Genre and the Western

[Note: this piece makes several references to Internet World Wide Web sites and to commercial CD-ROMS for which there is no standard system of referencing or page numbering possible, even in the case of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. Theoretically, this material is all recoverable using conventional search engines, but in the interest of easier checking (at least in principle), the referencing also indicates sections where the cited texts are found.) Conventional referencing produces some strange results: Jim Emerson, for example, is where referencing to Microsoft’s "Cinemania ‘96" CD-ROM is to be found, though it seems hardly likely that he will be known to most users as the editor, since he receives no credit on the cover or the main title screen. You can also see my comments with regard to electronic style.]

[Except in the references, I have lower-cased all references to the western, to avoid confusion between Western filmmakers (as distinct from Japanese directors) and western directors (as distinct from comedy filmmakers).]

Introduction: a controversial thesis

Questioning genre studies

The appeal of genre

What genre means

The audience in genre and its impact on films

Explaining genre history

How genre works with mass audiences

Genre and the item of films

Genre and the artist

Genre and high art

Genre and politics

Genre and artistic expression

Genre and the western

Applying aesthetic standards to genre products: "One-Eyed Jacks"

Introduction

I am putting forward here a controversial thesis:

  • that the low academic opinion of genre has led to serious deficiencies in the standards of scholarship practised, particularly with regard to its economic rationale;
  • that several major film-makers have nevertheless turned to genre production to put across ideas that they expected audiences to understand; and
  • that artistic -- as distinct from solely craft -- standards can be applied to genre products (though they rarely are) and these can be of the same order as judgements of ‘high cultural art products’ -- not so much because of quality of genre films as of the interpenetration of high and popular models and strategies has been part of artistic creation as far back as I can trace.

In a separate article, this argument is applied to a specific western, "One-Eyed Jacks", and an analysis made of its artistic strategies.

Questioning genre studies

"The western is the only genre whose origins are almost identical with those of the cinema itself and which is alive as ever…" – André Bazin.

Borrowed from the marginal literary world (Williams:466), genre seems to enjoy a peculiar status in media studies. Generalizations of a type which would not go unchallenged in criticism of "higher" literary forms are apparently given the same credibility as statistical sociology. Thus André Bazin’s assertion about the western has been repeated over 40 years despite considerable evidence that casts doubt both on its historical accuracy and its current validity.

Ralph Stephenson and Dudley Andrew, in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, for example, recall that the western as a literary as well as a moving picture genre "had its counterparts in the gaucho literature of Argentina and even in certain Australian cultural vehicles." They also note, in a section on genre: "The western, for example, has important precursors in popular painting, Wild West shows, and pulp fiction." (Stephenson and Andrew, 1996).

In chronology, the science fiction film came before the western as a popular success. French photographer George Méliès, who developed the first recorded multi-scene "narrative" films -- among them L'Affaire Dreyfus (The Dreyfus Affair; his first, made in 1899 and significantly a "docudrama") -- produced the 30-scene narrative Le Voyage dans la lune (A Trip to/in the Moon), adapted from a Jules Verne novel, in 1902. Stephenson and Andrew note that it was an enormous popular success, an influential film and the first movie to achieve international distribution -- mainly through piracy (ibid). They also record that some scholars saw in the Star Wars trilogy (1977, 1980, 1983) a mutation of the western. Thus, Bazin’s remark might seem more appropriate for science fiction rather than the western.

More relevantly, Stephenson and Andrews note that Le Voyage dans la lune helped establish fiction as the cinema’s mainstream product, ousting the "cinema of actuality" that was the specialty of the Lumière brothers.

Edwin S. Porter, an American projectionist, duplicated the Méliès film for illegal distribution in the United States, and acknowledged its influence, giving him the idea of "telling a story in continuity form" (ibid). His first film to use this notion, The Life of an American Fireman, produced in late 1902, combined archival footage with staged scenes to create a six-minute narrative of a rescue from a burning building. This may have been the first film to intercut scenes in a parallel sequence.

However, Porter's The Great Train Robbery (1903) – which is now treated as a western by most critics (though set and filmed in the East) -- is widely acknowledged to be the first narrative film to achieve temporal continuity of action through parallel action. It was also the US industry’s first spectacular box-office success, and is credited with establishing the realistic narrative, as opposed to Méliès-style fantasy, as the commercial cinema's dominant form (ibid). The film was therefore seen by contemporary audiences more as a authentic crime story, though based on an existing stage hit, than as the creation of a legend.

In proclaiming the vital energy of the western, Bazin was also writing just after the genre had recovered from a weak decade for production (the 1930s) and before John Wayne, perhaps the most important star of the form, had made his most significant films. Wayne’s main career started only in 1948 with Red River, where he was cast as a middle-aged father of a grown son in a film designed as a comeback to give new impetus to his long faltering career (unlike many male stars, he had evaded military service in the Second World War, which reduced his box office appeal after the war).

Bazin, the senior figure in the French New Wave of critics and directors, was also writing before the western’s audience was stolen by television in the 1960s and before the western almost disappeared from the movie screen in the 1970s, to reappear in operatic form as parodic westerns or sententious copies of earlier forms (Clint Eastwood’s films).

Stanley Solomon suggests "the process of generalization […] is probably indigenous to genre criticism [though its] comparisons have verged on the absurd" (1979, in Boyd-Barrett and Newbold:458). Solomon also distinguishes between good and bad films within genres, arguing that we should not "confuse genre with formula" (ibid:457). In fact, one of the major challenges in genre studies, one which is rarely confronted despite the literary origins of the field, is to provide yardsticks for analysing the quality of works that for the most part are considered to "defy extended aesthetic analysis" (ibid:458).

Nor does the study of genre with relation to westerns seem to take into account their actual – as distinct from imagined -- place in American society. They are often seen as a – if not the -- characteristic product of the American commercial movie system (both Robert Warshow and Bazin imply as much).

Yet Garth Jowett reports (as cited by Steve Neale) that market research during the period before 1950 when westerns were produced in large numbers indicated that such films were popular only with young adolescent boys and sectors of America’s rural population and were "actively disliked more than […]liked by the viewing population as a whole" (Neale:468).

If the genre was alive, as Bazin suggests, it was also unpopular with a majority of filmgoers. Given the emphasis of westerns on violence and male-bonding fantasies, this is perhaps not surprising, since young and unmarried women – to judge by personal observation of cinema queues and audiences -- still make up a large proportion of the movie public.

In fact, westerns listed in the Corel All-Movie Guide on CD-ROM account for only 4.4 percent of the 90,979 films in its 1995 compilation. The figures for the genres identified are: action: 11,526; children: 5,344; comedy: 12,742; crime: 9,207; drama: 22,601; documentary: 37,160; horror: 4,311; music: 9,935; mystery: 5,054; science fiction: 2,962; war: 4,597; western: 4,035 (Corel, 1995). Parenthetically, Corel does not list star vehicles (see Ward:52) ,‘art films’ or blockbusters (Twitchell:156) as separate genres (see Williams:467). Similarly, none of the top 25 films most lucrative to distributors have been westerns, though science fiction films accounted for four of the top five (Twitchell:140).

The other genre most associated with Hollywood in critical studies is the 1940s ‘film noir’. Warshow’s pioneering essay declared: "The two most successful creations of American movies are the gangster and the westerner: men with guns" (Talbot:148). However, Ken Ward also highlights them as "not being the most popular box-office attractions in the 1940s" (1989:152).

The appeal of genre

The appeal of genre, and particularly the western, to producers therefore seems to require some explanation.

Stephenson and Andrews (Encyclopaedia Britannica, fictional genres) explain the common reliance on genre products in films on the organizational efficiencies and steadier returns to be obtained from such films in the face of demand for "a constant flow of new products to satisfy patrons returning to the movies week after week". In their summary: "A studio that decided to make half a dozen police thrillers in one year could organize its production schedule efficiently, saving time and money by reusing sets, costumes, and other items. More important, the studio could assign the same personnel to certain genres, allowing writers, directors, technical crews, and actors to establish a routine that often resulted in quicker and improved filmmaking from work to work. In addition, it was found that the initial success of a new film was frequently enhanced by the popularity of previous films in the same genre. Viewers knew, to a great extent, what to expect from a genre film; they recognized the stars, or at least the characters, in it, and they were sensitive to music, lighting, and plot devices because of long familiarity with the type of story being portrayed" (ibid)

James B. Twitchell notes that filming on location cost $30-50,000 at the turn of the 1990s -- $5,000 an hour, increasing the pressures for commercial success (Twitchell:162). "Films are made to imitate films that made money. This is, after all, the attraction of genre from the storyteller’s point of view." (ibid:156). "Studio styles were the result of having a factory with an assembly line, of having the same machines, same personnel, same raw materials, and the same exhibition halls" (ibid:176).

The importance of these commercial considerations might seem an obvious, and certainly not an original, point. However, it rarely surfaces or is given major prominence in examinations of genre.

John Hartley, for example, defines genre as "the recognized paradigmatic sets into which the total output of a given medium (film, television, writing) is classified" (O’Sullivan et al, 1994:127). James Monaco's Film Glossary, cited by Emerson, describes genre as "a type of film following certain archetypal patterns, such as the western, the Gangster, the Science Fiction film, or the Detective Story."

Going some way towards a commercial explanation, Denis McQuail remarks that genre "may be considered as a practical device for helping any mass medium to produce consistently and efficiently and to relate its production to the expectations of its customers", though his definition itself focuses on the conventions relating to item and form implied in genre (1994:263).

What genre means

Indeed, the term ‘genre’ gives an exotic, academic spin to a simple merchandizing concept of niche positioning and labelling. The genre of a film simply answers a consumer’s question: what kind of movie is this?

McQuail notes that it simply means kind or type, except in film theory where the credit given to cultural traditions of production rather than to individual artists has made it controversial (p.263).

Andrew takes an extreme view in asserting that genre movies "construct the proper spectators for their own consumption" – which as McQuail observes, implies a high degree of determinism.

In Shakespeare’s "Hamlet", nearly 300 years before the first film, Polonius offers a range of play categories that sound more like a marketer’s attempt to give the impression of variety than an attempt to segment or deliver an audience: "tragedy, comedy, history, pastoral, pastoral-comical, historical-pastoral, tragical-historical, tragical-comical-historical-pastoral" (Act II, scene 2).

One presumes Shakespeare was being ironic about the genre concepts of his day. In more modern vein, "Hollywood’s top script doctor, John Truby" (according to columnist John C. Dvorak) promotes and gives seminars on the "multigenre screenplay – the only kind that sells nowadays" (Dvorak:93).

This is not as new a development as Dvorak suggests. In their study of Hollywood in its classical era (up to 1960), Bordwell, Staiger and Thompson record that nearly all films were hybrids, combining more than one genre of plot (Neale:464).

Genre products, therefore, apart from their intrinsic quality, exclude themselves from some audiences as well as appealing to others, with the result that movie makers soon learned to combine genres, and producers today hire script doctors who can intermix genres to apparently interest a broader audience.

The audience in genre and its impact on films

But what was, and what today is, this audience? The targeted audience changed rapidly during the first period as the movie moved out of the burlesque house and into the picture palace. Ward reports that the main audience for films in penny arcades and nickelodeons where movies were first distributed were "the poor working class, particularly the large immigrant communities, who had little money, time or understanding or the society in which they were now part" (p.53, see also Desjardins, p397).

Films at the turn of the century thus offered factual and comical insights into the manners and customs of American life (ibid).

The success of nickelodeons led to demands for control over their item . Hollywood at first represented a rejection of the censorship exercised through the Motion Pictures Patent Trust of major film producers (Ward:53,52).

However, seeking wider audiences, cinema increasingly reflected "the more positive aspects of American life" (ibid:54), a change associated particularly with D.W. Griffith.

In a study of early cinema, Thomas Elsaesser lists as factors in securing a mass audience: straightforward plots, establishment of business practices that would establish a steady flow of film product and standardized movie theatre practices, and publicizing of filmgoing as superior to other forms of popular entertainment (Elsaesser: 153-168, cited by Desjardins, p398).

Mary Desjardins comments: "In a consumer society that appealed through advertising and product design to new U.S. citizens’ supposed desires for individuality and modernity, while still staying safely within the bounds of middle-class morality, [fantasy scenarios] enabled the film industry to unify (some might say homogenize) a large and diverse population" (ibid).

By 1915 movie theatres were becoming picture palaces, emphasizing predictable experiences for audiences: "Norms of behaviour familiar to middle-class venues were imposed – silence during the movie, clean and tidy surroundings, and, in the South, audience segregation[…] The cinematic experience was understood by producers and exhibitors as socially appropriate for the middle class, and it was advertised as such" (ibid:398-9).

This was the period in which the star system (ibid:399) and the "conveyer belt" fictional film developed (p.406): "Fictional narratives could be produced more quickly and predictably than documentaries […] with a labour system increasingly modelled on the factory and the conveyor belt" (ibid).

Colin MacCabe argues that the fact that producers make films for a public they do not know except as cinemagoers means that "it is only as a viewer [rather than student, political activist or even shopper] that the audience can be addressed. […] The spectator has no interest in going to see any particular film […] and it is this fact that stimulates repetition." (p.41), leading both to genre and the star system as an economic basis for production.

The question: "What kind of film is this?" became as important for the producer as for the consumer.

The newer forces that encourage film-makers to play safe and repeat earlier successful products are recorded by James Twitchell: to break even with a film a studio today needs an 11 percent share of the movie market, since the top ten films take about half of the receipts in the US of $5 billion a year (Twitchell: 157).

Movie deals with ancillary rights, spinoffs, television and foreign distribution (Cazeneuve, p90, estimates that French TV finances 50% of the national film industry) put the focus on reducing "downside risk" (ibid. p.184). Cees J. Hamelink observes (about television) that overseas markets are important for generating profits but they have no say about item (Downing:304).

This is not wholly accurate with regard to television or of film, but it contains some truth, and this, too, is reflected in the item of genre films.

The arrival of television brought to the fore several new genres in the effort to maintain cinema audiences. Ward reports that in 1951 cinema audiences dropped by up to 40 percent in cities with television stations (p.154). James Curran reports that cinema admissions in the UK fell from 1,585 million in 1945 to 501 million and 193 million in 1970 (Collins:317). "The cinema now appeals primarily to the unmarried young," he adds (ibid).

Steve Neale documents the "juvenilization" of Hollywood’s output after the failure of ‘adult’ drama and ‘epic’ values to maintain audiences beyond the teen years (Boyd-Barrett and Newbold:465). Most recently, Neale reports, the juvenilization of products for movie theatres has continued with the emergence of the ‘teenpic’, and the predominance of sci-fi and horror.

How true these developments are of non-American audiences remains to be proved. In France, Pierre Bourdieu reports, a 1975 study found cinema-going was "lower among the less-educated than the more highly educated, but also lower among provincials (in Lille) than among Parisians, among low-income than among high-income groups, and among old than among young people. It is among the petty-bourgeois [white collar workers] endowed with cultural capital that one finds most of the devoted ‘cinephiles’." (Collins, pp.171,172). This suggests a somewhat more varied audience than that targeted by newer US genres.

Explaining genre history

The Russian formalist model of genre development (Neale:464-465) emphasises the dynamic process involved in such changes and the transience of genre hierarchies, but seems in Neale’s account to provide only inadequate tools for considering its history in the light of the two most important influences both on item and on the industry since the Second World War: globalization of markets and television.

For example, multiplex cinemas, invented by Stanley Durwood in Kansas City in 1963, though they have reduced exhibition costs (almost 50 percent of projection expenditures are fixed) as Twitchell points out, may reflect the fragmentation of cinema audiences into genre markets.

They may also make smaller niche markets more attractive to film producers, opening up distribution channels for independents or new talent (the Coen Brothers, Quentin Tarantino and Jim Jarmusch, to name some directors who show a subversive affection for genre and its absurdities). Curran pointed out that even in the 1970s cinema ‘delivered’ a market segment to advertisers who could not easily be reached through television as a separate group (Collins:317).

From this standpoint, the rise of the "adult" western can be seen as a producers’ attempt to offer a potential audience what it could not find on television. The decline of the western can be interpreted as a simple reflection of the minor appeal such a genre would have to the predominantly teenage audience that had grown up in urban and technologically developed America.

The success of its newer products (Dances with Wolves, 1990, and Unforgiven, 1992) is also related more to their marketing as blockbusters, star vehicles and ‘anti-westerns’ (which presumes a knowledge of both the genre and its limitations), rather than to the popularity of the genre.

How genre works with mass audiences

Bourdieu asserts that artistically uneducated audiences define most of their aesthetic responses according to genre.

That is, they apply a ‘humanistic’ though subordinate (low-valued) aesthetic, as against elite aesthetics that do not refer to a sensual or obviously social context (Collins:183-5): "aesthetic judgement normally takes the form of a hypothetical judgement implicitly based on the recognition of ‘genres’ […] Nothing is more alien to the popular consciousness than the idea of an aesthetic pleasure that, to put it in Kantian terms, is independent of the charming of the senses. […] The value of a photograph is measured by the interest of the information it conveys, and by the clarity with which it fulfils this informative function, in short, its ‘legibility’. […] If formal explorations, in avant-garde theatre or non-figurative painting, or simply in classical music, are disconcerting to working-class people, this is partly because they feel incapable of ‘understanding’ what these things ‘must’ signify, insofar as they are signs. […] However, perfectly it performs its representative function, the work is only seen as fully justified if the thing represented is worth of being represented" (ibid:184-5).

This is a rather summary assessment of popular aesthetics. In fact, popular culture values a wide range of experimentation provided that it does not carry the imprimature of elite culture or ‘aesthetic distanciation’ in Bourdieu’s term.

Recognition of the artificiality of the artistic form being used is a regular staple of many populist entertainments, and is a staple of situation comedies such as Roseanne. As the Russian formalists underlined, there is also a hierarchy of genres within the social system at any time – Clueless, a 1990s remake of the story in Jane Austen’s Emma, had difficulty establishing itself with adults since it was designed and marketed as a ‘teenpic’. This hierarchy can alter over time, as the formalists underline.

However, one may question the formalists' insistence that displacement of a dominant genre takes place only when this genre has reached an impasse (Neale, pp.464-5).

Nor is it clear exactly what constitutes a dominant genre. In popular music, ‘crooners’ did not suddenly vanish from the scene when rock and roll became a best-selling genre, and a number of singers of this type – from Tom Jones to Barry Manilow – remain among the top-selling artists of our time, as does Frank Sinatra after a career spanning more than 50 years.

The decline of the western film cannot be explained in terms of an impasse: its B-movie output was taken over by television (Samuel Goldwyn said: "Why should people go out and pay to see bad pictures when they can stay at home and see them for nothing?" – Twitchell:153). Nor can the revisiting of the western form by stars like Kevin Costner (Dances with Wolves) and Clint Eastwood (Unforgiven) be attributed to an impasse in other genres.

Neale offers another interesting caveat to Bourdieu’s general thesis. Certain genres, such as the thriller, appeal more directly to conventional notions of realism. Other genres, particularly science fiction and Gothic horror, rely less on this authentification. "This is certainly one of the reasons why they tend to be despised, or at least ‘misunderstood’, by the critics in the ‘quality’ press. For these critics, operating under an ideology of realism, adherence to cultural verisimilitude is a necessary condition of ‘serious’ film, television or literature."

This weakness of conventional criticism is regularly exploited by genre moviemakers, whose films are marketed as being more ‘realistic’ in their approach than previous products of the same kind. Such promotion continues even when the filmmaker is shown to be demonstrably unrealistic in approach, as evidenced by the career of Howard Hawks or Sam Peckinpah in westerns.

Genre and the item of films

Ken Ward has highlighted the parallel history of commercial film and censorship (pp.53, 55, 75, 99, 105). Twitchell has insisted that Hollywood codes restricting treatment of subjects were the choice of producers and distributors: "Contrary to common opinion, the codes were not forced on the industry by church, government, or irate audience. Hollywood was more than happy to control item as a way to control access to markets. […] Non-approved films were denied access [to theatres] and, in all but a few cases, this disapproval guaranteed box-office failure" (p.168).

The codes lasted until 1952 (ibid:169). The need to produce films regularly also privileged fictional over documentary forms: the former were easier to control and less likely than the latter to contain objectionable material.

It is difficult to know whether to treat the blacklisting period (1947-56), directed against left-wing film writers, producers and directors (Baseline, ‘Hollywood Ten’), as a symptom or expression of the industry’s desire for political respectability (Twitchell, p180).

With the rating system that replaced production codes, "movies are made for the ratings; ratings are not made to categorize the movie, " argues Twitchell (p.171).

The system has also been exploited for commercial purposes: G films, those with the most innocuous rating and unappealing to television, dropped from 32 percent of those produced to two percent between 1968 and 1984 (ibid). R-rated films (violent but not pornographic) rose from 22 to 45 percent of all production.

Such systems, just as much as straightforward commercial pressures, encourage reliance on previously successful formulae. Twitchell reports that " ‘Thelma and Louise’ was sold to MGM as a feminist version of ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’ and ‘Easy Rider’, which is exactly the way they sold it to the audience" (p.189).

Mary Desjardins, however, says the male director, Ridley Scott, "reportedly added more violent imagery and cut some scenes between the two women characters, [creating] a tension within the production revealing the extent to which competing agendas exist within the industry itself" (Downing:402).

Whatever adventurousness lay in the commercially motivated original choice was thus further vitiated by additional marketing considerations. The whole process is satirized in Robert Altman’s The Player (1992).

Ward has suggested the simplification of narrative and the values promoted in genre products early on in the history of commercial movies related to the owners of the industry: "Many of the new entrepreneurs were Jews from Eastern Europe; outsiders in their original countries they had yet to be assimilated into the host nation. The new cinema industry offered commercial success, but it also offered a medium through which they could explain their outlook on the new American society. They exemplified the virtues of individualism and group solidarity, yet at the same time they represented the character of cultural assimilation taking place in the cities, and sought to encourage it and, of course, make money out of it. The moviemakers represented the new face of America, but harked back to the values and outlooks of the American past" (p.56).

Twitchell notes another American cultural heritage, that of the New England Protestant Northeast – "the high-culture heritage of Emerson, Thoreau and the Boston Brahmims" (p.174) – but these middle-European Jews had no stake in this mythology and offered a carnival of exhibits that was bound to appear "vulgar to America’s logocentric and Anglophile elite" (ibid).

Of course, this promotion had to be commercially acceptable to survive. And to a primarily working-class audience, "classy films" also had an appeal, provided these did not depend on a knowledge of other high-culture products or history – another force for two-dimensional products even at the highest level of creation in genre films of Hollywood’s ‘classical’ period (when it could count on regular audiences).

Genre and the artist

Given the commercial pressures for the formulaic in genre production, and the limits to artistic experimentation imposed by a popular aesthetic, what then is the appeal for the artist or filmmaker in such movies? Solomon asserts: "There is implicit in all genre works, except for the earliest examples, a lack of originality" (Boyd-Barrett and Newbold:457).

He argues: "To achieve genre art, filmmakers must be committed to exploring new facets of the familiar setting, elaborating on their insights into the mythic structures of the genre". Will Wright declares: "Narrative form […] provides a far greater context of understanding than is possible in life itself. […] Experiences are given meaning" (ibid:450).

Neale, admitting that the term ‘genre’ has an almost unlimited number of valid connotations, concludes: "a genre film is one in which the narrative pattern, or crucial aspects of that pattern, is visually recognizable as having been used similarly in other films" (ibid:454).

He also has an explanation of the appeal to film artists: "Above everything else, genre is a convenient arrangement of significant human actions that can be returned to, over and over again, to provide new understanding of basic human motivations or needs" (ibid: 457). This analysis has two shortcomings:

  • At this level, it would seem that Shakespeare’s plays could be each be treated as a separate genre, and that each new interpretation or staging could be interpreted in genre terms.
  • The major genre film directors have been very productive in several genres, but few of them seem to have gone outside these confines (for example, Stanley Donen, John Ford, Sam Fuller, Howard Hawks, Henry King, Fritz Lang, Vincente Minnelli, Nicholas Ray, Douglas Sirk and Billy Wilder). A number have specialized in a very narrow vein (Alfred Hitchcock, and Don Siegel, among them). Several of their contemporaries who made genre films (some good) have not been associated with genre products (Robert Altman, Joseph Losey, Orson Welles). A number of new directors who had previous long acting careers in genre films have not used genre conventions in their films at all (Jodie Foster, Diane Keaton and Robert Redford, for example).

In the absence of evidence from the people concerned, it seems safe to assume that some film-makers have found genre sufficient for all they wanted to say artistically, others have been able to use the formulas more or less successfully, and others who might be expected to most appreciate the commercial power of genre have not, for whatever reason, tapped this resource in their commercial ventures.

Among those film-makers who have regularly chosen genre production, few claimed the right to expression of a personal artistic vision (in contrast to Welles, for example). Partisans of the ‘auteur’ theory of movie creation (first expressed by François Truffaut in 1954 after an essay by Alexandre Astruc in 1948 – Newbold:131/Baseline, ‘auteur theory’) have nevertheless claimed to find a consistent vision among individual directors working on formulaic Hollywood products (O’Sullivan:22). The recorded utterances of such ‘auteurs’ tend, however, to be unrevealing except at an anecdotal level (for example, the "Hitchcock/Truffaut" series of interviews, published in 1967 and revised in 1983).

Such ‘auteurs’ have also tended to be directors whose interest in character-drawing and exploration is rudimentary, or whose interest in social issues was rarely explicit or coupled with a large dose of sentimentality.

A recent review of books on Howard Hawks stresses the director’s identification with the studio system. Biographer Todd McCarthy asserts: "The secret to Hawks’s enduring success was that there was no difference between the manner of the films that he wanted to make and what the studios craved: he just wanted to make them on his own terms, without the interference of meddlesome producers and executives" (Wood:27).

The reviewer, Michael Wood, also notes the director’s exceptional skill in judging "how little, in words or in actions" can be exactly enough, and highlights his declaration: "The average movie talks too much" (ibid). Such skills are commercially lucrative but not highly regarded by more ‘artistic’ peers. Hawks received an Oscar for lifetime achievement in 1975 but never won an Academy Award for any of his films (ibid).

In fact, many genre auteurs are specialists in the unsaid. Examining the series of shots in a scene almost without words when Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall first meet on screen in Hawks’s To Have and Have Not (1944), Woods remarks: "This is, among other things, how you tell stories in the movies – or rather how you allow the audience to feel that a story has already been told, that it knows the story it has stumbled into" (ibid).

This analysis shrewdly picks up another crucial aspect of skillful commercial producers: the complicity (sense of involvement) they induce in their audiences and readers – and manipulate, often by exploiting the individual’s most pessimistic experiences and expectations of society.

Hitchcock was, of course, recognized as a master of this subversive use of audience identification, but similar craftsmanship is found in the works of Fritz Lang and Douglas Sirk (refugees from Nazi Germany) or in, John Ford and Samuel Fuller (home-grown Americans).

This dependence on unspoken sub-text might explain some of critical difficulties in dealing with genre products. It could be argued that the nature of genre production self-selects for directors who favour simplicity of surface detail, to the point of simplification, and also place great store on the virtues of what can be inferred from scenes without words. This has even become a standard in itself among some critics, who give films high ratings simply for being sparing with words (which partly explains Eastwood’s reputation).

Genre and high art

The artistic strategies just discussed – popular focus, ‘legibility’ of text, and audience involvement at the level of identification with the hero (it’s a cliché that Red Indians watching westerns identify with the cowboys against the Indians) -- are rare in "High Cultural Art" (Neale:467). The appeal of Hamlet, for example, does not lie in wondering to ourselves how we would act if our uncle murdered our father and married our mother. Most of his speeches reflect concerns far from those of any modern educated audience: the reality of ghosts, the post-death implications of suicide, among them.

Nor does anyone really ask: How many children has Lady MacBeth? Some enigmas seem unsolvable: what exactly is the involvement of Hamlet’s mother in her husband’s death, her marriage to the King, or her relationship with Hamlet?

And, of course, neither Hamlet nor MacBeth, neither King Lear nor even Henry V can be taken as exemplary types, let alone those with which the audience is encouraged to identify. The closest Shakespeare comes in offering us characters similar to western heroes is in his villains, such as Richard III or Iago.

Jane Austen consciously parodied the Gothic genre in her earliest full-length novel, Northanger Abbey, and all her mature works deal with a young woman on the brink of marriage, with many playful references to genres such as the Romance (Pride and Prejudice), melodramatic plays (Mansfield Park), and the cult of the picturesque (Persuasion).

Her novels, however, are not classified by literary critics as genre products themselves, and the shortage of works that confront the issue of how much ‘high art’ can use of genre conventions seems to me a major failing of genre studies. Neale and Solomon make good points but do not get down to detail.

Other genre critics have tended to focus on the lower range of the field, applying a sociological or anthropological approach to genre products. Nevertheless, most major writers of the 19th century realist tradition worked within the genre/commercial frameworks of their time (e.g. Charlotte Bronte, Crane, Chekhov, Dickens, Eliot, Flaubert, James, de Maupassant, Storm, Thackeray, Tolstoy, Turgenev), and exploited the "star" system of authorship to explore other fields. Some of them, such as James and Storm, tended to the mythic in their treatment of realism, while others such as Bronte and Dickens offered melodrama and outright fantasy.

Among highly regarded modern writers, Graham Greene has conceded his taste for melodrama ("the subordination of all other elements to one overriding aesthetic goal: the calling forth of ‘pure’, ‘vivid’ emotions" – Neale:469), for suspense and for other genre characteristics, but also places himself low on the literary pole (Allain, pp.185-6).

Ernest Hemingway, whose career parallels that of the cinema, represents one of the rare efforts at producing high art that exploits genre characteristics, to the detriment of his literary standing, particularly with regard to the character flaws that led him to produce such material in a field where there were no commercial pressures forcing him to adopt such frameworks. The high-art writers most influenced by his ‘plain style’, Richard Ford and Raymond Carver, have rejected almost all the trappings of self-conscious heroism and individualistic self-reliance associated with Hemingway.

Is genre, then, simply a poorly executed version of something which ‘high art’ offered until the rise of elementary education made reading a common pursuit, and cultural capitalists began to invest their time in elitist production (as John Carey has argued)? Is intelligibility now always a handicap to high art?

It has to be admitted that many genre products are simply less skillfully organized versions of their "artistic" counterparts. Clueless was an amusing demonstration of how little the behaviour of rich, unattached girls has changed over past 200 years though cell-phones, secondary education and discos have transformed the setting. It also exploited the always marvellous dramatic trick of making a frivolously focused heroine that no adult would imagine liking (as Jane Austen described Emma in the novel of that name) into the expression of its serious theme (of refusing self-delusion and achieving maturity – and that the most frivolous-seeming people may be the embodiment of the most serious lessons we can learn about life).

But the film also showed that in the absence of Austen’s steadfast view of marriage as the ultimate commitment, the moviemakers had nothing to do with this new-found maturity, and allowed the characters to slip back into dating and juvenile games.

To have accepted Austen’s ending would have seemed subversive of the ‘teen pic’ conventions – notably, marriage at 16. As at least one critic has pointed out, high art does not teach practical lessons, except such banalities as "be careful who you marry" or "don’t hesitate to take revenge if your uncle kills your father, or you may be the one to suffer".

It does, however, accept the full consequences of the premises it chooses to accept. Emma is brought to understand how closely she came to personal disaster in treating match-making as a game, while Hamlet’s vacillation destroys the Court of Elsinore and all connected with it.

The same principle of judgement must be applied in assessing genre products. It is not simply that the best genre artists have found something to add to the mythology/ideology. Unless they full confront the implications of the issues they raise, the products will remain inferior.

The Gunfighter (1950), though "a remarkable film" in Warshow’s estimation (p.155), is irremediably weakened by its "realistic" treatment of unrealistic elements, some of which he highlights. Gregory Peck, 34 at the time and therefore looking too old to have survived so long as a famous gunfighter, acts in too dignified fashion and shows too much integrity to have the criminal past he is credited with. This past is necessary for the plot: there can be no question of his redeeming himself in any socially constructive way, Warshow points out. As the film presents it, this simply does not seem credible.

This is not simply a failure of Peck’s acting. Warshow observes: "The young tough who kills the hero has too much the air of juvenile criminality; the hero himself could never have been like that, and the idea of a cycle being repeated therefore loses its sharpness" (p.157). The realistic style of filming encourages questioning of this sort.

To offer some more revisionist judgements: Warshow faults High Noon for "too conscientious ‘social realism’" that violates the western form when each social group in the town refuses assistance "out of cowardice, malice, irresponsibility , or venality". He describes these episodes as "social drama of a very low order, […] altogether unconvincing and displaying a vulgar antipopulism" (pp. 158-9).

He also downrates John Ford’s Stagecoach (1938) and My Darling Clementine (1946) for an "unhappy preoccupation with style", cinematic landscape, horses and quiet men.

However, Warshow’s concern is more with the conventions of the genre than the artistic merits of the treatment. Revealingly, he praises My Darling Clementine for "a superficial accuracy of historical reconstruction" (p.159) when it is demonstrably mythological in its staging of the film’s climax, the gunfight at the O.K. Corral (Baseline). Ford claimed to have known Wyatt Earp and to have reconstructed the gunfight as the former marshal reported it to him (ibid), but it is obviously reshaped to stress the heroic aspects. Ford’s early westerns did not pretend to any historical accuracy (nor did his later films, despite his reputation). He was able to make film after film in the same setting (Monument Valley, often with John Wayne as his star – the least malleable of actors, to depict an idyllic thought not always comfortable world of quiet men, horses and magnificent landscape – the very things Warshow deplores. Ford created modern fairy tales: one may like them or not (I do not) but their purity of treatment cannot be doubted, and My Darling Clementine is judged by modern critics (Cinebooks, Maltin and Kael) as one of the finest westerns. To me it is no surprise that in the film where Ford is credited with directly challenging the western myth, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962), has a line that argues: when the facts conflict with the legend, print the legend. It is what Ford did throughout his career.

An unwillingness to overcome the limitations of genre conventions can damage a film that claims wider ambitions, as Ford’s did not. The Stalking Moon (1969), by Robert Mulligan, makes better use than The Gunfighter of Gregory Peck’s appearance of stolid integrity. He plays a retiring Army scout who rescues a white woman held for several years by the Apaches. With her is a half-breed boy. She does not tell Peck until a violent confrontation with the Apache chief is inevitable that the boy is the chief’s son. Peck explodes in anger at her suppression of this fact, pointing out that violence could have been avoided. But nothing follows, and the issues are buried in silence. The audience is left to watch a film in which Peck’s integrity serves no purpose, he makes no attempt to learn the boy’s wishes, the woman is given no chance to explain herself, and the unseen Apache has all the moral right on his side, and no closure can follow from the Apache’s death.

The silence remains eloquent but it is not to the benefit of the film, which is otherwise superbly photographed, directed and acted, with a concern for authenticity that is a hallmark of Mulligan’s work. The film uses the familiar elements of the chase, the trek, the ambush and the climatic shootout. Mulligan is obviously refusing the spectator any "moral ecstasy" (Tomkins, in Newbold:139) in the final killing, but since there is no moral justification for us to follow Peck and the woman (Eva Marie Saint) through these western conventions, the point has been long made and lost.

The convention that has been followed is that of the silent hero, whose silence on moral issues is part of his stature. But his inability to act except in conventional western fashion makes him a willing accomplice in a crime rather than one of the last gentlemen of modern times. His courage arouses shame rather than admiration – perhaps an exploitation of the public mood about America’s involvement in Vietnam, in view of Peck’s liberal politics. But if so, it was not a well-structured analogy.

Genre and politics

Jean-Luc Godard, perhaps the avant-garde filmmaker most knowledgeable about genre (Desjardins:409), has made only one attempt to play with the elements of the western, an anti-western known as "East Wind" (Vent d’Est, 1969). It was almost a commissioned work, largely financed by a rich Left-wing sympathizer, produced by the Dziga-Vertov collective (MacCabe:22), which challenged the fundamental premises (p.61). It is considered a minor work with little to say about the western itself (MacCabe describes it as "oddly formalistic":63). More relevantly, Godard has repeatedly said he likes least his ‘gangster’ film A bout de souffle (Breathless, 1959) and finds it "fascist" – MacCabe hypothesizes this is because it propagates a myth of an existence outside social relations (p.34). Which is very similar to western conventions.

Many of the most regular producers in the western genre have been decidedly right wing, among them Budd Boetticher, Eastwood, Ford, Hawks and Wayne, while creators of "Kennedy/Johnson" westerns (in Philip French’s weird and politically rather uninformed categorization) have been largely outsiders to the genre (Stanley Kramer, Joseph Losey, William Wyler, Fred Zinnemann).

French’s analysis, asserting a 1950s and 1960s political interpretation on westerns of the period, suffers from numerous shortcomings. It is not necessary to posit a close relationship between western themes and the type of politics prevalent at that time (if his characterization is correct: Kennedy, it should be remembered, was the creator of the Green Berets as well as of the Peace Corps, as he admits on p.79). There is also little evidence that audiences refer to the politics of the time in seeking to understand what is going on in a western. Indeed, film-makers consciously avoid this kind of reference, since it limits a movie’s appeal.

This is not to say that the industry or individual directors were not inspired by what they saw as the political climate or events of the time to put a particular emphasis onto the film narrative, but these were largely commercial calculations as to what would appeal to an audience rather than attempts to make political points (cf. the story of Thelma and Louise). Outsider attempts to bring political questions to the forefront have been largely mawkish, overschematic or dull (High Noon, The Stalking Moon, The Gunfighter, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid).

Parallels between public issues and genre products should not be taken for granted. John Ford’s The Searchers could be discussed as an almost archetypal film about Vietnam in its condemnation of unconscious racism, obsessive search for vengeance, and reversal of previous attitudes towards western history. Unfortunately for such a thesis, it appeared in 1956. However, Broken Arrow, the first post-War western released to be sympathetic to the Indians (Newbold:140), scripted (surreptitiously) by the blacklisted Ephraim Katz, had appeared in 1950 and proved extremely popular through it won no awards (Kael). This opened script supervisors’ doors to more questioning westerns.

Of course, politics are not the only source of ideas for movie-marketers interested in tapping into what has public acceptance: the British Royal Mail train robbery of 1963 spawned a series of ‘caper’ movies crediting English criminals with exceptional organizational powers (reaching perhaps a low point in the perennially popular The Italian Job, 1969). Westerns of the time such as The Wild Bunch (1969) and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), treated by French as references to Vietnam and American street conditions, also focused in unusual detail on the mechanism of crimes, as well as on gang mentality, and charming criminals.

Genre and artistic expression

With all these limitations, genre products provide American film-makers with the capacity to treat subjects for a broad audience that the commercial industry might otherwise refuse to fund. As French points out, both High Noon (1952) and Rio Bravo (1959) look at the issue of community solidarity from opposite ends of the political spectrum (the latter a deliberate right-wing response by Howard Hawkes and perhaps John Wayne to the former). It is unlikely that Carl Foreman, about to be blacklisted, could have made a film set in contemporary America about the failure of society to support good individuals in trouble. Using the documentary genre, during the same decade Hitchcock produced a rare direct meditation on the fickleness of community support. Set in contemporary society, The Wrong Man (1956-7) proved disturbingly pessimistic and one of his least appreciated "thrillers" – only Vertigo (1958) is darker, and both were box-office failures on their appearance.

The binary oppositions listed by Will Wright (Newbold:137) are consciously used by western film-makers to raise issues and provoke thought in the audience through contrast and variation.

The dualisms also go much beyond the four he identified (Good v. Bad/Strong v. Weak/Civilization v. Wilderness/Inside society v. outside society).

For example, individual vs. society, armed v. unarmed, moral v. immoral, man v. woman are regularly found. But the dualisms are not fixed: group v. society is as common as the first. The male/female dichtomy can be exploited in several ways. Many westerns of Hawks included humorous scenes in which the male hero fails to appreciate that women can exhibit all the ‘masculine’ virtues they expect only of men. Further important binary groupings in the history of westerns are fantasy v reality, friendship v gang solidarity, honesty v politics.

It would probably be more useful to talk of conventional elements rather than genre in order to encompass the full range of subjects which a genre film could cover. These elements can be combined in many ways: we can thus have the environmental/pro-Indian/outdoor/serious/epic/liberal western (Dances with Wolves) or the urban/white-oriented/indoor/jokey/picaresque/right-wing musical western (Rio Bravo) without pretending to cover the range with these categories, or suggesting these give any indication of their quality as films.

Aesthetic valuation of the films studied depends on the way these elements are used cinematically, either to question the conventions or make them live. Howard Hawks’s skill at making us believe in the depth of relationships under a simple surface makes Rio Bravo much more interesting than Dances with Wolves to be involved with as a spectator, though the juvenilities of attitude limit its appeal to a specialist audience (it received low ratings from general reviewers when it was first released). Rio Bravo, treated by Maltin as a classic, is in Pauline Kael’s view, a "pastiche" and "silly".

It should, perhaps, be underlined that despite the impression given by much structuralist criticism, binary opposition is not the way in which most ‘high art’ communicates or achieves effects of depth: Hamlet cannot be summed up as the orphan prince, the prince who would be a regicide (killing the man who killed his father and King). Lear is not simply the destitute king.

One of the serious weaknesses of The Magnificent Seven in contrast to Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, of which it was a deliberate copy, is that John Sturges was unable to find a US equivalent to the Samurai code which gave not only gave unity to the warrior heroes but also explained the crucial psychological rewards they received from practising their craft to defend the peasant village. Cinebooks’ Motion Picture Guide Annual (1995) observes: "John Sturges fails to present its heroes with the style, grace, and dignity that Kurosawa accorded his samurai warriors — mainly because the American West lacked the long-standing social traditions that provide the historical framework for the samurai genre."

The failure of genre products to explore their binary oppositions in any depth can restrict their shelf-life artistically. Once the period in which they seemed so forceful has passed, the lack of a fuller treatment of the oppositions can make the films appear remarkably thin, restricted and dated. French noted the change in his reaction to High Noon between 1952 and 1977, when the repressive environment of Hollywood in the 1950s and the stranglehold of studio production had dissipated.

Genre and the western

Genre criticism of the western seems to have gone through as many transformations as the genre itself. Taking a decidedly literary view, French (1977) identifies the western, along with science fiction, as a version of the Pastoral, "a traditional source of allegory […] teaching lessons to the present through a rewriting of the past" (p.86) – a categorization that could also be applied to Shakespeare’s history plays or several of his tragedies as well as to most of Thackeray’s novels. "The ultimate root of the western is man and the traditional concerns of character and community" (ibid).

Chris Newbold (1996) provides a post-modern view of the western genre: "Its narrative is inextricably tied to American ideologies, such as individualism, patriarchy, business enterprise (cattle ranching, farming, trading and bank robbing). Motherhood is seen as sacred and childhood as innocent. There is a Puritanism in the western film, leading almost to sexual disgust, with the image of women generally sentimentalized, and the saloon girl equated with prostitution, and ultimately punished. Westerns are essentially patriarchal and WASPish. Patriotism is mixed with a version of Whig history which postulates a naïve faith in social change and progress. The ‘pure’ western film attempts to convince the audience that there was nothing intrinsically wrong with the Anglo-Saxon impact on the West. Indeed, it was a crusading – almost missionary – clearing of the land of savages" (p.135).

By contrast, French seems remarkably complacent about the item of the genre. Compare Newbold’s text, too, with Warshow’s pioneering profile (1954) of the western hero: "He resembles the gangster in being lonely and to some degree melancholy. […] His loneliness is organic, not imposed on him by his situation. […] If there is a woman he loves, she is usually unable to understand his motives, she is against killing or being killed, and he finds it impossible to explain to her that there is no point in being ‘against’ these things: they belong to his world. […] Those women in the western movies who share the hero’s understanding of life are prostitutes […] women, that is, who have come to understand in the most practical way how love can be an irrelevance […] In western movies, the important thing about a prostitute is her quasi-masculine independence. […] The westerner is par excellence a man of leisure. Even when he wears the badge of a marshal or, more rarely, owns a ranch, he appears to be unemployed. We see him standing at a bar, or playing poker […] or perhaps camping out on the plains […] It never occurs to us that he is a poor man. There is no poverty in western movies, and really no wealth either […] Possessions too are irrelevant. Employment of some kind – usually unproductive – is always open to the westerner, but when he accepts it, it is not because he needs to make a living, much less from any idea of getting ahead. Where could he want to get ahead to? By the time we see him, he is already ‘there’; he can ride a horse faultlessly, keep his countenance in the face of death, and draw his gun a little faster and shoot it a little straighter than anyone he is likely to meet. These are sharply defined acquirements, giving to the figure of the westerner an apparent moral clarity which corresponds to the clarity of his physical image against his bare landscape; initially, at any rate, the western movie presents itself as being without mystery, its whole universe comprehended on what we see on the screen. As guns constitute the visible moral centre of the western movie, suggesting continually the possibility of violence, so land and horses represent the movie’s material basis, its sphere of action. But the land and horses also have a moral significance; the physical freedom they represent belongs to the moral ‘openness’ of the West – corresponding to the fact that guns are carried where they can be seen. […] the westerner is the last gentleman, and the movies which over and over again tell his story are probably the last art form in which the concept of honour retains its strength" (pp.150-152).

There are a number of points to bring out from these two latter extracts, both excellent summaries. Newbold’s superficially more ‘knowing’ listing of conventions in the western genre could be matched by films contradicting his descriptions. This is not really surprising – Ed Buscombe (1993) has noted how desperately producers tried to maintain an audience for the western by producing (with an unconscious echo of Polonius): "westerns for children, for blacks and hippies, for liberals and conservatives [...] soft-core and hard-core westerns, science fiction westerns, allegorical westerns, […] ecological and ethnographic westerns" (Newbold:128).

Neale (p.463-4) suggests that the dynamic process involved in genre products – always referring back to other films of the same type while adding to the canon – means that any definition is historically specific.

However, it is worth bearing in mind that the variations can be explained as marketing calculations. Bourdieu has shown how the opposition between ‘best seller’ and ‘classics’ publishers operates in bookselling (pp.152-3), producing different economic structures, temporal perspectives and organizational systems, as well as different attitudes towards immediate commercial success (p.154). A modified version of this system – keeping in mind that even ‘artistic’ movies seek a relatively large audience – operates in the film industry.

Newbold’s summary also contrasts with Warshow’s in its refusal to specify values with which the ordinary viewer could identify. Warshow’s depiction, perhaps deliberately, echoes prescriptions for the chivalric knight. He suggests that the gangster movie offers a pessimistic version of the western myth (p.149).

His picture of the western hero is also an idealized portrait that could appeal to marginalized young males whose lack of professional training doomed them to manual labour. Westerns could depict their marginalization as a laudable moral choice, their minimal skills as adequate for a satisfying life in (the western’s) society. Their limited experience of US society can be pictured as somehow profounder in its grasp than that of urban, community-bound families.

Rather inadequately, westerns also often suggest through the death of the hero or a few homelitic sentences that the cult of individual vengeance and violence is ultimately self-defeating – pessimism about social systems tends to be more strongly emphasised through the narrative.

Newbold sees the western as more intentionally ideological than Warshow. However, this should not be understood as suggesting that westerns are considered by their creators or consumers to be accurate portrayals of either history or society.

Will Wright has highlighted the benefits drawn from narrative form: "In life meaning is problematic, in narrative it is not" (Boyd-Barrett and Newbold:451). Neale underlines the consciously fictional nature of genre: "patterns are repeated on purpose because other filmmakers see, in those first firms of a genre, latent possibilities for the reinterpretation of human conduct in archetypal situations" (p.457).

Jane Feuer has insisted on the diagetic nature of cinema – its insistence on operating as a closed product -- in contrast to television which makes continual reference to the world outside itself, dissolving the boundaries between fiction, advertisement and direct communication (Boyd-Barrett and Newbold:494). Newbold, likewise, focuses on the fictionality of genre products: "Ultimately genre study is not about realism – moving image genre products are not an imitation of real life […:] understanding them is about understanding the relationships between texts" (ibid:442).

The social and economic conditions in which westerns were originally produced – from the studio bosses, to the directors and the audiences – encouraged such developments, a focus on the mythic and fiction, on minimally organized, pre-industrial society and personally delivered justice rather than films reflecting labour movements, farm life, city employment, the prevailing anonymity of individuals in US industry, the scandals of big business, the movement of women into major sectors of the economy, the facts of immigration, the everyday violence of strike breakers – all subjects which were well-known and documented in best-selling media products, from the stories of O. Henry to the muckraking newspapers of the time.

This conservatism was not confined to westerns. Birth of a Nation (1915), often described as the cinema’s first masterpiece and certainly the silent era’s most profitable film (Cinebooks), glorified the Ku Klux Klan, romanticized slavery and condoned lynching, but pretended to offer history rather than fiction (ibid).

These conditions may explain why Newbold would find westerns as a whole as fundamentally oppressive in their ideology. The manufacturers of the average formulaic western and many highly regarded movies of this genre were undoubtedly reactionary in all their politics.

But it may also be why some of the most critically appreciated films are consciously liberal and question the conventions of the formula products (High Noon, Shane, Magnificent Seven). John Ford is today more valued for his later critical interpretations of western conventions than his earlier celebratory movies, and commentators on Hawks concentrate on his sympathetic depictions of independent women rather than on his bolstering of the John Wayne myth.

Applying aesthetic standards to genre products: "One-Eyed Jacks"

To apply this perspective to a product of the Hollywood system, I have chosen a western that has a peculiar history.

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