I have been working my way through the western collection of my local video/DVD library- watching mainly the classics. High Noon (1952), Directed by Fred Zinnemann, starring Gary Cooper and a 23 year old Grace Kelly: Shane (1953), directed by George Stevens, starring Alan Ladd: The Man From Laramie (1955) directed by Anthony Mann and starring James Stewart (they made five westerns together): The Searchers (1956), Directed by John Ford, staring John Wayne: Rio Bravo (1959), directed by Howard Hawks starring John Wayne and Angie Dickinson.
The genre talks about many features of American life. The battle between ranchers (“we don’t need fence wire”) and homesteaders is fascinating. Men and masculinity is an important theme. The representations of Indians in films like The Searchers is a bit hard to intellectualise. I’m sure you could say something about the connections with American foreign policies during the era. The gender relationships are also fascinating. The tough guy who is quite unmanned in the presence of a woman seems to talk to ideas that we want women who are beautiful and vulnerable, but (secretly) tough as well. It’s a hard act to follow.
There are blaxploitation westerns too. A flick through Darius James’s That’s Blaxploitation: Roots of the Baddasssss ‘Tude (1995) highlights Bucktown (1975), directed by Arthur Marks, starring Fred Williamson and Pam Grier. Then there is The Harder They Come (1972), directed by Perry Henzell and starring Jimmy Cliff, would count as one. Nelson George gives The Harder They Come mad props in his Buppies, B-Boys, Baps and Bohos: “The Harder They Come starring reggae star Jimmy Cliff, turns into a midnight hit that helps popularise Jamaican dance music in the U.S. while showing the effects of American western movies in the Third World... With its blend of advocacy, rebellion, and music, this film will stand as both the best rock movie and he best blaxploitation movie of the decade.” Western imagery featured in Jamaican dancehall into the 1980s, with Lone Ranger’s series of classic early 1980s hits, like Hi Yo Silver Away (Greensleeves, 1982), and, M16 (Hitbound/Channel One, 1982).