The Classic American Western Essay

Submitted By kitkat465
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Katherine Melhorn
Kevin Holdsworth
ENGL 2470 – Film Appreciation
July 27, 2010

The Classic American Western Western films have been around since the invention of the moving picture and have become a part of classic American history. When you hear the word “western” you immediately think of romantic landscapes, rugged terrain, cowboys, gunslingers and outlaws. After all “Like steam locomotives and town squares, Western movies are an indelible part of America's heritage.” (
Many filmmakers, like John Ford, were at ease in this genre. Audiences are also attracted to the western genre due to their simplistic nature and clear cut conflicts. "Because everyone wore a six-shooter, complex moral conflicts could be plausibly resolved in clear, clean violent action." ( Audiences enjoy the excitement of an outlaw life within the safety of the movie. We want to be reckless without suffering the consequences. I think that is why westerns have become so popular. In many fictional western movies there is an epic struggle between good and bad. For example, in “High Noon”, the entire movie is hinged on the arrival of a train carrying 1 bad man and a Marshal who feels obligated to clean up his own mess. Other western movies are about real people like in “My Darling Clementine” and “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”. In this type of western, the characters involved like Wyatt Earp or Butch Cassidy are subject to Hollywood’s discretion. Their times and tribulations are often romanticized to help humanize these characters.
Movies of this day were mostly advertised by posters. A trailer like you see today was actually named so because it originally followed the movie. The essence of a western movie was captured in their advertising. These posters not only advertised the stars of the picture, but also told a story of the film in sheer artistry. Beautifully drawn and carefully choreographed artwork would line store windows and drawn in their audience.
In the early western, plots were simple and very easy to follow. In “High Noon” and “The Ox-Bow Incident” there was a single plot and you knew someone was going to die. You didn’t necessarily know who was going down, but someone was whether they were good or bad. As the films progressed, plots seemed to get a little more interesting. With Chihuahua in “My Darling Clementine” having jealousy issues and Dobbs letting his paranoia issues control his actions in “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.” Both of these people added depth to the plots of these movies.
All westerns are surrounded by the element of justice. It’s present in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” when they are followed by men paid to kill the men and it is present in “Hondo” with the Cavalry and also in “The Ox-bow Incident” even though it was corrupt justice. When you think of justice in western movies, you think of swift vigilante justice, not very many trials with it usually ending in a hanging.
Some westerns are based on fact, but Hollywood has taken many liberties with most of them. “Hollywood fed us a steady diet of Western myths, legends, and heroes for over five decades.” ( The fact is that there were many bad guys during that era and that there were not very many heroes. In a