© 2024
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Rob Edelman: Westerns New And Old

Given its title and storyline, LES COWBOYS-- a new film that has been released theatrically here in the U.S.-- has to be categorized as a Western. This is so even though LES COWBOYS was made in France, is set in non-American locales, and unfolds not in the 19th century American West but in more contemporary times.

LES COWBOYS involves Alain, a man who resides with his family in rural Eastern France, and his fanatical quest to search for his 16 year old daughter, who has disappeared. If this plot sounds even slightly familiar, well, LES COWBOYS is a reworking of THE SEARCHERS, John Ford’s classic 1956 western. There are differences in the two films. In THE SEARCHERS, the young girl is kidnapped by Comanches, who murder her kin and set fire to their ranch house, and it is her uncle, played by John Wayne, who searches for her. However, in LES COWBOYS, the teen willingly runs off with her boyfriend, who is a Muslim.

Once upon a time, the Western was a staple of Hollywood but, these days, the relatively few oaters that are produced are remakes of Western classics. I’m thinking here of films like TRUE GRIT and 3:10 TO YUMA. Or like LES COWBOYS, they are paying homage to the genre. With all this in mind, Kino Lorber is releasing to home entertainment a quartet of vintage western titles. While none are classics of the stature of THE SEARCHERS or, for that matter, a HIGH NOON or SHANE or STAGECOACH, all are entertaining and well-worth discovering.  

They include RAWHIDE, a 1951 title with Tyrone Power and Susan Hayward, actors who are not usually associated with Westerns, and 1949’s CANADIAN PACIFIC and 1950’s THE CARIBOO TRAIL, both newly-restored and both starring Randolph Scott, who definitely is linked to the genre. Showcasing his acting chops in THE CARIBOO TRAIL is the too-often-overlooked George “Gabby” Hayes: a performer who is the definition of a Western movie sidekick. In just over two decades, Hayes appeared in close to 200 films, many of which are “B” Westerns with such titles as BORDERTOWN GUN FIGHTERS, RIDIN’ DOWN THE CANYON, and DEATH VALLEY MANHUNT. In THE CARIBOO TRAIL, the bewhiskered actor plays a character who is appropriately named “Grizzly.” It is Hayes’s final screen role.

And there is one hidden gem here. It is titled 3 BAD MEN. It dates from 1926, which means that it is a silent, and its director is John Ford, he of THE SEARCHERS and STAGECOACH and quite a few other legendary Westerns. 3 BAD MEN is set in the 1870s and involves various characters who are heading to the Dakotas to, as it says in an early title card, “seek the reality of their dreams in America.” The three bad men of the title are three wanted men, three lawbreakers. However, they are anything but one-dimensional villains, and this adds a certain depth and poignancy to the storyline. Plus, the “sheriff” in the story is no hero, but instead is a slimy crook.

As in so many John Ford films, 3 BAD MEN is loaded with beautifully composed shots of Western vistas. One of the highlights is a recreation of the 1877 Dakota land rush, as stunning a set piece as you ever would hope to see. Indeed, no American filmmaker captures the stark, simple beauty of the American West as John Ford.

Rob Edelman has authored or edited several dozen books on film, television, and baseball. He has taught film history courses at several universities and his writing has appeared in many newspapers, magazines, and journals. His frequent collaborator is his wife, fellow WAMC film commentator Audrey Kupferberg.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

Related Content