In class on Tuesday, we discussed that the American western movie genre was developed because of the rapid urbanization due to the industrial revolution. Americans needed an icon to look to for hope of a more exciting life than working in a factory. They needed the renewal of masculinity. Winchester ’73 illustrated this in a number of ways. Foremost, the entire movie revolved around a rifle, which I believe represents power and masculinity. Additionally, the presence of Lola throughout the film illustrates the idea that a woman needs a man to protect to her. However, the term man specifically means one with money and bravery. This is evident in Steve’s shortcomings. Another example of this statement can be seen in the very beginning of the film when Lin comes to Lola’s defense when he sees the Sheriff forcing her into a stagecoach.
In addition, this film also deliberately portrayed Native Americans in a negative light. The filmmakers did this to enforce the idea that the white man has more of a claim to the land than the Native Americans. This paints the Native Americans with a villain-like image because they fight back for what is rightfully their land. This image is conveyed through the multiple chases involving gunfire and violence. The particular scene that comes to mind is the one when Lamont meets the Native American buyers. When Lamont refuses to sell his rifle to the leader, Young Bull, he is robbed and scalped.
Finally, I found the fact that the shooting contest for the rifle takes place on the fourth of July, American Independence Day, to be quite interesting. Frederick Jackson Turner referred to the West as America absent of European control. Therefore, I do not think it was a coincidence this movie begins on the same day that became true. Winchester ‘73 was clearly created as an enticing advertisement of the West. This idea of a new beginning was much needed following WWII, which is reflected in the popularity of this movie.
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Stagecoach (1939) portrays Indians in a wholly negative light. We see them solely from the perspective of the white men, as threatening savages on the warpath, who, we get the vague sense, are going to attack the stagecoach only because they are violent and spiteful people. Even though the threat of an Indian attack looms over the plot from the very beginning, we don’t actually see any Indians until near the end. By not showing Indians on screen until the end, the film establishes them as violent savages through the fear they inspire in the white travelers. We think of them as faceless savages who want to kill the characters we do get to know and respect during the first three-quarters of the film.
The first Indian to appear onscreen is the squaw of the Mexican innkeeper at Apache Wells. She’s very beautiful (contrasting her husband who is short and pudgy) and dressed in traditional woven shawls, establishing her “otherness.” The white men who see her first react excitedly, shouting “Savages!” and leaping out of their chairs. The innkeeper responds by introducing her as his wife and explaining that if he has an Apache wife, her warring tribesmen won’t bother him. At this point, it seems like he might be a redeeming character who was able to see through the “savage Indian” stereotypes. Later on, as she sings a seductive Spanish song, the squaw assists some other Mexicans in stealing the stagecoach’s backup horses before running off herself on her husband’s best horse. He bemoans the loss of his horse, but adds, “I can get another wife easy,” which not only shows his lack of compassion toward her, but also establishes him as uncivilized, disallowing us to sympathize with him. Also, the fact that she is a deceitful wife (especially when compared with Mrs. Mallory who is determined to be reunited with her husband, and Dallas, a prostitute who proves her virtuous femininity) demonstrates she cannot be “civilized” and that she is incapable of living a domestic lifestyle. Her husband’s lack of regard for her, other than as a pawn to keep the Apaches from bothering him, doesn’t readily occur to the audience as motivation for the squaw to steal his horses and go home to her family. Her aloofness and inability to speak in English keeps her from engaging our sympathies.
When the Apache warriors finally attack the stagecoach, it is below them in a valley, and they charge on horseback down a steep hill. There are at least thirty or forty horses and riders attacking the single stagecoach, and they attempt to surround it on all sides. They shoot arrows through the windows, exemplifying their savagery by targeting unarmed civilians, especially women and a baby. The Indians are all dressed in traditional clothing, with feathers and war paint, which again casts them as “others.” They might shout battle cries in their own language, but we’re never allowed to see them speaking or understand what they’re saying. To us they’re faceless enemies bent on murdering the stagecoach passengers because of an animalistic proclivity for violence. This undeveloped, cardboard-cutout image of violent Indians rationalizes the myth that they need to be tamed by whites, while also justifying the Ringo Kid’s heroism in shooting the most Apaches.
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