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Guardian: A bullet in the back

Guardian: A bullet in the back

Alex Cox writes in The Guardian about the demise of the Western as a genre of filmmaking. Looking at the careers of Sergio Leone, Sam Peckinpah, Monte Hellman, and (of course) John Wayne, he draws analysis about the ways the Western’s biggest fans also brought on its decline:

Peckinpah and Leone directed films that have since been canonised as classics. Not just classic westerns, but classic films: The Wild Bunch and Once Upon a Time in the West. Leone’s grand vision – he never directed a film that didn’t cost more than the one before it – was matched with a deep cynicism regarding the cowboy genre.

By the 1950s the western was already in trouble: challenged by cheaper, studio-filmed westerns on TV, it had been forced to reinvent itself several times. Westerns were made in widescreen and in Cinemascope formats; new genres appeared, such as the kind-to-Indians western (Apache, Broken Arrow) and the psychological western with its noir-ish, troubled protagonist (Winchester 73, Yellow Sky). There were also westerns as political allegory (High Noon is now seen as a critique of the response to McCarthyism), and art-westerns (Johnny Guitar). But none of these films matched the raw energy and original darkness of Kiss Me Deadly or The Big Knife. Unlike the noirs, these westerns seem dated, and difficult to watch today.

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