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Location, Location, Location

The striking beauty of the wide-open western plains, mountains and deserts is the great quality of a Western.  When we think of John Wayne movie titles, we remember Rio Bravo, Fort Apache, Red River, and North to Alaska.  These films depict a certain location.

However, film studios shoot very few Westerns at the locations they are the subject.  Director John Ford makes his films Fort Apache, Rio Bravo, and My Darling Clementine in Monument Valley in the Navajo Reservation in Arizona and Utah.  The actual locations of Fort Apache in the Arizona White Mountains, the Rio Grande, and Tombstone, Arizona are hundreds of miles away from Monument Valley.  

However, the film budgets determine the filming location.  With their critical budget restrictions, the B�Western can rarely afford to shoot in the locations the titles called for.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, we see biographies, dime novels, and plays making what today we know as the �Western.�  In this evolving genre, we define the typical Western character as the man of action, the hero brave in the face of physical danger.

The heart of Western is not just the story but it is the action.  It is a horseback chase, an Indian attack on the wagon train or a gunfight.  This is what thrills us.  In 1903, the huge success of The Great Train Robbery is surely based on its non-stop stunning action, the train hold-up and final shoot out.  Even though film in New Jersey, the location is convincing and looks like the real west.

By the time that movies begin, we see whole range of form and formats the Western movies have.  Clear images or ideas are available.  By 1900, the Western film draws from a rich array of material.  The 1800s and before created a whole gallery of types and situations.  They are the heroic figures that Western stories demand: cowboys, explorers, mountain men, pathfinders, Indians, scouts, miners, soldiers, outlaws, gamblers, farmers and many more.

Because of the primitive nature of the early movies, lack of color and sound, many of the Western art forms were unavailable.  The cowboy actual came late as a central heroic Western figure.  Man like Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone over the long history of the Western movie were minor to the cowboy.

The Western movie brings to mind many images and phrases like; �the good guys and the bad guys�, �cowboys and Indians�, and �riding off into the sunset.�  Western movies strictly give certain costumes to a particular role.  The good guys may not always wear white hats, nor do the bad guys always wear black.  

The Western hero and good guy, Hopalong Cassidy, he wears a black hat.  However, the gambler wears a black frock coat, a bootlace tie, and waistcoat.  For the range cowboy, he has a wide-brimmed hat, jean and boots.  The married woman wears a full skirt dress of sturdy material, typically checkered, buttoned up to the neck, close fitting around the waist.

The Western has its own vocabulary, syntax and accent.  You find many of the words derived from Spanish, which are specific to the West like buckaroo, chaps, remuda, or lasso.  When Henry Fonda in My Darling Clementine when asked to dance, he answers, �I�d admire to ma�am.�  The answer does not mark him as a hick.  Sentences from the Western are common like; �A man�s gotta do what a man�s gotta do.�


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