Once, the proud lion rode the carousel, roaring his carved defiance to the world.
Now, he stands guard over the Winter Carousel the Heritage Museum and Gardens in Sandwich, on Cape Cod.
Western movies. You love them or hate them. Hardly anyone is neutral. I’ve always loved them, since I was a little girl, pretending to be a cross between The Lone Ranger and Jesse James.
But why? What is it about westerns that makes them so appealing to those of us that love them?
Let’s work this as a list, top to bottom. Remember, this is my list. You may have a completely different list and totally not relate to mine. That’s okay.
Why I love Western Movies
1) Horses. I love horses. The more horses, the better. You could leave out the riders and I would sit there and watch the horses, no problem.
2) Scenery. The deserts, the mountains, the plains. The dusty trail as the wagon train rolls westward. The Rocky Mountains looming, challenging. Sunsets over Monument Valley. Some of the most incredible cinematography has been done for westerns. From Ride the High Country to almost anything ever filmed by John Ford. To the dusty streets of Tombstone … the big sky hangs over everything, a huge blue dome. Everything is bigger, brighter, younger. The beauty is hard to match and it goes so well with the eye of the camera.
3) Simple ethics, simple philosophy. There is something terribly appealing about a world where the excuse “He needed killing” is an actual defense at trial. You can put a lot of violence into a western and it’s just fine. The bad guys wear black hats, figuratively or literally. The good guys are the ones with the nice horses, better clothing … and white hats. No ambivalence. No confusion. Not at all like the real world made up of endless shades of gray. It’s a black and white world, black and white morality. “He needed killing. So I killed him.” I get that.
4) Heroes. This is really a continuation of the previous, but Wyatt Earp kills a lot of people and it’s okay. I can cheer him on as he and Doc Holliday rampage through the west. “Yes!!” I cry, waving my fist in the air. I could never kill anyone, but I can be really grateful that someone else is doing it for me. In real life, I favor gun control. In westerns? Blast away!
If the movie also has a good plot, terrific sound track, great cinematography? Some wit, cleverness and even a few laughs? Bonus material.
That’s it. Pretty simple, eh? Horses, gorgeous scenery, good guys being good, bad guys being bad. Add music, dim the lights and pass the popcorn.
I love western movies. I love horses. I love to laugh. What’s better than a funny western? Not much in my opinion.
My favorite — but little-celebrated — movies are western comedies. It isn’t the most popular movie genre, yet there are a reasonable number worth watching. Almost everybody has seen City Slickers and Blazing Saddles. How many people remember Cat Ballou, or have seen Rustler’s Rhapsody? Both charming and very funny movies. Lee Marvin got his only Academy Award for his role in Cat Ballou. On acceptance, he gave credit to his horse who deserved it. But I digress.
Along Came Jones is funny, but it’s gentle and sweet. It’s a love story with Loretta Young as the romantic interest, with Cooper in a role that it pokes fun at westerns and Coop himself without being mean-spirited. The plot is the basic mistaken-identity tale. Easygoing and slightly inept Melody Jones (Gary Cooper) and his friend George (William Demarest) ride into a town. Jones is mistaken for a badass bandit named Monte Jarrad (Dan Duryea) mostly because he has the same initials on his saddle. The mixup earns him a lot of unexpected respect (which he likes) then rapidly changes to trouble and finally love. The real Jarrad is hiding out in the home of his girlfriend Cherry (Loretta Young). In the beginning, she uses Melody to send the law off in the wrong direction, but as she gets to know Jones, her feelings change. There is a happy ending for all.
Gary Cooper produced the movie and put his own money into it. It gave him a chance to be something other than the grim hero he so often played. In this, he is a lighter and more humorous version of his typical role. It was the only feature film Cooper produced during his more than 40-year movie career and Melody Jones was his favorite role. It’s easy to see why.
It’s a rare feel-good movie that isn’t trite. Cooper poking fun at Cooper is amusing without being over the top. His slow-talking, aw shucks style is perfect. This is an oldie that doesn’t play very often on cable, but it does pop up on Turner Classic Movies from time to time. If you find it, it’s worth watching. If you get TCM, you can find out when it’s playing on their website.
It has stood the test of time surprisingly well. You can see where financial corners were cut, but it doesn’t matter. The movie is character-driven and the scenery is just a stage set. When we got a DVD player, it was the first movie I bought. It’s available at Amazon in combination with other Cooper movies and rather expensively on its own.
There’s no fancy cinematography, no nudity, cussin’, or graphic violence. A bit of shooting, no gobs of blood flowing. The tension won’t raise your blood pressure. It’s got some laughs and lots of smiles. It’s a pleasant way to dump reality and visit a version of the old west that never was.
From Garry Armstrong, AKA “The Movie Maven”:
I spotted “Jones” when I was surfin’ the overnight movie fare and knew I’d struck gold for both of us. Charlton Heston once told me that Gary Cooper was his favorite actor and inspiration for his own little western “Will Penny”.
Coop was the idol of many, including one young woman in Brooklyn, New York, who decided to name her first-born after the legendary star in 1942. I digress, as usual, when talking about movies. After 15 years of commercial and critical hits, Gary Cooper was top gun at the box office in 1945. One of his favorites was “The Westerner” done 5 years earlier but that was stolen from him by Walter Brennan’s “Judge Roy Bean”.
Cooper loved his character in “The Westerner” and wanted to give him another go on his own terms. Melody Jones would be that guy. A Coop bio I read long ago says he made “Jones” mostly with his own money. Got it released as an independent so he would have last cut rights.
You’ll notice it’s low-budget by the exteriors and “rear projection” scenes, but that hardly matters. Loretta Young also did the movie “for a song”. Coop hand-picked Dan Duryea who was still a very young and aspiring actor with few major film notches, except for “Pride of the Yankees.”
Lane Chandler, one of the bad guys in the film, was originally supposed to do “Wings” (I believe), the silent that gave Coop his big closeup and break for stardom. Coop got that cameo not Chandler — and the rest is history.
The “new” Lone Ranger opens today, but the reviews are already in. In newspapers around the world, the reviews are appalling. Really bad. Not a little bad. Seriously terrible. I had no plans to see it anyway, so these reviews merely confirmed my expectations.
The Lone Ranger Panned and Predicted to be Box Office Poison by Mike Smith gives a pretty good summary of the reviews to date. It’s exactly what I expected. I would have preferred to be wrong. Given the Johnny Depp factor, I expected a travesty and it appears we got one.
Seeing the movie would desecrate the memory of my first true love. If I don’t see it, at least I have my memories.
From my first earliest encounter with The Masked Man and his Faithful Companion, I was in love. There were times when it was unclear whether I loved the horse or the rider. I think Silver had an edge, but I yearned for the both.
To satisfy my passion and because I grew up when wallpaper was something glued to walls, I had Lone Ranger and Tonto in my bedroom. Life was not easy for me, but I had the daring and resourceful masked rider of the plains all around me. It helped me through the really dark times.
Eventually I grew up and out of my wallpaper, but it did not end my allegiance to The Masked Man. Even now, I’ll happily watch the old reruns. Silly? Maybe. But kindly, with some dignity allowed to the characters.
And, whatever else you could say about the show, they managed to cast a real Native American as (gasp) a Native American! More than half a century later, we get Johnny Depp? That’s the best we can do?
Remakes don’t have to be awful, even though they usually are. There have been remakes that are better than the originals. I can name several off the top of my head and probably so can you. It’s not impossible but it requires studios to make an effort to produce quality films. To get a good script and assemble a cast that can do it justice. It’s not that hard to make good movies. Good script, good actors, competent director. Voila! A good movie. They just don’t make a real effort.
My initial delight at learning Disney was making a new Lone Ranger movie changed to dread when I realized Johnny Depp was playing Tonto. We awaited the release of trailer of the new “Lone Ranger” with foreboding. We were right to worry.
We watched the trailer. After it ended, silence enveloped us. Garry and I, wrapped in our individual thoughts, sat for a while. Thinking. Finally, I turned to Garry and said: ”Let’s wait till it comes to cable.”
He pondered that for a minute or two. “No, he said. “Let’s just wait.”
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