Monday, 16 February 2015

Winchester 73

Winchester 73'

As 'Western' cinema goes, the maintenance of key symbolic features are of critical importance, the action, the characters (personality and morals) , the clothing, settings and manner of speaking. All of these features appear and are to a degree exacerbated in the storyline of the classic western Winchester 73 (Directed by Anthony Mann) , starring veteran western actor, James Stewart (Bend the River (1952), The man from Laramie (1955))

The brilliant complexities that envelope the storyline are focused on 'The Gun that is winning the West' (also referred to as 1 in 1000), but the characters that use the gun as a staging point of contact between each other. Initially starting off in the possession of Lin McAdam (James Stewart) which he receives as a prize for a shooting contest against Dutch Henry Brown (the sadistic outlaw), leads to a series of unfortunate events, almost as if the gun hold a curse, except for the rightful owner.
within the overall story line of the morally righteous and masculine hero chasing a murderous, greedy and impatient outlaw, on a quest for revenge and retribution at a personal level.

The sub-stories focus on the transfer of the rifle, between a variety of western-mythical characters , who create a 'chain-link' for the story line, These include, Hero, Villain (and gang), Frontiersman, (white)Indian-Trader, Indian warriors, a 'Dandy' and his wife and the US cavalry. The agendas and means by which these individuals are linked to the gun, create a very exciting and brilliantly complex story line, that presents the main characters as not so clearly cut, the Hero with socially negative agenda (i.e. wants murderous revenge). The infusion of action, romance, comedy and tension, created a " frisky, fast-moving, funny Western in which a rifle is the apple of a cowboy's eye.'" (Crowther)

The symbolism of the Winchester 73 rifle, is more important to the characters rather than the actual item. The idea of possessing such a unique and prestigious piece of equipment , that was used by symbolic individual, is a clear presentation of that character prowess, and abilities, such as shooting ,which was measurement of an individual at that time. For such a advanced piece of weaponry, the Winchester 73' is very rarely used in the film, and many of the individual who at some point receive it, do not use it.

A review from IMDB ' assess the links between the symbolism of the gun and the effects it has in conjunction with all the characters and how Winchester 73' is a unique western in its use of a physical item for a plot base, instead of one fuelled from a emotional level.

'This emphasis on the gun, symbol of potent masculinity, actually allows for a critique of that masculinity, revealing pointless elaborate rituals at the expense of society and order; brute capitalist greed; murderous Indian-traders who defraud both seller and enemy; cowards; psychotic killers; before returning to its 'true' owner, a broken hero thoroughly compromised, who has become as murderous as the murderer he seeks. The gun is never imprinted with the name of its owner, not only because there is no fixed owner, but because there is no fixed masculinity, an insight anathema to the traditional Western.'

New York Times- Bosley Crowther (1950)

Films Graded

Stagecoach 1939

this is the story of nine people two drivers and seven passengers who for mostly separate reasons are traveling together all the way to Lee's Ferry. among the travellers are a alcoholic doctor Doc Boone, Dallas a prostitute who along with Doc Boone is being thrown out of tow by the "Law and Order League", a whisky salesman Samuel Peacock, Ringo Kid who is a fugitive that is being returned to jail in Lee's Ferry, Lucy Mallory who is pregnant and traveling to see her husband who is in the cavalry, a banker Henry Gatewood that has embezzled a large amount of money from the bank works for and Hattfield a southern gentleman and a gambler. to add to all the troubles that they may have individually and with each other there is another problem Geronimo and is Apiachs  are on the warpath with add a layer of dander to the jorny.
I this movie we have the civilised outposts and items of civilisation in the wilderness. the Henry Gatewood's occupation of a banker is a job that could only work in the cilviled world but he partly relays on the markers of civilisation breaking down when he shows up at Lee's Ferry they take him in to custody because the telegraph lines have been fixed and they know what he did. also the fact that when the Indians do attack the fist sing of them is an arrow but after that its only guns used
also at the end when Ringo and Dallas ride off together one of the drivers Curly say to the other "there they go escaping civilisation"

Shane (1953)

Shane was released in 1953 and was directed by George Stevens and shows the story of a gunfighter, Shane, as he tries to settle down with a homestead family, the Starrett’s, while a conflict rages between the settlers and ranchers. Ultimately Shane has to intervene in the conflict to protect the Starrett family which then means he must leave the homestead or face prosecution for the crimes he committed to protect the homesteaders.  

The movie Shane contains opposing aspects as shown in Kitses antinomial grid. This grid proposes that Westerns contain different oppositions in their structure. Shane relates to this grid as it portrays the opposition between the individual and the community, which are shown in the community of the homesteaders and the individualism of Shane. 

The film focuses on Shane’s struggle to fit in to a community where compromise and social responsibility are needed compared to the freedom and focus on self-interest he is used to as a loan traveller. As well as this, the film focuses on the conflict between the homesteaders and Ryker which is used to show the ideas of nature vs culture in the western genre. The homesteaders and Ryker and his men both contain aspects of Kitses ideas of nature and culture, for example Ryker shows signs of corruption (categorised as Culture by Kitses) in his wish to force the homesteaders from their land. 
He also shows signs of brutalisation and savagery which Kitses classes as being a part of the nature category. The homesteaders show signs of purity (Nature) in their behaviour, in particular Joe Starrett, as he believes that Ryker can be reasoned with when he is going to meet with him in the saloon, but he then finds out that Ryker will kill him. As well as this Shane shows signs of both knowledge and humanity as well as savagery and experience. 
[2] (Kitses grid)

What I am trying to show by using Kitses grid is that Shane isn't as simple as it would originally seem, it is more than just a simple bad guy versus good guy story. Both ‘sides’ of the conflict express aspects of both the wilderness and civilization which when analysed shows how Shane is much more than it seems at first. It actually has a very dynamic structure with much deeper characters than would be expected.

This film shows a more serious side to the western, with less of a focus on the idea of the cowboy fantasy (although there are still elements of this in, such as in the closing scene). “Death is a serious thing here, and gun play is realistic, not cartoonish or gratuitous. There’s also a sense of the harshness of frontier life.” [1] Its much more than a silly cowboy adventure story, it shows a lot of realities of frontier life, such as the corruption and conflicts in everyday life.

One aspect of the film I personally dislike is the portrayal of Marion and the other women. Although this can hardly be criticised as it was created in the 1950’s when women were seen as having to be only nurturing mothers and wives. I also dislike the slower paced nature of the film, but this is because I prefer more fast paced modern films, and so is just personal preference. Overall I feel this film is much more complex than it is seen as by just a casual viewer and it explores some very interesting aspects of western life.


Shane (1953) Review

Shane (1953)

The film Shane (1953) depicts the story of a gunslinger Shane (Alan Ladd) who rides into a small frontier town in Wyoming in the hope of settling down, positioning himself within the conflict of the homesteaders and the ranchers, Shane does what he can in order to protect those he comes to care about even if it means leaving town alone afterwards. Based on the book of the same name written by Jack Schaefer. It has all the specific elements that you would hope to find in any great western film; heroes, villains, guns, frontier towns, saloon fights etc. and for many of these reasons it is considered to be a classic and one of the best western films ever made.
          Shot under the peaks of the Grand Tentons the way in which Shane has been filmed enhances the rich and dramatic landscape of the West and highlights the iconic American frontier scene with a small town on the edge of nowhere.
          Alan Ladd’s character, Shane, is the hero of the film, the good guy who saves the town from the villainous ranchers however he is also a very mysterious character. He first off presents himself to the Starrett family as a weakling, just passing through however when Rykers men show up and there is conflict present he soon changers his behaviour; getting involved in another man’s dispute and proudly showing Rykers men his gun, his personality and tone begin to suggest that he is more than meets the eye. Perhaps this is why Shane also only has a first name; lending to his mystery and past. The story is told through the eyes of Joey, a young boy who looks up to Shane and sees him as a role model, this is also shown through the camera work, when many times Shane is in shot it is filmed from lower down, elevating his importance and showing the admiration. Personally I think that Ladd does well to portray the character of Shane.
          Overall, Shane, is classed as one of the best western films and director and producer, George Stevens, did well to turn such a successful book into an endless, classic western. I don’t personally watch many western films, however, having watched Shane, I did enjoy it and would recommend it for others to watch.


Sunday, 15 February 2015

Courage of the West (1937)

Directed by: Joseph H. Lewis

Written by: Norton S. Parker

Starring: Bob Baker

Bob Baker made his debut appearance in the "B"-movie Courage of the West as a singing cowboy in 1937. The film, directed by Joseph H. Lewis, told the story of an adopted son who grew up as a ranger and is tracking his own convict father, unbeknownst to him. Courage of the West was the first of four Westerns that Lewis made with singing cowboy Bob Baker as well as his first time as a lone director. The film is "full of original touches" and Lewis' "staging, camera work and visual motifs" are considered much more inventive than the story or the characters to some critics (1), however the film is also considered to be Bob Baker's best starring role out of all of the films he went on to work in.

The film contains two major parts: the prologue with the "youthful hero" and the main film depicts the protagonist in a much later period. Unlike Lewis' later films however, Courage of the West appears to have "no politics" and "no social commentary" it "pits the...cowboy policemen, against bad guy train robbers" which seems unable to be considered a particularly original story line. The film also lacks any real mystery with an over-perceptive lead character and unoriginal plot. This sets it up to be dismissed in the history of the great American Western.