Winchester ’73 is a movie that is easily enjoyable and defines the role of guns, especially the Winchester model 1873, in the West and how guns are a reflection of masculinity. In the very beginning of the film, the Winchester ’73 is being coveted by young boys who notice it through a window. If they could have any gun at the time, a Winchester ’73 was the one they wanted. Owning a gun meant that you were a man. A man without a gun seems unnatural to the people in the film. One of Dutch Henry’s partners mentions that he feels “naked” without a gun. He mirrors High Spade’s thoughts towards giving up his weapon. High Spade himself is the first to make note of this when he mentions that “everyone did look kind of ‘undressed,'” addressing the marshal’s policy to take all guns from people entering his city. Before he discovers that he is talking to the marshal, High Spade acts very defensively when told to give up his gun. He does not want to give up his gun because in doing so, he loses his protection against threats, such as armed men, but also because he would be submitting to the marshal as a less-masculine man. The marshal is asserting his masculinity over High Spade’s. However, the marshal is taking guns from all the men, so he is asserting his masculinity over every man. The marshal has all the guns, so he has all the power and is the most masculine figure at this time.
Without guns, all the men seem less masculine. When Lin McAdam enters the saloon and sees Dutch Henry Brown, both men reach for their guns, only to find that they do not have them. Instead of fighting each other with other means, they give one another a cold stare and then go about their business. If they had guns, they would be shooting up the entire saloon. Without them, they act passively, a characteristic reserved for less masculine men.
The Winchester itself is important in determining masculinity. In the film, the judge of the shooting contest, the marshal, mentions that the gun cannot simply be bought because it is so special. It belongs to the best marksman. This shows that masculinity is defined by not only owning a gun, but how well a man can use it. The best marksman, and therefore, the most masculine man, deserves the gun.
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The classic Western film High Noon reflects the stereotypical role of the man in the west. Masculinity is one of the main themes of High Noon, and the characters reflect various levels of masculinity. Deputy Sheriff Harvey Pell struggles with his masculinity, while William Kane seems to represent the perfect man without consciously attempting to be. After Kane’s wedding to Amy Kane, he learns that a murderer he sentenced to be hanged was pardoned on a legal technicality and will be returning to their small town Hadleyville, New Mexico on the noon train. Kane is furious, although he gave up his position as town Marshall for his new Quaker wife, and plans to leave to St. Louis with her; he tells her that he has to stay to finish what he started. She begs him not to be a hero, reflecting the classic western view of man protecting woman, but it seems Kane feels that he needs to live up to his own standards of manhood. His wife tells him that she will be leaving with or without him, but Kane refuses to leave without bringing Miller to justice.
The town does not support Kane and they urge him to leave town. The townspeople feel that the only real issue Frank Miller has is with William Kane, therefore; if Kane is not in the town, Miller will have no reason to cause any problems. We learn that while Miller was free in Hadleyville, the town was a very dangerous place. With no support, Kane has a lot of trouble finding deputies to help him defeat Miller; it seems no one will man up to bring Miller to justice. Mrs. Ramirez, a female character that once dated Miller, then dated Kane, and during the movie dates Harvey Pell, tells Pell that although he is to be the new sheriff, he is not half the man that William Kane is. Ramirez tells Pell that “Kane is a man, it takes more than big broad shoulders to make a man and you have a long way to go.” Pell then goes to the bar and acts bitter towards the bartender and other customers. The Bartender calls him “the boy with the tin star” again, effeminizing his masculinity. Pell takes in this comment and it seems to give him the strength he needs to approach Kane and offer to help him. Pell says that it is time to make the streets fit for women and children, another example of men protecting the allegedly-weak. However; after an argument and a seemingly random fight scene between Kane and Pell, Pell quits.
Pell, unable to reach the classic stereotype of a true man, backs out of a chance to protect the town, leaving Kane to fend for himself. Frank Miller and his gang of three men reach the town at noon, and through the sequential gun-fight scene one can truly understand the epitome of a man that Kane is. Before he leaves the station, Kane writes his will and falls into tears. Kane’s cry shows he is human, and although he quickly wipes his tears after a teenage boy saw him, his tears are tears of virtue. He approaches Miller directly, more or less walking to his death with dignity and pride. Kane is able to kill one of the gang members and afterward he takes cover at a barn. Miller and his men set the barn on fire, in attempts to expel Kane. Regardless of the fact that Kane was literally in the middle of a gun fight and fighting for his life, he still took the time to free all of the horses from the burning barn, again exemplifying Kane’s magnificent virtue and selflessness.
Amy Kane does board the train to leave town, however, once she hears the gunfight begin she exits the train to find her husband. At this point, Kane is inside a saddler shooting at Miller and his men from the window. Amy Kane runs into the station, in which she goes against her religious pacifist beliefs and shoots one of Miller’s men from behind. Miller ends up finding Amy Kane, and holding her hostage in attempts to lure Will Kane. Kane obviously comes outside in order to save his wife, but she ends up saving him by suddenly attacking Miller and giving Kane a clear shot.
After Miller is dead, the town rushes to the scene. At this point, Kane throws his tin star on the ground and leaves town with his wife. Kane’s final action shows that he was not fighting for fun or to make himself look good, but for justice, and once justice was achieved, Kane felt his job was finished.
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Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid takes a slightly different approach to masculinity in the West than your average Western. Instead of having our heroes be the typical macho outlaws, taking risks they know they can survive, the film portrays the heroes as being not so different from your average leads in an action comedy- bickering, almost clueless, and in much worse trouble than they can probably handle. One example of this is when Butch and Sundance are trying to escape from the lawmen looking to kill them, and they get stuck at the edge of a cliff. They have two choices- either attempt to shoot and kill the lawmen, or jump far down into the rapids below. Now, your typical Western hero might have either successfully shot and killed the pursuers, or dove down into the ravine, silently eluding those after instead. Here, the two heroes argue for a couple minutes, before Sundance makes a confession- he can’t swim. The two of them jump anyway, surviving, but as they’re pulled along the rapids, Sundance attempts to grab onto Butch, causing another argument between the two of them, even as they’re being pushed along a quickly moving ravine.
Another example of the film’s subversion of manliness comes when Butch and Sundance find the group of Bolivian bandits that have stolen the payroll from their now-former employer. When Sundance tries to make a plan to shoot the bandits, then Butch has a confession of his own- he’s never shot a man. The film gives us this great, supposedly dangerous myth of the West, and tells us that he’s never shot anyone. Not only that, the film has both men constantly learning new things about each other. Unlike someone such as The Man With No Name, both of the leads have full lives that they’re lead, something that always seems to surprise their partner in crime. It’s almost as though it’s gotten to the point they see each other as myths, and the realization that the other isn’t using their real name comes as a bit of shock. This big image of the manly myth is so powerful that one can forget that maybe one can forget what a normal, mortal human being they are.
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I found the film High Noon difficult as a Western. There are no cowboys, there are no Indians and there’s only one gun battle. The movie instead centers on Will Kane, a newly married Marshal, his new wife Amy who is a Quaker, the people of the town they live in and the bandit Frank Miller. As the Kanes prepare to leave on their honeymoon, Kane (Will) receives word that Miller, a bandit he put away as Marshal, is coming back to town on the noon train. Miller previously threatened Kane and anyone who stands with him for locking him up. At this point, the townspeople tell the Kanes to get out of town and avoid a shoot out with Miller. Kane refuses and spends the next 60 minutes trying to rally men as deputy Marshals. No one will help him. The noon train pulls into town, where Miller is met by three of his gang members. They seek out Kane, but also break a window to steal a whip. Amy Kane is sitting on the noon train- she told Kane she was leaving with or without him- when she hears gunfire. Miller and Kane are having a shootout, and Kane has shot two of Miller’s men and wounded himself. Amy shoots the third gang member, who has quickly reconciled saving her husband and her religious beliefs. Miller takes Amy hostage so Kane will come out, but Amy attacks Miller, thus helping Kane shoot him dead. The townspeople finally come out to see Kane, and he leaves by throwing his Marshal badge/star on the ground.
Kane is the ostensible hero of this movie, but he’s sort of virtuous to the point of fault. Plenty of people point out to him that things would be better for everyone if he left. They literally tell him he has a wife to think about, and to leave town. Instead, he lets his morality guide him to stand up to this criminal, even if he has to do it alone. Kane says “if you think I like this, you’re crazy,” indicating that he has no personal want to face Miller, no glory he wants from it, only a moral code he is naturally bound to. He is the representation of masculinity in this movie, and the creators include several antithetical masculine characters that serve to highlight it. His deputy Marshal, who is too loose and freewheeling to be made Marshal in full, won’t help defend the town. His friend Sam asks his wife to lie to Kane about his whereabouts, so he won’t have to face Miller (or Kane, really). The bartender, who tells Kane that Miller brings business and people like him for that, is minimal character, but still enforces this idea.
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When watching High Noon I really took notice of Kane’s dedication to the law. Marshall Kane is told repeatedly by many different people to get out of town before Frank Miller comes. After all, he surrenders his job as Marshall at the beginning of the movie, so technically he has no duty to protect the town. Also, many townspeople believe that Frank Miller will only cause trouble in order to get Kane. Throughout the movie there is this struggle between “guts” and “brains” to determine whether Kane will stay to take on Miller.
The film glorifies Kane for his respect for the law, and the duty he feels to the well-being of this town. It is clear when watching that Kane is portrayed as better than any other character. This is definitely because of his understanding and respect for the law and the duty he feels to it, while other characters, especially in the saloon, make the claim that not fighting is smart. Throughout the film I begin to believe that this little town is something worth Kane and others risking their life for.
This film does lots of work by communicating law and order in society as something special worth risking your life for. There is honor in the fight Kane takes part in, and if he had died it would have been an honorable death. Viewers are meant to respect Kane and the values he represents. This film probably leads to the public cherishing their communities a little more and working to uphold law and order. It does a great job of elevating the values of this society while pushing societies who value other things such as equality out of the spotlight.
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I decided to watch the western “Blue Steel” from 1934 and stars John Wayne. I had never actually watched an entire John Wayne movie before. I had seen bits and pieces of them when my dad would watch them, but this was my first full solo encounter with a John Wayne movie. Before watching the film, I had learned that this one of John Wayne’s earlier movies and it became very apparent throughout the film that the filmmakers were trying to frame John Wayne as the epitome of masculinity that he was known as throughout his life.
This became very apparent during the scene in which John Wayne’s character, John Carruthers, and Sheriff Jake have their first encounter after the safe robbery. John is cooking dinner, when the he hears someone outside. He quickly sneaks out the window as the Sheriff enters his house. John sneaks around the house and enters the front door with his gun drawn and tell the Sheriff to put his gun down and the Sheriff immediately does. Then John offers the Sheriff some dinner of beans. He apologizes that it’s only beans, but the Sheriff is more than happy to have some. The Sheriff then reaches down towards his pocket and John quickly pulls out his gun. The Sheriff comments on how quick John is on the draw, but says he was only reaching for a drink. He pours John a cup and they drink and eat together.
This entire scene reveals the character traits that John Wayne embodies. His quick exit out the back door shows that he’s clever, but him coming back through the door with his gun drawn shows that he’s tough and not afraid of conflict. Offering beans to the Sheriff for dinner shows that he’s caring, but the fact that he only cooked beans shows that he’s not overly feminine. Again being quick on the draw shows that John is tough and physically superior to most, but accepting a drink shows that he can relax and have fun like a man. All of these traits lead up to John Wayne being characterized as the epitome of masculinity, and that’s what the film “Blue Steel” was made to do.
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Part of what drew me to this film in the first place was the idea put forth by its director Robert Altman (famous for directing M*A*S*H the movie) that it was in fact an “anti-Western film” because it turns a number of Western conventions on their heads. Even the opening scene makes the case for that idea – the presumed “hero,” John McCabe, does not come into town boldly and loudly. He rides in slowly, quietly, with a pack mule in tow. Leonard Cohen provides the soundtrack in the background, a soft and dark melody about strangers that fits well with the darkened images in the frame. The West, in this case a small town in the northwest United States, does not appear particularly wild, fruitful, or backlit and has already been inhabited by miners – who, interestingly enough, do not exemplify hard work and progress so much as they do laziness and drunkenness. This is already a West not of opportunity, but of opportunists.
McCabe himself continues to subvert a number of Western tropes. Instead of carrying a Smith Westin, he carries some sort of Swedish gun, which causes confusion and speculation amongst several town folk at the saloon. He smokes cigars. He gambles. Instead of inhabiting the role of cowboy, bandit, sheriff, or villain, he uses his newfound power to build a brothel and coordinate with an opium-addicted British madam. Though he possesses a reputation of toughness through his aggressive personality and rumors that he’s a gunfighter, McCabe never actually uses a firearm until the final shootout forces him to from hidden locations, and even then he dies in the process. It cannot really even be considered an honorable death – he dies not defending the town, but defending his own monetary interests. Greed put a price on his head, and even as Mrs. Miller eventually succeeds in reasoning with him, he must pay it.
The presentation of the West as a rather gloomy place full of hustlers and failed dreams makes more sense considering the film’s 1971 production date. Altman relies on developing the sense of the town and its inhabitants – and it is their flaws that make them so real in their humanity – more than he does typical Western “shorthand.” The hero dies in the end, but business will continue as usual. It always does.
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