Nicholas Ray’s Gender Bender Western

In the fifties, the Western genre experienced a revitalization that saw new approaches to the form – everything from a film noir interpretation like The Furies (1950) to a psychological thriller like High Noon (1952) to a promotional gimmick like the 3-D Western, Hondo (1953). However, it’s safe to say that Johnny Guitar (1954), Nicholas Ray’s bold experiment with color, role reversal, stylized sets, and operatic emotions is a one of a kind masterpiece that will never be repeated.   Continue reading

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A Western Greek Tragedy

By the 1950s, the popularity of the Western genre was in decline and Hollywood studios tried to revitalize the once box office proof formula by trying everything from Technicolor and Cinemascope visual enhancements to hybrid novelties such as 1954’s Red Garters (a musical with stylized sets) and 1959’s Curse of the Undead (featuring a vampire gunslinger) to topical approaches that reflected a growing interest in psychology such as The Furies [1950] and High Noon [1952]. Into the latter category falls The Halliday Brand [1957], one of the more intense but least well known of the adult Westerns being produced in that era.  Continue reading

Audie Murphy: Role Model

Audie Murphy plays an angel of death in the semi-allegorical western western, No Name on the Bullet (1959), directed by Jack Arnold

Clint Eastwood certainly carved out his own genre niche as “The Man With No Name” gunslinger of Sergio Leone’s spaghetti western trilogy but he wasn’t the first to craft his screen persona as an archetype of the tight-lipped, deadly frontier drifter. Audie Murphy had already perfected the prototype in No Name on the Bullet (1959), a much darker variation on the heroic lawmen the actor usually played in westerns. Continue reading

A Western for Adults

The Hanging TreeUnderrated at the time of its release, The Hanging Tree (1959) is now considered a superior western from the waning years of that popular genre which coincided with the end of the studio era. It is also considered one of Gary Cooper’s best performances from his final decade in film, comparable to his fine work in High Noon (1952) and Man of the West (1958), and a late period achievement for director Delmer Daves (Broken Arrow, 3:10 to Yuma). I was encountered the film at a Saturday matinee in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania when I was seven years old and remember being disturbed by it. This is an adult western. It is not a film for children.  Continue reading