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Western of the week

Archive of past synopses

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About CinemaWesterns.com

CinemaWesterns.com was created in September of 2009 as a celebration of movie and television westerns.

The goal of the site is to create a large collection of plot synopses and plot keywords for western films and TV shows, from the silent era to the present. As the site grows, viewers will be able to search for westerns based on certain plot elements and characteristics.

The site will also feature occasional features of interest to the lover of western films.

Why I started CinemaWesterns.com

It is hard to pinpoint the beginning of my devotion to westerns. My parents, a love of open spaces, and Paul Newman all have a little something to do with it.

My mom grew up with both radio and early television serial westerns, her favorites including Roy Rogers, The Lone Ranger, Hopalong Cassidy, and Gene Autry.  (Like her on-screen heroes, my mom loved horses and was a very good shot.)  When I was a kid, I was able to enjoy some of those old TV westerns with her through the magic of reruns.

As for my dad, he enjoyed a range of western films, as well as a breadth of "cowboy" and country music. About 25 years ago for my dad's birthday, I recall searching out a copy of the Sons of the Pioneers "Cool Water" to replace the original my parents had worn out on the turntable.

My dad grew up on a farm (I spent the early part of my life on that farm as well), and my mom grew up enjoying the outdoors. Our whole family has roots in open countryside; there is simply nothing like the peace that comes with rolling fields and big sky.

Paul Newman entered the picture a little bit later.  During the 1980s, the budding popularity of videotape movie rentals became an affordable alternative to going to the movie theater.  In a stroke of fortune, our family received a VCR as a prize; I was about 14 at the time. A whole world of movies suddenly opened up that had been previously unavailable to my generation.  My dad encouraged me to watch a few of his favorites, which included some films starring Paul Newman.

I enjoyed Newman so much (both as an actor and as a real-life role model) that I dedicated myself to watching as many of his films as I could lay my hands on.  Doing so opened my eyes to new actors, directors, and genres. Before I knew it, I was a junkie for classic movies... and eventually drawn deeply into westerns.

As the years have passed, my understanding and appreciation for the western genre has grown and shifted, and it continues to change as I take in more films and learn about their history and broader social context.

Westerns appeal to me on a number of levels: the breathtaking landscapes of the plains, the mountains, and the desert; the camaraderie between characters; the portrayal of life during a time and place that, through necessity, kept us a bit closer to nature and the earth.  But maybe the greatest attractions are the stories of moral struggle, redemption, and renewal that are found in so many good western films.

Westerns have served as a kind of national mythology in the United States; for several generations, they were a story that we told to help make sense of our own national identity.   Like many cultural myths, westerns have a basis in real historical times and places, but they also feature idealized struggles, epic journeys, larger-than-life heroes, and nostalgia.  Westerns blend fact with fiction, and often show frontier life not so much as it was, but as we would have liked it to be, and as we would like to remember it.

The frontier has served as a major element of American identity-- it was a place of possibility, new beginnings, and hope for those of many backgrounds who came to chase their dreams of exploration, conquest, furs, cattle, precious metals, farmland, freedom from persecution, or just a fresh start.  The frontier was also a place of undeveloped wilderness, where nature could both nurture and punish. It is no wonder that the time period of the western still captivates the imagination.

This is not to say that westerns are without faults. Perhaps one of the most glaring is the portrayal of Native American people, which in many westerns has been inaccurate and limited to stereotypically one-dimensional characterizations. There are some notable exceptions to this pattern, but it is fair to say the majority of westerns have not given complex treatment to Native American characters.  The same can be said at times for the genre's treatment of women, Mexicans, characters of mixed race, or other racial minorities, though again there are notable exceptions.

Some viewers note other points of contention-- that westerns are often not realistic (how many times can the hero and villain shoot their guns without reloading, or ride the same horse for long distances without water or rest?), that they may contain historical inaccuracies, that they at times over-simplify conflicts, or that they may glorify violence.

While all these criticisms have their validity at times, the sheer breadth of western films made over the past 100 years provides interesting and varied portrayals of all kinds of characters and situations.  Part of my own enjoyment of the western genre is watching how familiar scenarios (lawman versus outlaw, cattlemen versus farmers, honest hand versus rustlers, the taming of the frontier) are played out by different filmmakers and with variations in character type and development.

Like any film genre, there are excellent westerns and not-so-great westerns. There are historically accurate westerns and highly unrealistic ones. There are westerns filmed on majestic, natural locations, and those shot on crude sound stages.  Some have simplistic, black-and-white moral plotlines, while others feature gray areas and complexity.

My favorite westerns feature portrayals of human strengths and weaknesses-- the inner battles the characters often must fight between their lower and higher selves as they face a critical reckoning.  The struggle for redemption is a key story in many great westerns, as is the balance between the individual and the community. I am drawn to the drama and beauty in these films.

This web site began as a way to share my love for westerns with others.  I hope you enjoy it.

On TV
Classic Westerns on TCM

Westerns on Fox Movie Channel

 


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