Sunday, March 16, 2008

Westerns, Continued

[This is a continuation of an earlier post entitled “Westerns”]

The incarnational culture of Europe was carried across the ocean by men of European blood. With them came the Enlightenment heresy of the disembodied brain as well. In the old Westerns, we see that conflict played out between the men with the code, written on their hearts, and the brainy businessmen with no code and no hearts but many avaricious schemes.

I don’t think I could trust any man or woman whose heart didn’t warm up to the old Western pictures. And as a corollary, I don’t think I could trust any man or woman who actually liked the decadent Clint Eastwood Westerns.

There are so many Westerns filmed during the golden era of Westerns, 1935-1959, that deserve to be mentioned. Let me just list a few.

1. Good Day for Hanging, starring Fred MacMurray. Fred MacMurray’s character insists, despite the opposition of almost the entire town, that a low-life snake is indeed just that, a low-life snake who must be hanged for the murder he claims he didn’t commit but which he did. The liberal worldview that says evil is a mirage and we are all products of our environment is shown, in this movie, to be pure gas.

2. Last of the Comanches. The title of this movie is a bit misleading. It is not a movie about the last Comanches; it is a reworking of John Ford’s The Lost Patrol. Broderick Crawford keeps a small group of soldiers and civilians together as they face an infinity of hostile (is there any other kind?) Comanche Indians. As in The Lost Patrol, the desert brings out the best and the worst in men.

3. Any Randolph Scott movie. Nobody could stand tall like Randolph Scott. If Trent Lott had seen and absorbed into his blood enough Randolph Scott movies when he was young, he would have said to the media jackals the day after Strom Thurmond’s birthday: “I said it and I meant it.”

Randolph Scott was great as the reluctant gunfighter. In countless Westerns, he played a man who wanted to hang up his guns but whose commitment to his friends always drew him back. In Gunfighters, a sweet young thing begs him to run away with her and forget the bad guys who have murdered his friends. “I can’t. There are too many empty saddles on the fence,” Scott replies.

In The Tall T, Maureen O’Sullivan (of Tarzan fame) also begs Scott to ride away from the bad guys who have killed his friends. The reply: “There are some things a man can’t ride around.”

4. Hopalong Cassidy pictures. In sixty-plus pictures, Hoppy adhered to the code. With humor and with grace, he faced down the bad guys. What more could you ask for?

5. Lawless Empire. I single out this B-Western starring Charles Starrett, not because it is better than all the rest, but because there is a defining moment in it that highlights the strength of the B-Western. Without any heavy-handed preachiness, the cowboys get together and start singing a Christian hymn. They are not in church; they are simply going about their work and singing. The naturalness of the scene highlights the fact that the religion of the God-man is in their blood, which is why one B-Western is worth more than the combined output of the French, Italian, English, American, etc., filmmakers for the past 30 years.