Friday, March 22, 2024

Quote of the Day (Geoffrey O’Brien, on the Rise and Fall of the Western)

“Westerns were reliable, minimal, direct, mindless, a series of clear actions occurring in an empty world where there was ultimately nothing to worry about. Indians, outlaws, rustlers, and crooked railroad men emerged out of nowhere and were duly erased. A Western was not expected to depart from precedent any more than a baseball game would experiment with new rules or novel plays. The genre was an antidote to complexity, enjoyed precisely because of its apparent lack of any subtext to parse or interpret. Ironically, the simplest of genres ultimately succumbed to a host of problems it had never anticipated: problems with history, with gender roles, with racial stereotypes, with faded notions of heroism and honor.”— American poet, editor, book and film critic, translator, and cultural historian Geoffrey O’Brien, “Killing Time,” The New York Review of Books, Mar. 5, 1992

The image accompanying this post, coming from the film Colt. .45, features Randolph Scott—an actor so associated with the western that in Mel Brooks’ parody of the genre, Blazing Saddles, Cleavon Little invokes the name of the star to win over racist-ridden Rock Ridge.

For this quote’s picture, I could have used John Wayne, James Stewart, or Gary Cooper, stars more prominent in the cultural landscape, then and now, than Scott.

But none of these were so defined by the western as Scott. Of his more than 100 movies across three decades, he made 60 in this genre—including one I regard as one of the very best in the form’s history, Sam Peckinpah’s elegiac Ride the High Country—the farewell movie of both Scott and co-star Joel McCrea.

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