A History on Westerns

The first genre of movies that I will be discussing is westerns.  According to Michael Agresta at The Atlantic, “Westerns provide many timeless pleasures–tough guy heroes, action set pieces on horseback, adventures in magnificent landscapes, good triumphing over evil.”  I think that these are the reasons why people did and still do enjoy westerns.  The first movie that could be considered a western was The Great Train Robbery released in 1903 and made by Edwin S. Porter.  It is only about 11 minutes long.  Thomas Schatz from The New York Times says, “This 10-minute, one-reel film, with its sequential plot, multiple locations and climactic gunfight, set the standard for both the western and narrative filmmaking.”  Here is a link to the original film with added in music.  In the 1920s the big sub genre of westerns was the silent western epic.  James Cruze made the first big- scale epic of the silent era and it happened to be a western called The Covered Wagon in 1923.   It was an expensive thing to do, costing $800,000 but bringing in $4 million at the box-office.  It was about a wagon train traveling west in the 1800s.  In the 1930s and 1940s there were ‘singing’ cowboy films with actors like Gene Autry and Hopalong Cassidy and B-movie westerns.  The B-westerns and singing cowboy films were aimed to the kids.  The first film to introduce the singing cowboy was Montana Moon in 1930.  Hopalong Cassidy was one of the most successful singing cowboy and was in nearly 70 movies in 17 years and he went on to have his own show.  Another classic western from the 1930s is Stagecoach released in 1939 directed by John Ford.  It was able to turn the western into A-film status.  It was also the film that set John Wayne up for a very successful career staring in 142 films.  He is probably the fist image that pops up in your head when you hear anything related to cowboys and westerns.  The classic western film came about in the 1940s and 1950s.  The first one to be shot in color in Monument Valley was Billy the Kid in 1941 by David Miller.  This is significant because Monument Valley is the part of the country that is distinctly western and cowboy.  This National Geographic page has many wonderful pictures because I just can’t explain how awesome it looks.  Also in the 50s they shifted to television with shows like The Lone Ranger (1949 – 1957), Hopalong Cassidy (1951 – 1952), and Wild Bill Hickok (1951 – 1958).  And later in the 1960s we got shows like Bonanza (1959 – 1973),  Wagon Train (1957 – 1962), and Rawhide (1959 – 1965) among others.  Spaghetti westerns became popular after the Italian director Sergio Leone brought his trio of low-budget “spaghetti” western films made in Spain and Italy in the mid 60s however they weren’t released in the US until 1967.  One of his most famous films is Once Upon a Time in the West released in 1968 and staring Henry Fonda, the father of Peter Fonda who was in Easy Rider which sort of counts as a western.  In the 1980s, sadly, the western genre started to decline.  Most people agree that a totally excessive movie called Heaven’s Gate, directed by Michael Cimino and released in 1980, was a large contributor to this because it is five hours and 25 minutes long.  And the television market was saturated with western television shows.  It did kind of pick up in the 1990s with Dances with Wolves in 1990 that got 12 nominations and seven awards.  Since then there hasn’t really been any big westerns even though they did try with The Lone Ranger in 2013 which wasn’t that successful.

Here is a list of links that I referenced to write this

The New York Times

The Atlantic

AMC Filmsite


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