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Almost a dying art

January 26, 2011 - Pam Rodgers
I have a rather unique background in movies. Sure I grew up watching the 90s “classics” and was in with all the pop culture films of the decade. I was a Disney fanatic and loved wearing out the old VHS tapes. But what I’m referring to are the classic movies that I grew up watching and loving — those movies that were made before I was even a thought in my parents minds. More specifically, I speak of John Wayne’s westerns.

To me, it seems that westerns are somewhat of a dying genre in the heavily computer graphic driven cinema today. I loved watching whatever John Wayne movie was playing to see him chasing the outlaws and the epic shootout scenes to overtake the bad guys. The ones where never seemed to run out of bullets and it was OK just to see gunshot, bad guy hit and the now dead man fall to the ground. While I cannot boast to having seem all of Wayne’s westerns, I have seen a fair few. Many I don’t remember that I have seen until watching them on TCM or AMC and say, “Hey, I remember that part.”

My favorite to watch is “McLintock!” It is definitely one his more light-hearted films, but Wayne’s western themes blend well with the comedy in the movie. It’s great to see Maureen O’Hara and him work together so flawlessly. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen the fight scene with everyone being propelled down into the mud at the bottom of the hill. It’s just a classic scene.

After Wayne’s day, Clint Eastwood kept up the genre with his Dirty Harry and other great films. Then Kevin Costner took over with Dances with Wolves and Wyatt Earp but even those started to have a different feel. Sure there are quite a few good films out there that take on the Western genre, but so many of them fail to catch my attention to sit down and watch them. They just don’t work for me like John Wayne’s films.

What put this idea in my mind is I just saw the Coen brother’s version of “True Grit.” It was a great movie. It is the closet thing to a classic John Wayne movie I have seen in a while, and not because it is a remake. I can’t say as I remember Wayne’s version of True Grit beyond the classic scene where he rides four-on-one with the bad guys. “Fill your hands, you son of a [gun]!”

Jeff Bridges did a phenomenal job with Rooster Cogburn. True Grit earned John Wayne his Oscar for Best Actor. It would be more than a little poetic if Bridges did the same, but I digress.

Even as good as True Grit was, it still had a different feel to me. I guess I don’t care how much better the technology has gotten or how much more is acceptable to do and show on the big screen. Not having all the bells and whistles made Wayne’s movies that much better. I guess I just like my westerns to be pure and simple.

So is the western genre itself dying? Well, no. There are lots of movies tagged to be westerns in today’s cinematic world, seven of them in 2010, but just because it’s tagged a western doesn’t always make it a western in my eyes. Excuse me while I go break out a John Wayne DVD.


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Epic scene in "True Grit" if you've seen the movie, you know what I'm talking about.