Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Westerner, The Virginian and Good vs. Evil

In Robert Warshow famous essay, “The Westerner,” he talks about the classic genre western. Warshow says it is, “always around 1870 and the hero is the last gentleman.” That was so true of the old style one dimensional western, and I liked and read a lot of them. They are still popular enough to remain in print today and provide a living or part of a living for many western writers.

Warshow goes on to say that, “The Westerner comes into the field of serious art only when his moral code, without ceasing to be compelling, is seen also to be imperfect.” This really brings to mind the first of the great moral dilemma westerns, one that in fact came out before the rubber stamped Hollywood versions of the old west. The book and movie was the, “Virginian,” a story where the protagonist must decide what to do when it is all about bringing the bad guy to justice and the bad guy is an old friend.

Take a look at what you are reading—is it an old time good vs. evil, Hollywood story, or is it more compelling, with the hero chasing not only bad guys but maybe a few inner demons as well?

 Warshow also compared the western to the gangster movies of his generation (the 40s and 50s) and one could do that today comparing recent western movies to new gangster genre movies and Television series.

“The gangster's world is less open, and his arts not so easily identifiable as the Westerner's. Perhaps he too can keep his counten...ance, but the mask he wears is really no mask: its purpose is precisely to make evident the fact that he desperately wants to "get ahead" and will stop at nothing. Where the Westerner imposes himself by the appearance of unshakable control, the gangster's pre-eminence lies in the suggestion that he may at any moment lose control; his strength is not in being able to shoot faster or straighter than others, but in being more willing to shoot. "Do it first," say Scarface expounding his mode of operation, "and keep on doing it!" With the Westerner, it is a crucial point of honor not to "do it first"; his gun remains in his holster until the moment of combat.”*

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