-taking, and the same old moralistic “with me or against me” script. There’s still a chance this will be a new Western, but it could be that cowboy diplomacy is here to stay….