Western movies are a genre of the film production in America. They mostly capture the unrefined America between its civilization and traditions. They are filmed on basis of war, discovery, personal journeys and romance. They are the oldest and most flexible genre of films (Howard, 1996).
Evolution of the western movies over time
The early 20th century films: Stagecoach
The film ‘Stagecoach’ is an American Western movie produced in 1939. It was directed by John Ford while the screenplay was written by Dudley Nicholas and Ben Hecht. The screenplay was written based on a short story called ‘The Stage to Lordsburg’ by Ernest Haycox. The Ford Corporation bought the story’s rights soon after it was published in a magazine.
The short story has been familiarized with another short story titled “The Outcasts of Poker Flat” authored by Bret Harte in 1892 (Howard 4). The movie was made at a time when the current popular culture and genre was the major source of motivation and influence on movie production. Ford had in the earlier 1900s made many Western movies that had not made it big.
This prompted him to move on to other genres where he worked for over a decade, only for him to return to the Western movies with a new movie, Stagecoach. By then, Western Movies were commonly known as talkies or talking pictures and had stopped selling with audiences finding them irrelevant.
Given that, Ford found it hard to get a producer to work on Stagecoach, because they claimed that Western had now become low budget, and were even more unwilling because Ford was going to use an unpopular person as a major cast (Howard 9).
One producer however eventually agreed to fund The Stagecoach film that has come to be referred as the film that brought a comeback for the American Western films and where actors were finally blended with the genre. The film is simple in all its aspects and formal. The movie lacks clarity on main characters and instead equal attention is given to all the casts.
This is attributed to Ford’s intention to equalize the society in some way at a time when there was a nationwide financial crisis that the government was trying to put under control (Howard 11). He has presented the prostitute with a big heart and the wayward escapee from jail that reformed to a good man.
On the other hand the people viewed as good from the society’s perspective like the alcoholic doctor and the banker who is a thief are exposed. Ford just like the movies of its age would command has represented a typical community in his cast of the Stagecoach film. The movie is in black and white where he has adapted some real-life thrilling and dangerous scenes perhaps because technology in film making was still budding.
The sequence of the story and the characters unfold almost immediately and most of the actors overact, perhaps because overacting was the trend at that time. While Dallas was a prostitute it has only been insinuated, as times would not allow for her to out rightly be referred to as so. People were conserved then and anything that came across as vulgar or obscene was unacceptable (Howard 13).
The Stagecoach movie has been referred to as the most influential Western movie and has been preserved by the United States. More credit is due to Ford for having taken the first picture of Uttah with the grey skyline and unpaved roads at the border of Arizona.
Post World war Movies: The High Noon
High Noon is an American Western film that was directed by Fred Zinnemann in 1952 with Foreman as the scriptwriter (Roberts 5). The film has a simple plot with a twist of turns here and there. Essentially, it tells the story of a Marshall who resolves to face a convict he had earlier brought to book when he returns to town to revenge by killing him. The story takes the audience through a prolonged storyline that lacks content.
This is well depicted when the Marshall goes all around the town asking the local people to help him face their enemy, even in the church that takes a big chunk of time of the movie. Most of them are unwilling to help, with others even wishing him dead. One man however supports his idea but is too old and advises him to flee.
Most of his other friends even desert him perhaps because of the fear of the non communist rules that were there at that time in America (Roberts 12). One of Foreman’s comrade pointed out that there were similarities between his outline and the short story The Tin Star authored by John W. Cunningham which prompted Foreman to buy the rights to the story so that he would proceed to make the film.
Unlike Stagecoach, Highnoon screenplay intertwines several stories with an emergence of the good and the bad theme. More money has also been invested in it but so are the profits higher (Roberts 7). By this time, the movie production industry is seen to have evolved from simplistic backgrounds like a representation of a community to more real-time issues like politics.
From the script writer, the story represents aggression in America that is told in the movie at the most appropriate time. This is true given the movie was produced during the Korean War and this would land the director on the wrong side of the law which would lead to his blacklisting. The film inclines more into a moral agenda and the audience can actually feel the fear and tension with the characters.
Above that the audience is able to link their social beliefs or lack of them to the movie. For example, the Soviet Union claimed that the film upholds individuality while others said there was nothing Western about it. The movie lacks a good build up that culminates to a rather confused ending. It has too much flare but nothing comes out of it, as the action packed story does not deserve such a low tone ending (Roberts 4).
Late 20th century films: The Good, the bad and the ugly
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is a Western epic that was shot in 1966 and directed by Sergio Leone. Since its origin was Spanish and Italian, critics began to refer to it as the epic Spaghetti Western as a way of demeaning the crew (Thompson 23). It is a story about a stolen cashbox containing $200,000 in gold that sends two criminals and one stranger searching.
Their search is not a smooth road given the gunfights, people being hanged, and the camps in the midst of the American Civil War. It is a more realistic film that still has the morality theme but now in a more practical way. The story is built upon the concept Leone wanted to depict that is the severity of war and that it is not necessary in the first place.
He says that in war, only the bad things are told while the good ones are tacked away. This is clearly shown in the movie, that evil pays but only in the short run, while doing good does not always pay. The movie has numerous casts some who are supporting cast, while most are extras. The Spanish government supported them even giving their own army, but this was simply because their work was Western and not Spaniard.
Either way we begin to see the government contributing positively to film production. In the film, the cinematographer paid more attention to lighting, and Leone brought in music that characterized the mood of various scenes and episodes. The film is also dramatic where it needs to be and more time was spent in writing and shooting it than in the Stagecoach and Highnoon.
While the film was a success, the crew worked very hard to make it a success while the cast risked their lives numerous times because even explosives were used. The other great limitation of the film was the poor synchronization due to use of synchronized sound. The level of English is also poor, with some critics saying the director new very little English himself and that he concentrated more on action than dialogue.
The reason why Leone recorded all the dialogue after acting is not clear. The making of this film brought a new beginning to Western filming. With this movie, we could say that it was a ground breaking achievement where life was completely engraved in movie production. While the movie is fairly long it is detailed and brings out the essence of suspense.
The director is able to unmask the real personalities of the cast in a twisted and unpredictable manner which brings the message closer home that people are not what you see. The movie is able to interact with the audience through emotions and associate with a world that is not familiar. Perhaps because of the time setting, the movie has been rated as adult material.
This movie brought an era where movies would be classified as adult content depending on the scenes and script. It involves scenes of killing and swearing, something that would not have been acceptable to earlier societies. Immorality like greed, prostitution and jealousy is put more open.
The film seems to lean on the notion that denouncing evil over good is more of a cowardice act than a noble one. The movie would form a basis for all the epics that came. It has been referred as the best directed film of the last century and the greatest achievement in the history of cinema.
Evidence of Historical consistency in the evolution of western movies
From the review of the three movies, Western movies are based on underlying as well as emerging issues in the western world. For example war, romance and personal journeys with form an integral part of the Western films. Their context is also drawn from ancient and tradition themes like epic.
These include train and horse journeys, railway development and transport, human conflict and war. Indeed the Western movies tell a story of the West and how far they have come. It is also a way of expression for the people and gives them a sense of belonging and pride. The making of Western movies is influenced by the social factors and market demands.
All Western movies breakthroughs have been made possible in extreme adversity. While Western movies have been associated with America for a long time, that is not entirely true.
The Good the Bad and the Ugly is based on a European culture. While the Western movies are associated with war, conflict and non-communism, the Stagecoach defies it. It is more communal, with people willing to help one another, and the real personalities behind people unmasked.
An analysis of the three films provides an insight into the evolution of the western films. In particular, it indicates high degree of western culture. One of the main aspects of this culture is the tendency to reflect on the current issues, especially the issues facing the western world. The culture seems to concentrate on political, social, economic and cultural issues facing the western societies at a given time.
War is evidently one of the main issues that American film culture has used to portray the popular culture. America’s involvement in various wars in other parts of the world is evidently reflected in films. For instance, the Vietnam War has been one of the major topics reflected in movies.
Evidently, the films mostly capture the unrefined America between its civilization and traditions. They are filmed on basis of war, discovery, personal journeys and romance. They are the oldest and most flexible genre of films (Howard, 1996).
Howard, Hughes. Stagecoach to Tombstone. Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1996. Print.
Roberts, Nova. Highnoon. Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1997. Print.
Thompson, William. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. New York: Chapman, 2000. Print.