The Western - Historymartinez's Blog
The Western - Historymartinez's Blog
An introduction to
Presentation by Robert Martinez
Images as cited.
Hard men, with a code to steer by, stand
up, don’t run, count on no one but
yourself. Men who never learned to
deceive themselves. These are the men of
the American western.
The mythic western theme is persistent in
American culture, thanks in large part to
the movies. It was, for a long time, how the
rest of the world saw us.
The Great Train Robbery
• 12-minute silent film in 1903 considered
the first modern film.
We were all cowboys and gunslingers,
operating according to some unwritten
rules of the untamed American West.
5 years old,
July 8, 1968
Photograph provided by author’s personal collection.
As a little tyke, playing Cowboys & Indians
made for a great afternoon. I always made
my little brother be the Indian (so I could
Photograph from personal collection of author.
Coach Martinez and his little brother
I spent many a Saturday afternoon
watching old western movie reruns on t.v.,
especially since that’s about all that was
on. Roy Rogers and his horse Trigger was
The Lone Ranger
The masked lawman & his trusted
Indian companion Tonto were as
popular to kids as Superman & Batman.
Television programming in the 50s & 60s
consisted of many western shows, such as
Bonanza, Wagon Train, High Chaparral,
The Rifleman, and Gunsmoke…but movies
were the best.
American westerns were the things of
dreams and adventure for young men
growing up in the U.S.A. But were the
westerns really All-American?
In truth, our filmmakers have often taken
their leads from artists working in other
countries. Japan’s Akira Kurosawa’s
classis Samurai pictures became box office
successes in America, remade as westerns.
The Seven Samurai (1954), was moved to
indigenous screens as The Magnificent
Seven, starring some of the biggest film
stars of the day including Steve McQueen,
Yul Brenner, Charles Bronson, and James
… Yojimbo (1961), catapulted Clint
Eastwood to fame as the “Man with No
Name,” in A Fistful of Dollars, in 1964.
A Fistful of Dollars director was Sergio
Leone, the Italian responsible for
Eastwood’s “spaghetti western”
So you could say that American westerns
aren’t really so “American.” Or maybe it is,
after all, America is a melting pot from all
over the world.
Moviegoers the world over recognize the
western as America’s defining movie genre
(at least, until the ongoing saga of Star
John Wayne was the ultimate western star.
But why? No one seems to be able to sum
up why, except for maybe one film
director, Raoul Walsh, when he said,
“Dammit, the S.O.B. looked like a
John Wayne, nicknamed the Duke, won his
only Academy Award performance as
Rooster Cogburn in True Grit (1969), of
course, playing an old, cussing, shooting,
Western pictures had a way of influencing
morals of right and wrong in American
society. There was no doubt between good
and evil. The bad guy almost always wore
It’s probably no accident that the Westerns
lost their popularity during the
Counterculture of the 60s & 70s (Vietnam
War and Watergate Scandal). Good guys
weren’t always following the rules. That
just wasn’t very American.
Cowboys were the hero’s of the Conformist
generation. Even John Wayne received a
large amount of criticism for his role in the
Vietnam propaganda film, The Green
Heck, America even elected one of the
Western’s most recognized stars as
President of the United States – Ronald
Don’t you think that frightened a few Cold
War adversaries, after all, a pistol-packing
cowboy with control of a nuclear arsenal?
American film audiences have lost interest.
People being killed slowly, just one at a
time, is a plot line that won’t hold our
attention. America wants machine guns
firing with lots of explosions.
As for me, I still love sitting in front of my
television on a Saturday afternoon
watching my Westerns. Of course, my 10
year-old daughter hates them, especially
the ones in black & white.
The following are my picks for anyone
interested in becoming an expert in the
western movie genre.
Only two westerns have been Academy
Award recipients: Cimarron (1931), then six
decades later, Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven
(1992.) Dances with Wolves is almost a
western, winning Best Picture honors in
In The Unforgiven, Eastwood, who also
directed, makes use of a popular western
movie theme, the lone man. The lone man,
isolated, trying to scratch a living from the
unyielding soil. A former gunfighter, he is
unfit for farming.
The opportunity presents itself, to pick up
his gun again and make some money, the
only way he knows how, money he
wouldn’t care about if he didn’t need it to
take care of his two motherless children.
Eastwood moves comfortably on to
another western movie tradition, and takes
on a sidekick, Morgan Freeman. The
bonds that tie men together in the Western
are unbreakable. Death is the only
The Magnificent Seven
Mexican villagers scrape up enough
money to hire seven gunmen to protect
their homes and families from evil bandits.
Butch Cassidy &
the Sundance Kid
Greatest adventure of western outlaws, there
is no better sidekick movie ever (plus lots of
laughs). These bank & trains robbers are
chased by U.S. lawmen all the way to South
The ultimate western containing every western
theme ever devised. A group of brothers
journey west to settle down, but first they have
to take on the corrupt land barons and lawmen.
Mega film star Gary Cooper plays the quiet,
mild-mannered, but good-natured sheriff of
a small town, left alone, to ward off a band
of thugs. He knows he’s outnumbered,
none of the townspeople will help him,
they’re all afraid.
Cooper faces certain death, but he has a
duty, and he’s not running from it. Clocks
are ticking on walls everywhere in the
movie, moving slowly toward 12 o’clock,
when the train is due to arrive with the
Best Western director, John Ford’s
stories, are simply about the individual as
the last line of defense, a man willing to
take a stand, no matter how high the price.
A good example is The Searchers, starring
Disillusioned loner Ethan Edwards (John
Wayne), goes alone to search for Natalie
Woods, kidnapped as a little girl by the
Indians. This tough man brings her back to
civilization, to her family, and then, alone,
turns and walks away (the John Wayne
walk) into the sunset.
John Wayne as Rooster Cogburn
U.S. Marshall Rooster Cogburn is recruited to
hunt down the killers of a young girl’s father.
Unfortunately for him, she insists on going
along on the difficult journey into the wild Indian
territory. John Wayne wins his only academy
award for Best Actor.
The only western when its alright for a grown
man to cry, because it can’t be helped. John
Wayne leads a group of youngsters in a long
trail cattle drive battling the harsh elements
and evil cattle rustlers.
Homework for Extra Credit
Watch one of the movies discussed on
my must see list, and then write a onepage summary (typed) of why the
movie made a “good” western, what
kind of western themes were present.
The summary must also include a short
summary of the plot and characters.
Lastly, what did you enjoy about the