Essay on Western Movies Since 1960

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A NOT-SO-ACCURATE prophet once wrote, "As recently as 1972, there were a tremendous number of quality Westerns being made . . . and since there seems to be a ten-year cycle in Western movie making, I'd say we'll see more in about 1982." 1 In 1982 only two Westerns were released, and neither was exactly a major success. Barbarosa, starring Willie Nelson, drew some respectable reviews–and some very damaging ones–but nobody went to see the film. The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez appeared first on PBS television, then later went into general release. Today the Western seems to be deader than the California Med-fly. Critics and aficionados of the form can only hear, as with Arnold's sea of faith, its long receding roar.
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? Obviously it couldn't. For all subsequent generations, then, the Western has to be rediscovered, like some store of ancient literature one studies in school.
Reviewing the last twenty-five years of the Western, 1960–1985, is salutary for both aficionados and novices. The sixties began with a great film done in the sparest, most austere classical manner, Budd Boetticher's Comanche Station (1960). The last of the Renown cycle of seven films that Boetticher made with Randolph Scott, Comanche Station reduces the elements of the journey Western to create one of its purest expressions ever. Scott is an aging knight, a man "always alone in Comanche country," who, reminiscent of John Wayne's searcher, hunts endlessly for his wife, taken ten years previously by the Comanches. He buys a woman out of captivity–not his wife, of course, whom he will never find–and escorts her back to her husband. The journey pits him against a charming, evil adversary (Claude Akins), and the trip becomes the occasion for a moral dialectic of the kind for which the Western seems the perfect vehicle. In the end the villain adopts Scott's code, dying honorably, and Scott delivers the wife to her husband. He turns out to be a blind man, a fact that surprises and pleases because all through the film we have worried, along with Scott, about what kind of man would leave such a woman to another's care. It is a great film, and anybody wanting to know what the old-time Western was
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