an observation and a question regarding westerns

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Bogie
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an observation and a question regarding westerns

Post by Bogie »

I hope you western fanatics can help me here. I'll start with my question

Did Bogart ever do a western? The closest thing to a western that i've seen him do was Sierra Madre. I think the western genre is one that Bogart could've excelled in especially as a villain.

Ok now to my quasi observation:

What the heck was it about Jimmy Stewart and westerns? The man seemed to have been in an inordinate amount of westerns! No disrespect to the guy but he just doesn't really project the typical western image to me. Oh he did very well at masking some of his faults such as his style of speech and overall look but as he got older it became harder and harder to take him seriously as a "man of the west". At some point he just looked silly being the leading man and wooing women or battling villainous cowpokes. If he wanted to stay in the genre and be convincing he should've done a self demotion and become more of a character actor/second banana type.

Oh well...It's just something I noticed. I know the same criticism can be laid at John Wayne's feet but at least by the closing years of his career he was able to laugh at his image and the genre that he made his own.
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Post by Dewey1960 »

Hey Bogie; happy new year!
Bogart was featured in the 1939 Warner Bros western THE OKLAHOMA KID, which starred James Cagney in the title role. Not a bad picture (not great, either) and it's kind of a kick seeing two guys normally associated with gangster epics slugging it out in a western. Bogart plays the bad guy and, once you get over the shock of seeing him in a cowboy hat, does pretty well. I pretty much agree with you about Jimmy Stewart, except for the handful of films he did with Anthony Mann in the 1950s. Here, he was able to shed his wholesome pre-WWII image and play characters with a much darker psychological dimension. His later films, from the 60s on, I find irritatingly annoying. If you haven't seen the Mann / Stewart westerns, I highly recommend them: WINCHESTER '73 (1950), BEND OF THE RIVER (1952), THE NAKED SPUR (1953), THE FAR COUNTRY (1954) and THE MAN FROM LARAMIE (1955) are all terrific films!
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Post by movieman1957 »

One other thing I night add about Stewart was his time in the war may have changed his attitude about how he went about selecting his films. You can see it right away with "It's A Wonderful Life." It's really a much darker character he plays than he has before.

While there were a few exceptions (i.e. "Harvey") his whole outlook was changed. When you think about his work with Hitchcock, "No Highway In The Sky," "Call Northside 777" his "Mr. Smith" days were long gone. With westerns bing the popular genre of the day they were easy to come by. When Gable and Cagney starts making them about the same time you know westerns were on their way.
Chris

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Post by Lzcutter »

I just wanted to add to what Chris and the others were saying about Stewart.

After the War with the breakdown of the studio system, the stars were finding their contracts with their studios being terminated.

Stewart's agent was the legendary Lew Wasserman. As Chris has noted, Stewart post-war was a different man than the Jimmy Stewart who had gone to war. He wanted to break out of the boy next door roles that he was so identified with.

He teamed up with Anthony Mann to do westerns that were much darker than the usual fare that was being made. Hawks had touched on darker themes with Red River and Ford would to a degree with Fort Apache but Mann would be the true pioneer in that regard.

Stewart for his part would be a true pioneer as well. Instead of taking his full asking price for working with Mann, Wasserman worked out a deal where Stewart would take less salary and instead get a percentage of the profits.

This turned out to be a windfall for Stewart as the Mann westerns were successful. America, too, after the war wanted to see more adult themes in their movies and Mann's psychological westerns fit that bill.

The terms of the deal that Wasserman worked out for Stewart became the industry standard in the years that followed for actors such as Stewart and is still being used today.
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Mr. Arkadin
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Re: an observation and a question regarding westerns

Post by Mr. Arkadin »

Bogie wrote: No disrespect to the guy but he just doesn't really project the typical western image to me. Oh he did very well at masking some of his faults such as his style of speech and overall look but as he got older it became harder and harder to take him seriously as a "man of the west". At some point he just looked silly being the leading man and wooing women or battling villainous cowpokes. If he wanted to stay in the genre and be convincing he should've done a self demotion and become more of a character actor/second banana.

I'm curious. Who would you state as projecting the typical western image?
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Post by mrsl »

Bogie and Dewey, you two little dears:

Arkadin asks a good question. Who do you consider a 'typical image' of a western hero? I'm pretty sure that Stewart and John Wayne WERE the idea of the typical image in the 50's. In the 60's when Jim Garner's Maverick and Eastwoods' Rowdy Yates came along, is when the western hero displayed a brain and smart mouth to accompany their muscle, but Mann/Stewart had introduced the brain.

Have either of you ever seen any of Stewarts post 1960 movies? In all but Liberty, Jimmy played either a grandfather, or the parent of a teenager. As for wooing the ladies, he never did that. The women gravitated towards him due to his seemingly tender attitude (Bend of the River, Man from Laramie, etc are good examples).

I'm mainly surprised you question Stewart when Gabel and Cooper were both well past their primes for any kind of action movies. If anyone looked foolish, it was Gabel in Misfits, and Coop in High Noon, although at least in HN Coop was ready to retire.

If you want a display of testosterone, check out The Way West. You have Mitchum, Widmark, and Kirk Douglas - all in their 50's, all in their prime physically, and at the prime of their careers, leaving them free to choose what parts to play.

Anne
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Post by movieman1957 »

Adding to Anne's comments, I agree that Stewart and Wayne were the models. You could also add Randolph Scott (cue chorus!) to that mix. While he was never in the big westerns he did have a very successful turn in those he did with Budd Boetticher.

There were also, IMO, different western types. Richard Widmark and Glenn Ford I thought were very good in their westerns but they were certainly a different type. Ford was almost a "wounded soul" type in several. This I think was evident mostly in "The Fastest Gun Alive" and to a lesser degree in "Jubal." Widmark could play a similar type in "Warlock." He also played nasty pretty well in his westerns.

Setting their respective talents aside most of the "typical" western stars were all tall and rugged looking. Wayne, Stewart were both over 6'. Throw in Cooper and Joel McCrea with Scott and you get the idea. Even Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster belong because they were the athletic type. Then comes Eastwood and the TV days of Sam Elliott and Tom Selleck. They looked the part.
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Post by Dewey1960 »

Anne -
I'll stand by my personal assessment of Jimmy Stewart's post-50s roles: they are flat-out lame. It seems to me the only directors who really knew what to do with Stewart during his career were Hitchcock (ROPE, REAR WINDOW, VERTIGO but not THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH) and Mann (in the aforementioned Westerns). I've enjoyed relatively few of his films from any period (especially the later westerns; I honestly feel that he's the only weak link in LIBERTY VALANCE, an otherwise great film (thanks to Wayne, Marvin and, of course, John Ford). I also thought he was right on target in Capra's IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE, primarily because the role allowed him to sneak out of the cloying and annoying persona he perfected all through the late 30s and early 40s and finally be a real character..
Incidentally, Clark Gable did not look foolish in THE MISFITS; he projected a beautifully nuanced characterization of a once proud man no longer capable of holding his own against younger men. Cooper did look foolish in HIGH NOON, to me at least, because I like him even less than Stewart. To me, Roy Rogers projected a much more realistic image of the western hero than either Stewart or Cooper. At least Roy wasn't weighted down with those pretentious mannerisms of Stewart's or Cooper's somnambulistic demeanor. Zzzzzzzzzz.
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Post by Mr. Arkadin »

I think with any artist you have to go project by project and view their work on a separate basis. I think Stewart always had this quality (dark strain), but he used his ability in the context of the film he was performing in.

Many people who criticize Stewart's pre WWII, leave out The Mortal Storm(1940), Made for Each Other (1938), Of Human Hearts (1937), and The Last Gangster (1937). In the western comedy Destry Rides Again (1939), his character is equally darkly dramatic and comedic. Stewart creates an interesting balance between the two emotions and the film works because of it.

I think one thing that's important about the post WWII era is the types of films changed as the world had become a darker and more cynical place. Stewart's role in the war (he flew missions as a bomber pilot and rose to the rank of colonel) also changed his perspective, and the types of roles he was interested in playing.

As for Harvey (1950), the role (and film) is much more complex than most people think. It's not simply a comedy and I doubt very much that anyone else in Hollywood could have balanced Elwood P. Dowd's earnest optimism and unpretentious all-knowing wisdom.

As for the fact that he wasn't any good after 1960, I beg to differ. One only has to view the closing scene of 1968's Firecreek to see an amazing performance of a desperate man.
Last edited by Mr. Arkadin on January 1st, 2008, 6:28 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Post by Mr. Arkadin »

The reason I asked Bogie the question was because most of my favorite westerns (with the exception of a few Clint Eastwood films) are not exclusively made by characters whose sole work is in the western genre.

Most of the westerns I enjoy were made by actors who play in a wide variety of genres. While it's true most people have a specialty, many times a good performer is believable in almost any context--because he's that good.

In the music profession, we often talk about our attachment to equipment and dependence upon it. I'm no different, but I do think any good musician should be able to pick up any instument and make music on it. He might not play to the best of his ability as he would with his own setup, but his skill is the great leveling factor.
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Post by SSO Admins »

Mr. Arkadin wrote:As for the fact that he wasn't any good after 1960, I beg to differ. One only has to view the closing scene of 1968's Firecreek to see an amazing performance of a desperate man.
I completely agree about the Mann/Stewarts. Those are great films without exception.

I'm not sure if it counts as a western, but I always really liked Stewart in Shenandoah, one of his better post-1960 films. I can't take Doug McClure seriously in anything though.
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Post by mrsl »

Mr. Arkadin:

It's funny that you mention Destry Rides Again, because I'm firmly convinced that is the part that convinced Mann to contact Jimmy Stewart for the lead in his westerns. Destry was a kind of harbinger of all those 'new western' roles Mann/Stewart devised.

I guess a little boy of the 50's would think of Roy or Gene as the consumate cowboy, they didn't even enter my mind as western stars because as a little girl of the 50's I rarely watched them and when I did, it was to see Dale Evans, and I watched Annie Oakley with Gail Davis. As a teen when I got into C&W music and cowboys, I turned to Wayne, Stewart, Mitchum, etc.

Anne
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Post by Bogie »

Sorry for my rather belated reply:

1. I've seen most of the Mann/Stewart films and I agree those were some of the best westerns ever made.

2. My view of THE western type is John Wayne from his earliest days to about the late 50s with some good films in the 60s as well.

3. Maybe I was too harsh on Stewart after all my observation came at 4 in the morning! I still think that some of his later westerns could've done better with a younger man in the role.

3. Anne, I echo Dewey's comments about Gable in The Misfits. That movie called for an older central character who couldn't keep up with the younger guys and who was desperately clinging on to the way of life that he lived for so very long. A lot of what Gable did and said in that movie is quite melancholy when you think about it. (Especially the action scenes as many people think they contributed to his death)


Last but not least I mean no disrespect to Stewart. This was just something that I noticed. Maybe it's because I identify Stewart with the "aw shucks, golly gee" type of demeanor he portrayed in his earlier work. Sometimes it's hard to shake away the image that everyone sees you in.

BTW I agree Firecreek is a helluva western and should be viewed as a minor classic at the very least.
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Post by MissGoddess »

I think I may have been fortunate that as a kid, when Jimmy Stewart was my favorite actor second only to Clark Gable, I was exposed only to his post 1950 movies, especially the westerns. It wasn't until later I discovered his earlier career and I was a bit taken aback at his boyish, small-town demeanor. I enjoy his career in it's entirety, but if you ask me what are my favorites I would point to his westerns.

When seeing an actor in a western for the first time, I almost subconsciously ponder whether he makes me believe he could survive out west in those conditions. I believe Jimmy could have done. And Henry Fonda, who to me is even less "western" in overall style. Bogie could definitely have done it, maybe far better than we know it. But due to the chimerical nature of cinema, it's not enough that such people could have fit into the "real" west, more importantly they have to be believable to the audience in a "reel" west setting. That's why John Wayne and Gary Cooper (the ONLY true western cowboy) are so natural.

Age? I have always loathed baby faced youths in westerns---more so when I was a kid even than now. To me unless a man looked lined and even a bit haggard he just carried no weight or authority as a western hero.

I don't believe John Wayne ever laughed at his western image, he didn't have anything to laugh about and a great deal to be proud of.
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Post by movieman1957 »

Maybe Wayne's "laughing" at his cowboy image was more modesty than any kind of embarassment. I'm sure Wayne was rightly proud of his work.

He wasn't a star but Ben Johnson belongs in the true western cowboy group.

5 bonus points for using "chimerical."
Chris

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