Reflections on the Golden Screen


Part Two

From the early years of the singing cowboys the westerns gradually evolved with the introduction of colour and superior screenplays but apart from a few exceptional and thoughtful movies most of the plots involved love affairs and had even elevated Indians into some exotic species with colourful costumes and proud demeanor which was at least an improvement on portraying them as cannon fodder.  But as films have become ever more sophisticated and audiences have become far more knowledgeable the singing choirs at the start of each film have disappeared  but more importantly the racism inherent in the portrayal of Native Americans is no longer acceptable.   There is some irony in the fact that while Western films in the latter years have improved in quality as to be unrecognisable from their beginnings, the number of people watching them has decreased greatly.    

Although there are many who would argue otherwise and everyone is entitled to his own favourite, Unforgiven is generally acknowledged as Clint Eastwood's magnum opus in the Western movie genre.  Directed by Eastwood, it won Best Director and Best Picture Oscars in 1992.  Eastwood plays a grizzled ex-gunfighter trying to forget his past sins.  His nightmares and flashbacks serve to emphasis just how traumatic those sins were and his character William Munny is a soul in torment.  Living in poverty, he is tempted back for just one more paying job as a killer which he justifies by convincing himself that his actions will be some kind of justice.  The tale is hardly innovative but what elevates this film from similar pictures are the excellent performances by Richard Harris, Morgan Freeman and Gene Hackman in particular as the jovial, red-neck sheriff with a barely concealed sadistic streak.  The finale is very similar to those wrestling bouts where the good guy is thrown all over the place for 3 rounds and then exacts retribution upon his tormentor in the last seconds of the last round.  William Munny is out on his feet  when he finally rediscovers his old skills and delivers death and destruction to all of his enemies in a manner not too far removed from The Man With No Name.
Unforgiven is a far cry from the singing cowboy era and its portrayal of the poverty-stricken existence of westerners is more in keeping with the reality of how things used to be.  There is no panoramic scenery to be seen anywhere and the whole film is set in a harsh landscape where cruelty is commonplace, the law is corrupt and women are "whores."
In many ways Clint Eastwood's career parallels that of John Wayne in that we know him from youth to old age and like Wayne he has continued to turn out movies right to the end.  His films have been more varied than those of the Duke but always top quality and just like Wayne that quality has improved with age. 

Although Kevin Costner had turned out several good films --notably No Way Out, the mystic Field of Dreams and the little-known Revenge -- it was Dances With Wolves, made in 1990 which made his reputation and at a time when westerns were as rare as hen's teeth proved that a good film in any genre will always succeed.  There was criticism in some quarters that the film was an overly sentimental paean to the way of life of the Native Americans but I find this difficult to reconcile with some of the scenes.  The one that stands out in my mind is a vignette of how the wagon driver meets his end; returning alone after dropping Costner off in hiswilderness outpost, he encounters a band of  Indians who kill   him in such a manner that emphatically makes a statement about just how inured to cruelty and death they are.  An arrow will rarely kill immediately and the fallen wagon driver suffers agonies as arrow after arrow is casually fired into his body from horseback as he writhes on the ground.  The Indians deliberately target his arms and legs and his torment and pain are enough to make you wince.  It's a far cry from the traditional arrow in the shoulder fired from 500 yards, dropping the victim as if pole-axed.  The leader of the band is Wes Studi whose portrayal of cruel savagery is frighteningly realistic - a role which he reproduced in other films as will be seen.
Life on the frontier was hardly a bed of roses for civilians and soldiers alike so that when Captain Dunbar {Costner} enters into the tribe he obviously encounters different customs and language but it is no more hardy than the lives the immigrants were living and probably easier in some ways.  It is true that Dunbar comes to respect the Indian way of life and it is true that it is portrayed as Utopian
occasionally but it only serves to emphasise the counterpoint that death is ever-present from buffalo, the bitter winters, snakes, famine or enemy tribes.  So, in the main it is probably a fairly true representation of the life of the plains Indians at that time and who is there left to say that it is isn't.

When Dunbar's idyllic existence is finally shattered by the inevitable appearance of the soldiers, their reaction on finding him living with the "redskins" is violent and extreme, illustrating clearly the racism inherent in the white men.   It's out of the question to represent the way of life of the Old West in one film but it had already been seen in The Searchers and is also apparent in many other Westerns, most notably The Undefeated  starring Burt Lancaster and Audrey Hepburn.The coming of the white man and the foreboding of the Indians runs as a thread through the film and the final scene is allegorical in nature.  It is mid-winter and the tribe are in a snow covered valley where sub-zero temperatures give a blue tinge to the landscape.  Short of food and suffering from the cold they are attempting to get through another killing Winter until Spring arrives.  As Dunbar leaves, the final shot is of the army surrounding the camp.  The ensuing finale evokes recollections of Sand Creek, Wounded Knee and the Washita and the last lingering look of the snowy valley with soldiers massing is scarier than actually seeing the inevitable and dreadful finale which is left to the imagination.  For my mind, Dances With Wolves is one of the finest westerns ever made and Costner's masterpiece. 
Wyatt Earp  made in 1994, was Kevin Costner's attempt at at a biography of the famous lawman.  There's no doubt that Costner has made an honest attempt to represent Earp's life just as it was but the problem is that even at this very short distance in time his story has become clouded with myth.  The Ned Buntline pulps have not been very helpful in this respect and neither have preceding films about Wyatt Earp and seemingly Earp himself was not lacking when it came to embroidering some story or other.  In the face of such difficulties, Costner has therefore turned out a thoughtful account of the legendary Marshal which is certainly exciting and entertaining and does attempt to present a reasonable version of the story as it is known.
It's never a bad thing to have Gene Hackman in a film even if he does have a small role in this case as Wyatt's dad.  
Dennis Quaid makes a good job of the Doc Holliday role and has become just one more in a growing number of actors to take on the part
Geronimo:An American Legend (1993 - Director: Walter Hill
Walter Hill is undenably a master at directing westerns, usually keeping broadly to the facts and adding fictional characters whenever he sees fit; however although the story is basically correct, it has to be said, that here he does play fast and loose with some of the characterisations in the film. In this filmography of Geronimo the focus is on the men who hunted the legendary Apache chief down with a very young Matt Damon narrating and playing First Lieutenant Britton Davis.  Davis here is portrayed as a young and idealistic officer who finally resigns in disgust at the treatment of the Apache but in reality Davis played a much greater role in the operations.  Robert Duvall is his usual grizzled self as the experienced scout and Indian fighter, Al Sieber, and Hill conjures up an entirely fictional death for Sieber, being shot down in a heroic pursuit of renegades, when in reality Sieber died in 1907 after being struck by a falling boulder.  Jason Patrick is a little too handsome for his role as Lt Charles Gatewood but his characterisation of the man is largely correct; Gatewood was unusual in that he had a great deal of sympathy for the Apache and later worked for their rights.  Gene Hackman plays General Crook as a soldier carrying out his unpleasant duties with reluctance.   However, Wes Studi takes the acting honours with his portrayal of Geronimo and there is a suggestion that the Director is giving him a voice for the first time, expressing in several pieces of dialogue the Apache point of view and his eventual humiliation and surrender.
In the final analysis, Geronimo is a damning indictment of the callous and deceitful manner in which the Apache were subjugated and in respect of the fact that there were so few of them one is left to wonder why the American authorities chose to be be so indifferent and cruel as to their fate.
The Apache were undoubtedly cruel and implacable enemies of the United States but who could blame them when they were viewed as sub-human by many of their enemies;  one is left to wnder why the United States could never show an ounce of compassion or humanity to a beaten people who were after all there a long time before the American army turned up.

Costner returned to the western with Open Range in 2003, turning out an exciting and enjoyable old-fashioned cowboy film.  The plot is reminiscent of every Republic western ever made, with two honest cowpokes, an avaricious, land-grabbing politician and his mindless cronies and there's even Annette Bening waiting to be won.  The dialogue is dramatic and even eccentric at times but everyone does it all so well  that none of that matters and this plot has been enacted so many times that it just must have happened in real life sometime and somewhere.  Robert Duvall's scene-stealing has evolved over the years into something more indicative of grand larceny and he again does it so well in this film.  The ending is straight out of a Roy Rogers film with all the good guys dividing up the spoils after having massacred the baddies in an old-fashioned shootout. So, Kevin gets the cowgirl, Robert Duvall gets a saloon, the townsfolk are free of their oppressors and everyone lives happy ever after.  But, don't let any of this put you off because I loved every doggone minute of it. 
Walter Hill (1942) said in an interview that "every film I've done has been a Western ", and elaborated in another that "the Western is ultimately a stripped down moral universe that is, whatever the dramatic problems are, beyond the normal avenues of social control and social alleviation of the problem."  In Hill's long career, in reality he only directed a few westerns, but their attention to detail is breathtaking and are all based upon true events.  The Long Riders (1980) is probably the truest account of life after the Civil War and the James Gang's involvement; Geronimo: An American Legend (1993) brought together Gene Hackman, Matt Damon, Wes Studi and Robert Duvall detailing the relentless tracking down of the legendary Apache warrior; the TV series Deadwood (2004) stripped away any romantic ideas of the West and was the very antithesis of the West that Gene Autry and Roy Rogers inhabited.  While modern film-making is far more realistic than ever before and opened a window onto life in the Old West as it really was, the endless toil of the homesteaders and the bleak and often cruel outlook of the cowboys and townspeople can be tedious and downright depressing.  However, in the TV mini-series of  Broken Trail, made in 2006,  while Walter Hill steadfastly maintains his adherence to the grim realities of the west, unlike those films detailed above, the Director has introduced forces for good in the shape of Prentice Ritter, played by Robert Duvall, and  Tom Harte, played by Thomas Haden Church.  Set in 1898 Ritter and Harte are taking a herd of horses from Oregon to Idaho for sale to the British Government  for service in the Boer War when they encounter five innocent Chinese girls being trafficked across country to be sold into prostitution by the malevolent Captain Billy Fender played by James Russo.  When Fender robs the two cowboys and rapes one of the young girls, Harte exacts retribution by hanging leaving the Chinese girls alone on the prairie.  Having just arrived in America, the girls who seem to be aged from 18 to possibly 14, are completely helpless and Ritter and Harte are duty bound to take them along with them.  Along the way, they come across Nola (Greta Scacchi) who is in danger from the oddly named Big Ears Bywater (Chris Mulkey) who is as wicked and sadistic as any horror film character.  In keeping with the theme of realism, Nola has been forced into prostitution after the death of her husband, a not uncommon fate of western women.  The odyssey of the women across the prairie in a small wagon is a thrilling story of death and danger not unlike the cattle-drive in Lonesome Dove but shepherded by the two cowboys that they come to trust implicitly the fate of the girls comes to a surprising and satisfactory conclusion.  While every single actor in this film is to be highly recommended and Robert Duvall reprises his role as the grizzled cowboy that he has played so many times before, the stand-out actor is Thomas Haden Church who takes all the honours.  In Broken Trail Thomas Haden Church has found his forte as the stolid, reliable, trustworthy cowboy Tom Harte who is strong enough to destroy his enemies without compunction while retaining a kindness and sense of honour far beyond what might be expected of a rough cowpuncher.  Thomas Haden Church has evoked the complete vision of a cowboy and as Tom Harte has left us longing for more - as an actor, Church has missed his vocation as he could well have been one of the finest cowboy actors of all time and as film fans we have all missed out. 
All The Pretty Horses  {2000}  set in 1949, has John Grady Cole  {Matt Damon} as a young cowboy, restless and hungry for adventure making his way to Mexico to see what life is like there.  His more prosaic side-kick Lacey Rawlins (Henry Thomas} tags along reluctantly.  They are joined by a very young Jimmy Blevins {played by the excellent Lucas Black} who is dogged by trouble wherever he goes.  The great adventure gradually turns to tragedy with the cruel and unnecessary death of Blevins and the film then relates how the two friends deal with the adversities that they come across.  Rawlins does his best but eventually retreats from the situation while Cole grows visibly with each challenge that he comes up against and returns a far more rounded character.  Oh yes, he has Penélope Cruz to console him but girls were always a nuisance in westerns anyway.  Great little film and a faithful adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's novel which mourns the passing of the Old West and asks the question - what becomes of the next generation ?  The film is not very well known even among western aficionados and I suspect that it may have suffered for its strange title.
Although westerns as a genre are appearing less frequently than they ever did there are still actors and Directors enamoured of the subject enough to produce a film here and there.  Ed Harris has rarely gone in for westerns but he proves himself to be an excellent lawman as Virgil Cole and a competent Director of Appaloosa  released in 2008.  Viggo Mortensen plays Virgil's faithful deputy Everett Hitch who has been at his side for 14 years.  Requested by the townsmen of the town of Appaloosa, one of whom is played by Timothy Spall in one of those servile roles he plays so well, to deal with Bragg played by Jeremy Irons, the two lawmen go to work against the local land baron and his men.  Jeremy Irons follows a long line of British actors who play villains and he is up there with all of them.  There seems to be little to distinguish this film from many others up until this point but the appearance of the winsome Allison French played by a coquettish Renee Zellweger jerks the film into life as she insinuates her way into the heart of the hapless Virgil whose first words on meeting her are to ask if she is a whore or a married woman.  As Allison adopts the persona of a respectable woman alone in the wilderness, Virgil become besotted with her and is completely ignorant to the fact that she is a sexual predator, solely motivated by an atavistic instinct to attach herself to any alpha male she comes across - as Everett aptly describes her later in the film "she wants to be with the boss stallion."  It's also fascinating to discover that although Virgil is a lethal killer with a violent temper he has pretensions to be cultured, reading Milton and attempting to improve his vocabulary , usually being given a key word by the ever- faithful Everett.  Ed Harris and Viggo Mortensen are a perfect match as are their characters Virgil and Everett but as time goes by Everett realises that his days of being the reliable sidekick are coming to an end and he rides off to a new life.  In days gone by  Appaloosa  would have been an ordinary western with the stock characters of evil baron, frightened townsmen and fast-shooting lawmen but it is indicative of how westerns have become more sophisticated in that the characterisation in this film is the glue that holds it together rather than the hackneyed plot and from Timothy Spall through to the citizens of the town and on to the baddies each and every character is of interest in their own right.  If westerns are to survive then t his is the way to go.
Django Unchained (2012) Director;Quentin Tarantino
I wasn't too sure that Django qualified as a Western in the true sense of the word - because it was set in the Deep South in 1858, two years before the American Civil War, it may well have been  called a "Southern" - however, the opening sequences soon cleared that problem up; anyone watching the opening credits could have been forgiven for thinking they had stepped back into the 1950's when a bright red font stating the film title overlays a background of western scenery  where Roy Rogers or Gene Autry would not have been out of place - add to the mix a rousing western ballad and we have a typical 1950's B movie opening.  However, the real subject of the film is slavery and while Tarantino makes it plain throughout the film that slavery was abhorrent and shameful, he also uses slavery as a vehicle for the torture and violence which is a feature of every Tarantino film.  That's not to say that its not an exciting film because it is, and it could be argued that the sadism shown to the slaves typified by Leonardo DiCaprio's plantation owner is an indictment of how slavery debased slave-owners.  It is also a feature of the film that the slave-owners and their underlings all get their come-uppance in the end - mostly via a final shoot-out reminiscent of the famous firefight in Scarface when Django (Jamie Foxx) manages to clock up a body count worthy of a small war while the hails of lead aimed in his direction miraculously miss their target.

But Tarantino's real strength lies in scenes which are to be found in all of his films, in particular in Inglourious Basterds - Christopher Waltz has a habit of stealing scenes and in this film  playing a genial Gestapo officer he plays with a French farmer sheltering Jews like a cat with a mouse.  The underlying menace is palpable  as the tension builds with seemingly innocuous dialogue until the Gestapo officer's true persona emerges and he erupts into a merciless sadist.  The same scene is replicated in  Django when DiCaprio's plantation owner toys with Django and Christopher Waltz's Dr Schultz producing the same underlying menace and threat while chatting, seemingly innocently.  It is worth seeing the film for this scene alone and DiCaprio's slave-owners' verbal fencing with Christopher Waltz's Schultz is more exciting and tense than any of the firefights. 
From the tension engendered in the above scenes, Tarantino switches seamlessly to the slavers dressed in Klan masks with the accompanying comedic dialogue making plain just how ridiculous they all are.  Looked at more closely, although the scene can be construed as merely a quirky, comic  episode, Tarantino has in fact debunked the Klan and all it stands for in a very clever manner.  He really is more clever than we give him credit for.
Samuel L. Jackson is well worth a mention as the obsequious and ingratiating Stephen, who in his own way is worse than the slaver-owners, betraying his own kind and collaborating in the plantation-owners' worse excesses.
Eccentric and innovative, Tarantino has once again produced a mixture of horror, comedy and drama in a film which he appears in an acting part near the end; it has to be said that based on Tarantino's portrayal of a cowboy, he made a wise choice when he turned to Directing.  The final scene once again is reminiscent of a 50's B Western, with all the baddies vanquished and Django riding into the sunset with his girl, but once again Tarantino surprises us - who else would have his hero have his horse dancing and performing tricks in the final reel - the last time I saw that was in the Cameo when Roy Rogers and Trigger did it, roughly around 1952.
It is a measure of the popularity of the singing cowboys of 1950's vintage that those of a certain age in Liverpool  still fondly recall Roy Rogers leading Trigger through the doors of the Adelphi Hotel where he was staying and waving to the crowd from a 3rd floor balcony with Trigger alongside.

 Tommy Lee Jones has featured in several westerns and was outstanding as Captain Woodrow Call in Lonesome Dove but in latter years his performances and films have become ever darker and dispiriting.  There is a tendency to acclaim everything that Tommy Lee Jones does but sometimes I think its a case of the Emperor's new clothes and it's difficult to find anything to like about the Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada with the scenario of dragging a corpse across country as its basic premise.  The scenes where Barry Pepper's Highway Patrolman is masturbating over a porn magazine is distasteful and unnecessary and if in fact this film can be described as a modern western then Gene Autry, Roy Rogers and Buck Jones' fantasyland are infinitely preferable.  
 In his latter years Tommy Lee Jones seems to have a penchant for gloomy subjects and excels himself as the Director of The Homesman (2014) which is as far from its representation of women of the frontier as jolly saloon girls can be.  The film is a frank examination of the lives of pioneer women in the mid 1800's and is far more explicit than any documentary film on the subject, and if we didn't realize it previously, life on the frontier was hell on earth for many women.  Mary Bee Cuddy, played by Hilary Swank, survives life in a miserable frontier town by remaining honest,  upright and God-fearing, keeping her cabin immaculate and taking her place in the community.  She longs to be married and is turned down several times, on one occasion being told brutally that she is too ugly, by a farmhand who is hardly an oil-painting himself. 
Nevertheless, Mary Bee steadfastly works on her homestead, maintaining her home and her cultural values, longing all the time for a soul-mate and a better life.  Nothing is more indicative of the fact that living in and around frontier towns for women was an arduous and unforgiving round of back-breaking work, rearing children and keeping house, than in a very small area three women lose their minds.  The male population seem bemused and helpless and  uncaring as their women enter into the realms of madness when they are subjected to domestic abuse or lose children in childbirth or to disease, with the only answer for them to return east where they can be cared for.  It is quite telling that the only person who will drive the women back east is a woman herself and it falls upon the good Mary Bee to transport the women in a rickety wagon.  Reduced to babbling wrecks the women are beyond all reason and along the way Mary Bee enlists the help of Briggs (Tommy Lee Jones) who is helpful in a rough and ready kind of way.  The odyssey of the ill-matched pair  ends in tragedy for Mary Bee and Briggs puts the episode behind him as he goes along his drink-sodden way seemingly without a care in the world.  In its own way  the film is a brilliant indictment of the disgraceful way women were treated on the frontier but with Mary Bee the only character that we can really empathise with, The Homesman is inevitably depressing and as far away from conventional westerns as you can get.
The Hateful 8 : Director and Writer Quentin Tarantino
Tarantino's 8th film and 2nd Western begins intriguingly enough as a take on the old Stagecoach classic but soon reverts to Tarantino's trademark violence as Kurt Russell's bounty hunter exhibits a sadistic streak by battering his prisoner Daisy Domergue (played by Jennifer Jason Leigh) at every opportunity.  Just as in the original Stagecoach, the coach picks up passengers on the way, notably Samuel L. Jackson as another bounty hunter and Walton Goggins playing a newly-elected sheriff.  Apart from the violence shown by the volatile Kurt Russell character the film is quite intriguing introducing a cast of characters on a swaying coach in the midst of a Wyoming blizzard, at the same time creating an atmospheric and potentially explosive situation.
It's interesting to note that while Samuel L. Jackson makes strange Ringo Kid, Tarantino has obviously borrowed from Stagecoach which in itself, stangely enough, took its storyline from a Guy de Maupassant short-story called Boule de Suif  ( roughy translated as Tub of Lard.)

The remainder of the Hateful 8 are found in the stop-over called Minnie's Haberdashery and  Michael Madsen, Bruce Dern and James Parks all play seemingly innocuous characters while Tim Roth plays an English hangman.  At this point in the film with all the characters together in one room and none of them what they seem, there is a startling resemblance to Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None  which was written in 1940 and originally entitled 10 Little Niggers.  The  resemblance  to Agatha Christie's novel is further compounded by the odious Bruce Dern's Confederate General's insistance of using the epithet "nigger" over and over again in reference to Samuel L.. Jackson's characterThe original title of Agatha Christie's novel  is indicative of the racism endemic in England at that time - it haas since been altered to
a more acceptable And then there were None.  As far as Tarantino goes, he seems to have evoked a different type of violence in which violence of the tongue is common and racism raises its ugly head - given that the Confederate General's part is minimal the language used seems gratuitous to say the least and Tarantino uses it as a device to shock. 

With all the characters in Minnie's bumping one another off in varying ways the part remains faithful to Agatha Christie's vintage formula with the only difference being the level of violence used.  As each character meets his end in increasingly bizarre and dreadful ways the film  enters the realms of a Victorian melodrama, then slowly descends into a bloodfest and finally ends as a Gothic horror story.

While The Hateful 8 is undoubtedly clever and the dialogue is intriguing, Tarantino never really captures the essence of a true western film which always requires a hero - in this film there are none and each character is more hateful than the next.  Tarantino is a gifted writer and Director but there is something disturbing about his mixture of black comedy and ever more ingenious levels of violence which have been his trademark for a long time.  Tarantino should take a long, hard look at himself and direct his obvious talents into making movies which we can applaud without feeling revulsion at the blood and gore which belong more in  Chamber of Horrors.  He does no favours for women and poor Daisy is knocked from pillar to post throughout the film.  It has been said many times before but people in Tarantino's postion have a responsibility to their public and there are impressionable people out there who will believe that it is acceptable to display violence to women and that sadistic behaviour can be fun.   As fas as this writer is concerned, the return to traditional western values of adventure and pioneering spirit can't return soon enough. 

The Revenant  2015:  Director.  Alejandro G. Iñárritu
It seems that one by one, as each new western film is made, my cherished beliefs in the Golden West as a land of bold pioneers and cowboys who hold to a strict moral code, are eroded even further .  And while it would be naive in the extreme to wish to return to the days of Gene Autry and Roy Rogers, the westerns  of today have (d)evolved so far as to be at the opposite end of the spectrum, to a place where cruelty and violence are almost obligatory parts of the film.  The  fabled Mountain Men were another group of westerners that had reached legendary status in my own pantheon of heroes but if Revenant is to be believed these also were images I had created in my mind - not of what these people really were but what I wanted them to be.  The reality is that although they were incredibly brave and explored untamed wilderness, their reasons for doing so were far from altruistic and they stripped the land of wildlife wherever they went. 
I first heard of Hugh Glass many years ago when his epic 200 mile trek across South Dakota was recorded in comic book format in a thrilling and colourful story.  Many years in the future, Hugh Glass's exploits are re-created on the screen to an unremitting grim background of dark blue, freezing landscapes which is not at all correct as in real life Glass was mauled by a grizzly bear in the summertime.  John Fitzpatrick (played by Tom Hardy - why are Brits always portrayed as baddies ?) and a 17 year old Jim Bridger (will Poulter) did indeed leave Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) to his fate after they had stayed with him for 5 days, taking his rifle and knives and leaving him in a grave.  Driven by revenge, Glass began his journey back to the safety of Fort Kiowa in a remarkable trek which is more or less faithfully re-created on film.  The opening scenes of the film show an an attack on the Mountain Men by Arickara Indians in which many of the men were killed and their expedition abandoned - it was an event which really happened and during Glass's trek home it was the Arickara that were his greatest danger.
When Glass eventually reached Fort Kiowa he pardoned Bridger because of his youth both on film and in real life but he never went after Fitzpatrick as set out in the movie - the wily Fitzpatrick had joined the army and it meant the death penalty for anyone killing a soldier.
In reality, Glass's trek across the wilderness was just one part of his adventurous life and it is surprising that the Director did not portray his life story in its entirety beginning with his time with the notorious pirate Jean Lafitte and followed by his 4 years spent living with the Pawnee Indians.  Following his adventures with The Mountain Men, Glass went fur trapping, travelling from Oregon to New Mexico, and it was ironic that he finally met his death at the hands of the Arickara; he was scalped and killed while crossing the Big Horn river in Montana in mid-winter aged just 53.
Revenant is not the great film it purports to be and the all-pervasive blueness of the freezing landscape can be quite depressing.  I came away thinking that there's a wonderland of scenery underneath all that snow and if the Director had placed Glass's attack in its correct timeframe of summertime his journey into the freezing cold of winter would have been all the more dramatic.  The Mountain Men appear as a venal, untrustworthy lot and where you would expect cameraderie the Director has placed cunning so that there is very little sympathy for any of them and without caring about them lessens the impact when they meet violent deaths at the hands of the Arickara who appear to be more deadly than any other Indian tribe.  The film has its moments but as far as westerns go the descent into darkness continues.
It's noticeable that from Django onwards Westerns have now become darker and darker but the advent of Bone Tomahawk sends the genre to a new low, meandering along for much of the film  to the point of boredom.  The sad thing is that an excellent cast led by a grizzled Kurt Russell  are wasted as they bicker and quarrel their way through a weak script, in search of a kidnapped girl.  Sex scenes are now de rigeur  even in Westerns and  they are all so similar that you could be forgiven for thinking the Directors have raided the stock shelves so the one in this film is a merely a tiresome addition.  The holes in the script are too numerous to mention but the fact that the Sheriff's so-called posse consists of an old man, a cripple and a roguish adventurer is hard to swallow given that they are going up against a tribe of Troglodytes.  Nobody seems surprised that a tribe of cannibals has been living out in the wilds without anything being done about it but it is when they finally confront the Troglodytes the movie changes direction completely into a Gothic horror concoction which makes Tarantino look like Walt Disney.  The final 20 minutes or so of the film are nothing more than an extravanganza of stomach-churning butchery, and fim Directors in general seem to be competing for who can contrive the most ingenious horror-fest.  Not for me thank you - Alien Westerns, Cannibal Westerns - there's only Vampires and Werewolves to go before we can return to some kind of normality - come back Gene Autry -soon! 

The Magnificent 7 (remake) 2015: Director Antoine Fuqua
If you judge the present generation of Western movies by their body count then The Magnificent 7 stands supreme, as the 7 kill their enemies on an industrial scale.  But if you judge the film on its characterization, plot and screenplay then it falls flat on its face, substituting a riot of gunplay for any coherent dialogue.  One of the features of the original Magnificent 7  was the manner in which the 7 were recruited and we were introduced to each character in turn, but the way in which Chisolm (Denzel Washington) recruits his 7 gunslingers is ludicrous to say the least, with one joining the group because he has lost his horse, another because he is built like a bear, a Chinaman who has dozens of knives strapped round his waist and most bizarre of all an Indian they happen to meet whose tribe have disowned him.  The original Magnificent 7 (all of 55 years ago, can you believe) was never the legendary Western it is purported to be but the remake is far worse with the 7 gunslingers led by a black man - at that time any black man would have needed the gravitas of a Martin Luther King and the authority of a Barack Obama for white men to acknowledge him as leader so the film is flawed from the start.  The Indian, Red Harvest, who looks daft with his face painted bright red would have been even less accepted by white men and Chinese were regarded as nothing more than coolies so how this disparate group come to fight as a group is quite unbelievable - even more unbelievable are the sight-markers placed in the final battle ; they are all plastic windmills that people put in their gardens.  The sad thing about films such as this is that the photography is excellent, the cast is good-ish, and all the ingredients are in place for a fine film - and all we end up with is a bloodbath.  What that superb actor Denzel Washington is doing in such a poor film is beyond me.   The romance of  the old west was about pioneers, Indians, wagon-trains and emigrants making their way into a new life and all this film can conjure up are 7 scowling assassins who kill in different ways  .  Can't even be bothered to put a picture up for this western although the posters are more attractive than the film. 

On the same theme I only watched a western called Brimstone (2016)  because it featured Dakota Fanning, Guy Pearce and Clarice van Houten, believing that such illustrious actors would have enough clout to choose good films.  But the film followed the depressing fashion of using western movies as a vehicle for gratuitous violence and sex.  I can't give a fair resume of this film as I stopped watching after  half-an-' hour of sickening torture scenes and graphic sex and once more I can't be bothered to put in any pictures - it does beg the question as to why the producers aren't honest enough to let us know what we are in for.

Hostiles  (2018)  Director; Scott Cooper
 There's a quote by D. H  .Lawrence as the film opens, which states;
"The essential American soul is is hard, isolate, stoic and a killer.  It has never yet melted."  Written in 1927, Lawrence was referring to the cut-throat politics and lack of democratic processes of law of the previous century and it's true to say that the pioneers, sheriffs, farmers and homesteaders of the old west had to be all that Lawrence described out of necessity.  The question is in the 21st century does that spirit still exist and is it still a necessity ?  Do Americans still need to carry guns or are they an anachronism carried over from the days when they were a real necessity - just a thought  in a thought-provoking film.

Although the scenario where a lone homesteader and his family are attacked by Indians has been done many times, it never ceases to shock, not least because here, Rosalee (Rosamund Pike) tries in vain to protect her children as they are brutally butchered by a troupe of rogue Comanches while her husband is shot down trying to give them a chance to escape.  Set in the year 1892,  the family are particularly unlucky to have been attacked in such a brutal way as the Indian wars are passing into history .

it's just this cruelty by Indians which has embittered Captain Joseph J.Blocker (Christian Bale) who is nearing retirement after a career fighting Indians.   Ordered to carry out one last task, Blocker reluctantly accepts President Harrison's order to escort the Cheyenne Chief Yellow Hawk and his family to their homeland.  Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi) is dying and it is his wish to be interred near to his home in the Valley of the Bears. The journey begins with bitterness from Blocker who finds the distraught Rosalee on the prairie inconsolable by the pointless massacre of her family.  Rosalee takes fright at the Indian family but is soon taken under their wing and consoled by the women of the tiny family group .  As the journey unfolds and the group are faced with attack by the same renegade Indians and other dangers, Blocker slowly comes to re-evaluate his entrenched beliefs about Indians and a journey which begins in bitterness and distrust ends in forgiveness.   There is a sense of this being an allegorical tale of redemption - whether or not it is on purpose or just coincidental is up for debate.

Although Christian Bale is excellent as the intractable cavalryman  and Rosamund Pike is good as the unfortunate pioneer woman, it is the redoubtable Wes Studi who carries the film.  Looking a little older, Wes's part of Yellow Hawk is smaller than I would have liked but he still manages to exude that air of gravitas and the film is worth seeing for his performance alone.  Not a classic western - but still well worth seeing not least for the harsh beauty of the New Mexico scenery.