The Noir Western: Darkness on the Range 1943-1962
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Beginning in the mid-1940s, the bleak, brooding mood of film noir began seeping into that most optimistic of film genres, the western. Story lines took on a darker tone and western films adopted classic noir elements of moral ambiguity, complex anti-heroes and explicit violence. The noir western helped set the standard for the darker science fiction, action and superhero films of today, as well as for acclaimed TV series such as HBO's Deadwood and AMC's Breaking Bad. This book covers the stylistic shift in westerns in mid-20th century Hollywood, offering close readings of the first noir westerns, along with revealing portraits of the eccentric and talented directors who brought the films to life.
Cowboy Rides into Town 5 1. The Darkening West: Conscience and Cruelty Collide in William Wellman’s The Ox-Bow Incident, Yellow Sky and Track of the Cat 21 2. The Tyranny of Troubled Pasts: Escape and the Futility of It in Raoul Walsh’s Pursued and Colorado Territory 38 3. Where Treachery Springs Eternal: Staying Human in the Harsh Worlds of André de Toth’s Ramrod and Day of the Outlaw 55 4. “The topography of menace”: Painting the Western Black in Robert Wise’s Blood on the Moon 70 5.
be alone. As Dave tells her, “I guess that squares everything.” This is a subtler end for her than it is for most noir bad girls, and, in a curious way, it’s absolutely ﬁtting: she gets her ranch, power, and everything else she has schemed for—everything, that is, except the most important thing. One of many ﬁne touches that gives Ramrod its particular richness is how the contrast between Connie and Rose is suggested. Throughout the story, Connie deliberately breaks ties, hurts, and destroys.
better suited to this task than Stanwyck. Speciﬁcally, she brings a fascinating combination of authority and no-holds-barred sexuality that audiences hardly ever saw from actresses in westerns at the time. In fact, with Jessica’s black leathers, her whip, and her willingness to use her whip on one of her male lackeys, Stanwyck also pulls off the suggestion that Jessica has a dominatrix side, a female trait audiences never saw in 1950s westerns. In addition, she gives Jessica—in her scenes with
The dark, ominous musical theme that follows McCarty and his henchmen throughout the ﬁlm is especially effective. Silver Lode may have been made quickly and on a small budget, but it was made with the kind of thoughtfulness and respect for the subject matter that often doesn’t go into major productions. “What might have been if…?” If there were ever a ﬁtting epitaph for Allan Dwan, it may very well be that eternal question: “What might have been if…?” Considering both his enormous output of
want to pay homage to the previous ﬁlm. In a broader sense, too, the stories are very different. While The Tall T is primarily a hostage thriller, for example, 7 Men from Now is mainly a revenge/love story, Ride Lonesome a revenge/redemption drama with lots of comic relief, and Comanche Station a road picture often complicated by poor relations with the Native American characters. Revenge is also part of what gives Ride Lonesome some key characteristics of noir, speciﬁcally noir revenge dramas