How The West Was Won By Women
Daily Express 11th November 1993
Here lies Lester Moore, Two slugs from a .44, No Less, no more. Graveyard marker,
Boot Hill, Tombstone, Arizona.
OR 15 years, the movie Western had been pronounced as dead as poor Les, who got his in the in the spring of over the serious matter of not dealing from a full deck — both figuratively and, unfortunately for him, literally. But not only has the genre been revived by a posse of films either in production or release, but it has taken on a different shape a female shape.
Women in Westerns is not new — Jane Russell in The Outlaw, Claudia Cardinale in Once Upon A Time In The West, Raquel Welch in 100 Rifles and Jane Fonda in Cat Ballou.
What is new is the attitude, the point of view, being taken on women in the Wild West.
The comedy-fantasy, Even Cowgirls Get The Blues, is director Gus Van Sant's soon-to-be-seen offering with Uma Thurman as a 29-year-old virgin who leaves New York for a ranch run by lesbians.
This is as far over the range from John Wayne that you can get. John Hurt is Countess, a prancing drag queen who runs the ranch.
Angle Dickinson — she made her big screen debut in Rio Bravo with John Wayne in 1957 — is a fierce hireling.
Thurman teams up with the unwashed cowgirls and they rebel. She finds sexual comfort with Bonanza Jellybean, played by Rain Phoenix — the sister of young actor River Phoenix who died recently. There's also friendly sex with Pat Morita's crazy Japanese-American.
The heroine of The Ballad Of Little Jo also finds solace in the arms of an oriental. Suzy Amis plays an Eastern woman named Jo Monmaghan who endures cruel sexual battering as she travels West, having been banned from her home for bearing an illegitimate child.
By the time she arrives, she has disguised herself as a male settler and learned to ride, shoot and pan for gold.
We don't know if The Quick And The Dead is going to be a classic but it's certainly going to be watched.
Director Sam Raimi has the services of Sharon Stone as the star of the film, which began production in September. She is receiving $5 million for the raunchy role of a shootist.
Her co-star is Gene Hackman who won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar this year for his evil sheriff in Unforgiven. Clint Eastwood's comparatively realistic look at the West helped, of course, to boost this latest revival.
DURING most of this century, Eastwood types have been galloping across the screen. The Good Guys. The Bad Guys. Going solo, such as Gregory Peck's The Gun-fighter. Or Jimmy Stewart as The Man From Laramie and Eastwood as the archetypal loner in all of Sergio Leone's spaghetti Westerns. And controversy such as Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch. Ah, the glory days of men slow from the lip but fast from the hip.
Then the moneymen in suits shouted the equivalent of "Humbug!" Hollywood said Westerns were as dead as Billy The Kid.
It was as bloody an end as The Alamo and Fort Apache, a real Cheyenne autumn for Western fans.
The Old West was out. Audiences wanted different action — inner-city violence or intergalactic, Star Wars thrills.
The disaster of Heaven's Gate in the Eighties, which resulted in the sale of United Artists Studio and the firing of every executive, was High Noon: the final showdown in which the bottom line — the buck — put a bullet in any chance of seeing Gary Cooper types walk the line again. Then a relative stranger rode into town. Cute-looking; strange ideas.
They said Kevin Costners Dances With Wolves would eventually be known as Kevin's Gate. His long, lyrical film went on to win seven Oscars. This year, Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven allowed him to ride off down Sunset Boulevard with four Oscars and to be toasted as the director and star of one of the greatest Westerns ever. Which, as we used to say when Westerns were the kings of the box office, is where we came in.
Westerns are big business again and women are the new pioneers. Soaring new director Tamara Davis's film, Bad Girls, as you might expect, focuses on ladies of the West.
So does Outlaws, which begins filming later this year and is being produced by Denise DeNovi of Batman fame.
SHE says, "Women have always been ignored in Westerns — their stories and their roles. Now there are strong characters that women can play.
"People had wanted to make Westerns for many years so there was a big backlog of projects that are bursting out now because Unforgiven was such a hit."
And, of course, some will be buried at the Boot Hill box office.
It is typical of Hollywood to saturate a situation. Where one Wyatt Earp movie might succeed, two or three are rather apt to shoot each other in the feet.
In these more politically correct times, the view will no longer be almost totally with the white male history of the American West.
Dr John Langellier, from the Gene Autry Western Heritage Museum, argues: "There is a lull in our history and people are searching for new ideas and the comfort of nostalgia.
"There's the young audience that has never seen Westerns, and for many white males in their forties, it's a great escape to yesteryear when they thought they were in charge."
Ah, yesteryear. Echoes of The Lone Ranger and Tonto. Television started off with Westerns. You had Wagon Train and Gunsmoke and Rawhide which had the young Eastwood in rehearsal for superstardom.
A disquieting number of years later, Mr Eastwood has come full circle, and Hollywood has put women in the saddle. For some of us, this means that, unlike Lester Moore, the Hollywood brass are playing with a hill deck once again.
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