Posts Tagged ‘John Wayne’

Written by Marion Tusseau, University of Angers

The Western films came from the Western genre which can be applied to various arts, the first one being literature with some famous novels such as The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore. It became a cinema theme as soon as 1900 and the film The Great Train Robbery by Edwin S. Porter, which was released in 1903, is considered as the first Western film for setting the pattern of the Western genre. Thus, the films deal with the nineteenth and twentieth-century American Old West. They are often set at key moments in the construction of the USA as a country because they depict, in a way, the expansion of the frontier in the West, the famous conquest of the West and how Americans set there.

Westerns have specific characteristics such as typical settings in desolate and arid areas (desert, small dusty towns etc), but also typical characters like for example the cowboys, the Native Americans or the outlaws. In addition to those characteristics, there are other iconic elements like the accessories the protagonists wear (Stetson hats, spurs, Colts…) or stereotypical scenes such as the duel between gunfighters, a bank robbery or western treks. The main plot is generally a conflict between bad and good, a conflict involving order and justice against evil and anarchy. The hero is often a lonely man who has principles, who is a good gunfighter and who would stand alone against outlaws and bad guys to bring back peace and order.

Among the most famous directors of traditional Westerns there were John Ford, who made some great Westerns like Stagecoach (1939) or The Searchers (1959), and Howard Hawks who was the director of Red River (1948) and Rio Bravo (1959). Moreover, Westerns becoming more and more popular, a lot of “cowboy stars” were revealed thanks to their performance as for example Broncho Billy Anderson, William S. Hart, Tom Mix or John Wayne.

Westerns were very popular and one of the major Hollywood genres until the 1960s when the genre began to decline. Nevertheless a lot of subgenres of the traditional American Western films appeared, the most famous one being the Spaghetti Westerns. Even if those subgenres were a bit different, they tried to keep the spirit of the traditional ones by presenting almost the same characteristics and they still referred to the American Old West.

Consequently, Westerns are iconic because they emerged in the United States and they are related to it. The films deal with important moments and facts of the history of the construction of the USA such as the conquest of the West or the Civil War. Westerns are also illustrations of the greatness and of the immensity of the western territories and they show some of the most beautiful American landscapes. I think, they also represent the American desire for expansion and power. Thus, they belong to the history and to the culture of the U.S.A. since some of the Westerns’ characteristics can also be consider as symbols of the country.”

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Blue Steel

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.

Claire Stoms

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I also chose to watch The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, because it was available to watch instantly on Netflix!

In the film, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, a common theme is the necessity to spread democracy to the West. During the 19th and 20th centuries, the idea of spreading democracy to new frontiers was an important notion in the United States. In the film, the Western town was a lawless place, where criminals, such as Liberty Valance could commit crimes without consequence. However, when Ransom Stoddard arrives from the East, he tries to bring democracy to the small town. After a few days in the town, Stoddard starts teaching a class about the American government. One of the students describes America as a republic where the people are the boss and tell the government officials what to do. Stoddard also asks a student to recite the Declaration of Independence, which is the foundation of American democracy. By spreading the values of democracy to the town of Shinbone, Stoddard tries to instill the importance of voting and becoming involved in the government, which are both very democratic ideas.

In a later scene, there is a mass meeting in which two people are nominated to become Senators for the territory. Stoddard, the man who knows about the proper way to vote, takes control of the meeting. At the meeting, two men are elected based on their values to represent Shinbone in the territorial convention. Then, the men present at the meeting vote to confirm the nomination of the delegates. Liberty Valance loses the nomination because he is dishonest and untrustworthy. This scene suggests that in order to partake in democracy, once must be virtuous and not a violent outlaw. Not only is this scene significant because it shows the spreading of democracy to the territories, but it represents the idea of the West becoming “American.” Once the territory gains statehood, they are a part of America. In the beginning and at the end of the film, we can see that democracy worked for the territory, because it became more civilized and prosperous. By fighting against the brutishness of the West as represented by Liberty Valence, Shinbone was able to succeed lawfully and democratically.

Rachel Harold

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Within the first three minutes of John Ford’s Stagecoach, the viewer is transported to the “Old West.”  The opening sequence features galloping horses towing along a wooden wagon with dust filling the air as they move towards the West.  It cuts to an isolated town with the county sheriff, guns in every man’s hand.  There is talk of gambling and banking, the notable name of Wells Fargo  making an appearance.  Talk of Indians or “savages” are on the tips of tongues. Even the quintessential “damsel in distress” makes her presence known.  The Western film touched upon every stereotypical image imaginable within those first few shots except for one: the outlaw.
An outlaw is stereotypically dangerous, anti-heroic and untrustworthy.  Westerns play off this notion by having an outlaw either be the antagonist or the protagonist that eventually becomes good.  Regardless, he is almost always male, rugged and smart.  The outlaw of the film comes later in the form of a man named The Ringo Kid.  Ringo, played by none other than iconic Western actor John Wayne, makes his entrance once the plot of the story had already been introduced.  It is made clear that Ringo had gone against the law by breaking out of prison. But as the story unfolds, his character becomes more and more innocent.  His reasoning for the jailbreak is just: he was wrongfully accused.  He plans to avenge his parents’ deaths, an awful act done to him not by him. Also, throughout the movie, his behavior suggests a “quiet power.” Although an outlaw, he is knowledgeable about the journey the other characters are taking and tries to lend a helping hand.  He even falls in love with the damsel, an outcast in and of herself.
The typical “outlaw” persona isn’t fully embodied. The whole “dangerous untrusting anti-hero” idea associated with an outlaw is missed.  Rather than dangerous, he is courageous. Ringo defies this once more at the climax of the film.  Instead of fleeing from custody, he senses danger and stays to help the others: a heroic move for a supposed con-man. In the end, Ringo gets his revenge, his girl and his freedom.  Whether or not Ford’s altered version of an outlaw was intended, Ringo was key to the plot of the story.  His character traits didn’t necessarily change throughout but the audience’s view of him did.


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“Stagecoach” Outlaw

For some odd reason, I decided to watch “Stagecoach” without looking at what distinction it had to go with it. Interestingly enough, I looked at the little parenthetical distinction after the film and saw: Outlaw Antihero. And after racking my brain for a while, I decided that yes, Ringo – the outlaw “antihero – could be classified as such, but I really didn’t see it in him. Yes, Ringo is certainly not a normal hero; he defies the law instead of upholding it, he doesn’t follow social norms, and he ultimately solidifies hero status by killing another Outlaw. Essentially, his status as hero is unconventional. However, throughout the film, he shows signs of heroism in his speaking up for the odd (wo)man out and staying to help the Stagecoach against Geronimo and them dang Apaches. So yeah, I kind of ruined the argument I initially set up by saying that, but I shall back it up once again with these facts: 1. While watching the film, the theme of anti-hero was oddly on the back-burner for me, and 2. The notion of the West being the home for the Outsiders and the Uncivilized and the East being the home of the Civilized cultured Folks really struck me. 

 While I watched Stagecoach, the contrast between Ringo/Dallas and Mr.Hatfield/Ms.Mallory was really what struck me. You can right off the bat who the civilized ones are supposed to be, right? Well, those two are from the South, yes, the South not the East. However, keep in mind that there is a distinction between the Southwest/West and the South. They are clothed differently than, talk differently than, and behave differently than Ringo/Dallas. They have the high brow air of those too cultured for the chaos that is the Western life. Meanwhile, Ringo and Dallas are generally shunned from other people (Ringo being an Outlaw and Dallas getting kicked out of town by a bunch of old ladies). The constant contrast between these two “couples” throughout the film was topped off by the fact that the true Westerners, the rough, tough, and uncivilized, pair came out on top. Yes, Ms. Mallory had a baby and everything, but she essentially cracked on the Stagecoach and Mr. Hatfield died, so… Basically, what I am getting at here is the whole idea of the West and its representation in the film through the contrast of the pairs/couples – which could even be extended through Doc/Peacock and Curley/Buck. 

So, is Ringo (played by John Wayne of course), an Outlaw Antihero? Yes. To me, is this characterization the focal point of the film? No (I’m sorry Professor!!!). I guess what this whole entire rant that 2 people will read is about, is how the projection of certain pieces of art (yes, film is an art) is carried out through multiple mediums, two of which being the creator and the viewer. As a viewer, I saw the Outlaw/Antihero. As one of the other mediums, an interpreter, I saw notion of the West as being the rough, touch, uncivilized chaotic place that is home only to those anti enough or outlaw-ish enough to inhabit it. 


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