Westerns At Their Height?

Everybody talks about the “heyday of the westerns” and the time when they were at their peak.

I have loved westerns for as long as I can remember and have seen hundreds of them. There is something in me that delights in seeing strong men, beautiful women, horses, blazing guns, comradeship, and daring courage on the silver screen.

I love the stories of morals, character, and good triumphing over evil. Stories chock full of men who did what was right in spite of intense pain, men who had not only grit, but also the sound moral judgement and discernment that enabled them to meet the challenges and tests thrown at them with boldness. The fight of a man with courage who stands up for justice and truth against evil men and ideas never looses it’s appeal to me. Westerns are wonderful films.

When you’ve watched a broad variety of western films you start to see patterns.  I’ve watched western films made in 1903 and in 2016, and everything in between.  One thing that I noticed is that different elements (and worldviews) were at their peak in different decades— and that all the elements of a fine western film are seldom present at the same time in history. Or in the same film. Which makes it very hard to pick a certain time that westerns were at their best.

Not popularity or quantity wise, but in quality–the BEST films.

Everyone has differing preferences on this, below are my general opinions.  Do keep in mind that there are many exceptions to each of these..they are more of an average rather than a hard and fast rule!

  • The color of westerns was at it’s height in the 50’s and 60’s–take Rio Bravo, Hondo, The Tall T, or The Comancheros as fine examples of the best of western lighting. They captured the very atmosphere and mood in a way that I’ve seldom seen equaled–especially in Rio Bravo (which I hope to review someday). One notable exception to that is the 1941 Randolph Scott film Western Union.

 

  • The music of westerns was at it’s height in in the 60’s with Elmer Bernstein’s breathtaking scores.

 

  • The B-films were at their height in the late 30’s and early 40’s. By the 50’s they were far inferior to their precedents.

 

  • The singing cowboy films were at their height in the 1940’s. The 30’s films were fun, just not quite as good, but the 50’s singing cowboy movies were quite poorly done.

 

  • The humorous character-actor side-kicks were at their height in the 30’s. 🙂

 

  • The most skillfully crafted stories (plot, style, etc.) were at their height in the 40’s and 50’s.

 

  • The moral heroism and character of the protagonist was at it’s height in the 30’s and 40’s (partially a result of the production code…but also a result of the worldviews at the time)

 

  • The originality of the situations that a cowpoke found himself in–and the unusual type of his subsequent solutions was at a humorous peak in the 1910’s-the late 1930’s.

 

  • The height of attention to authentic nitty-gritty detail is the specialty of the 1920’s (in locations, clothes, and and actions) and the 2000’s and 2010’s (in props and wounds)

 

And my list could go on for a long time…

I greatly prefer older westerns– 1970’s and before. But out of those older films it’s hard to choose.

In the end there is something perfectly beautiful and wonderful that I’m terribly fond of in almost every one of the old decades…something that I would be loath to part with. And once I finally decide on “the era of the best westerns” I end up watching a film from the decade previous and falling in love with the techniques and fine stories of valor in that era. So, I just appreciate each decade for it’s strengths…and as of yet have not decided which decade I think represents the western at it’s best.

Maybe someday I will.

What do you think of my list? Would yours differ? In which decade do you think westerns were at their height?

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The Never Seen “Katie Elder” ~ The Sons Of Katie Elder


The whole valley was influenced by this one good woman who lived a noble life.

The Sons of Katie Elder is a fun western film about John Elder (John Wayne) and his four brothers who get together for the first time in years at their Mother’s graveside.  They start off on a treacherous adventure to right past wrongs, and end up deep in trouble under the western skies.

There is a lot I could say about the film itself, but I’m not here to review it today. This post is just about one of the many people in the film. It is a character sketch of sorts of Katie Elder, the mother of the four western men. (light spoilers below, if you haven’t seen the film you may want to stop here)

I find her one of the most fascinating aspects of the film, and I must admit that she has caught my imagination so much that I once watched the whole film just looking for the ways she impacted her family, town, and the community at large.

That is nothing short of remarkable when you realize that she does not appear on the screen once throughout the entire film, nor is there a line of her dialogue. As a matter of fact, she is dead before the opening credits roll. Yet nobody had more of an influence on what occurs in the film than she.

So, about Katie Elder.  From the film we find that she is an unassuming, humble woman who was devoted to her family.  She placed great value on her husband’s name and cared deeply about it’s reputation before and after his death. Her sons were all wayward men who went off on their own, leaving her to fend for herself in her old age.  Her neighbors obviously thought highly of her and would have been glad to support her, but she was industrious and worked for her own bread, shunning the easy life of welfare and taking pride in her work and responsibilities.  After her ranch and land were gone, she rented an old shack on a friend’s land and quietly lived out her days.

“Katie Elder, a woman beloved of all, a hardworking, honest woman, she helped in Your work, O Lord, in a thousand ways. She was a friend to all, a comforter to the sick. She has left this world a little better for having lived in it. Those who knew her, and loved her, are better for having lived in the warmth of her understanding. Katie Elder lived here in Clearwater for many years, all of us gathered here today knew her well.  She raised four sons John, Tom, Matt, and Bud, the youngest. She was a woman who wanted nothing for herself, wanted to give rather than receive. She devoted her life to helping her family, her friends.”

As her wild sons come to town to settle her affairs and collect any inheritance that might be left them, they begin to see her for the first time in the reflection of her live and love in the community.  This woman that they had deserted was not only highly respected, but had done much to minister to the valley and influence the area for good. They found that Katie was debt free and lived cheerily within her means, thought that meant she only had two dresses to her name (she did have some ambitious entrepreneur projects underway…).

I love watching the brothers slowly change as they are touched by what they see of their mother’s kindness and character.  The little things about her start to get to them, and they realize that her neighbors have honored her name and given her more of a tribute than they, her own sons had. So they determine that one of them “ought to amount to something” and be a monument to what a great lady she was.

The thing that gets to me about Katie’s story is how a mother changed her sons through the legacy she left in the lives of her neighbors.

Her sons were off “making a name” and life for themselves as gamblers and gunfighters. Yet she kept up heart and faithfully ministered to her neighbors and community.  Years passed, and she died, her wild sons returned, and the valley that she had once influenced with her integrity, love, and care, in turn influenced the lives of her sons.

She probably had no idea that the countless hours she spent serving and loving those around her would someday come back around to her own children.

The far-reaching impact of one person on this world is such a great theme for a story.  The film “It’s a Wonderful Life” is a prime example.  Of course, in “The Sons Of Katie Elder” it is not as boldly shown.  It is subtle, powerful, and masterfully woven into the far-off background of the story where you don’t notice it much, unless you’re looking for it.

So next time you pull out this film to watch it again, look for the hints of Katie Elder’s influence, you may be surprised just how many there are.


 

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2016 Western Lover’s Gift Guide


Western films make great gifts. However, sometimes it is nice to find something unexpected to surprise your western aficionado with (…or maybe they already own all their favorite films! 🙂 )

This is a list of 9 non-DVD gift ideas for the lover of westerns in your life. Click on the photo to go to the product!

If he owns a guitar or loves cowboy songs, this book will make a great gift.  This book is GREAT for those who are trying to teach themselves to play cowboy songs on the guitar. It has a helpful diagram for each cord used in the songs, so even if you have never played a chord before in your life, you can, with a little determination, learn to play these songs entirely on your own.

 

A vintage western pocket knife.  Everyone can always use another pocket knife–it’s a practical gift that can be used to open countless packages, whittle chunks of wood, or remove a stone from your horse’s hoof.  And when you give a vintage knife like the 50’s Hop-along Cassidy knife above, you’re not only giving them a useful tool, but an actual antique–a piece of history. It can be added to their western collection and will appreciate in value with each passing year!  There are many styles, featuring many cowboy heroes from yesteryear, so pick a hero they love and look around on eBay–they’ll be surprised when they open the package!

 

 

A western portrait.These hand-drawn portraits of Johnny Crawford (Mark McCain) and James Drury (The Virginian) are available at The Western Desk Shop in prints ready for framing!  Makes a perfect gift for the Rifleman or Virginian fan who already owns the shows, or makes a great accompaniment along with the DVDs!  It is sure to bring a smile to anyone who glimpses it on their wall!

 

There are many great western CDs out there chock-full of the most rollicking and delightful music of yesteryear. Songs you can’t help but sing along with. Songs sung with gusto that will make you smile, ballads of real life’s beauty and of heartrending sacrifices. Songs of good men fighting evil, and of a cowboy’s lonesome vigil by a campfire.  Here’s two Cds to get you started:
Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs. Marty Robbins made the west come alive in these amazing recordings. As I stated before he is unequaled in the realm of western ballads and this CD has several of his best songs: Big Iron, Master’s Call, 160 Acres, and The Strawberry Roan. Although it doesn’t contain all of my favorites (like Cowboy In The Continental Suit!), it is his most famous CD and easy to find.

Stampede! Western Music’s Late Golden Era. This CD was brought to my attention in this grand review by Evie Coates of The Rabbit Room!  I was familiar with the songs already, but didn’t know they had been collected in this great classic volume.

 

If your western fan is a youngster these cap pistols are the cream of the crop. They are the only cap pistols made in the USA, are made of metal from original 1950’s molds, and are produced by a family run business in Texas. These are the kind I once thought “they never make ’em like that anymore”.

 

Western Writing Paper. Coffee-stained, hand-stamped, and in several variations.

 

A vintage western novel. Shane by Jack Schaeffer is a classic and always a good choice, but there are a great variety of old western books out there, all you have to do is look!

 

  A western film soundtrack.  Find out their favorite John Wayne movie and give them the soundtrack. The Comancheros is a favorite of mine by the fabulous Elmer Bernstein and can be found on Amazon.

 

A contemporary western book. I usually prefer old western books myself, but Elisabeth Grace Foley can write a pretty good western. Her short stories are character driven and feel just like reading an old Virginian TV show.  The novella The Mountain of the Wolf is one of her best, but is currently only available in eBook format…

For more ideas check out my Pinterest board

 

P.S. For all you Rifleman fans out there Season 4 has just come out and is available for purchase on the official website HERE!

 

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New In The Shop~ “Western Pines” Winter Christmas Stationery!


Combine tangy pine branches, pine-cones, paper, and steaming coffee: the result “Western Pines” stationery.

Click HERE to see it in the shop!

Perfect for winter letters and spreading holiday cheer!



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Western Stationary~New In The Shop


westernnotepaper-thewesterndesk-manlystationary-westernletterwritingsupplies-coffeestainedstationaryWhen you open a package of this western paper, the faint aroma of warm coffee is lingering there to meet you.

A golden hue and the faint smell of coffee are the signatures of this new writing paper.

Every piece is carefully stained with coffee, dried, and then hand stamped with an original artwork stamp of a saddle.

Makes great note paper as well as stationary. It has a lovely aged appearance and texture, almost as if it has been sitting in a dusty cow-town for years…

Have you ever noticed the golden paper that is forever being delivered in old westerns? The faded envelope in the cubbyhole at the hotel, a will in an old ranch house, the worn, stained, and golden-hued paper the hero pulls out of his shirt…

This writing paper captures that golden, aged, warm tone. It is a world different that the sterile, white, bleached look of today.  It looks like old Mexico, a miner’s map to the mother-lode, and old wanted posters.

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Paper Specifications:
~It comes in a set of 25 sheets
~Hand Stamped
~Original Artwork
~Golden toned (may vary slightly from batch to batch)
~Stationary size: 8.5 x 5.5 inches
~Works excellently with pen, pencil and fountain pen

 

coffestainedwesternstationary

Head on over to the shop and take a look!:  “It’s a Cinch” Western Stationary

Whether you’re sending it by stage, with the next stranger that passes by on horseback, or by the good ‘ole postal service this paper is ready for the trip and sure to be admired by the lucky recipient!



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Coming to the shop…


WesternStationaryPaperI’ve been working on developing a new product, and it is coming to the shop later this week! Stay tuned for details when it’s released!



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The Era of Silent Westerns~Will Rogers


I have a fondness for silent westerns, the old-fashioned stars excelled at those pioneering cowboy films and made all manner of them including western comedies like this clip from an old 1922 Will Rogers film titled “The Ropin’ Fool”

I found the scenes in the above excerpt very helpful when I was doing trick roping for a few years, and it is always fascinating to see what the westerns were like in the early days, and how the later ones grew and changed–but still retained some of the classic patterns developed by the early directors and actors.  The earliest western film was made in 1903, so by the time “The Ropin’ Fool” came out they had had almost 10 years of experience. Not long at all considering they were building everything entirely from the ground up!

Have you ever watched a silent film? What’s the earliest western film you’ve seen?



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Western Note Card Giveaway!


ManlyWesternStationaryAs a part of the Legends of Western Cinema Week I’m hosting a giveaway for a set of 3 note cards from The Western Desk shop! Enter below and be sure to tell your friends!

And The Winner is Sarah! Congratulations!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Dark Command (1940) Western Film Review


Dark CommandDark Command is the tale of a manly, quote spoutin’, Texan with a strong sense of justice and a desire to fight evil men and stand up for what’s right.

It stars two of the rising western actors in 1940: John Wayne and Roy Rogers, and is filled with other lovable actors such as Claire Trevor, Porter Hall, Walter Pigeon, Marjorie Main, and the good ol’ singing cowboy sidekick Gabby Hayes. Gabby and John Wayne had actually been acting together for years, and are so fun to see together in this A budget film after watching a lot of their B westerns from the 30’s (which are quite amusing!).

Based on a book, Dark Command is a good old-fashioned western story about Bob Seton (J. Wayne) who arrives in Lawrence, Kansas with the man he is working for: Andrew the dentist (Gabby Hayes).

DC #2The first day in town Bob meets the pretty Mary McCloud, who he is drawn to, and her suitor William Cantrell.

Lawrence is rampant with murders and a campaign is underway to elect a marshal. Bob and Cantrell become rivals for the office as well as the girl. A fistfight over the issue of free speech gets Bob acquainted with Mary’s brother Fletcher (Roy Rogers).  Things start to get challenging as Fletcher gets into a mess of trouble and Bob is thrown into a tough moral choice of loosing the girl he loves or doing his duty regardless of her and her family and the loss of all their respect.

#3As if that weren’t enough, Bob is thrown into more challenging choices and has to take action against his friends. Add in a national war, murder, gun runners, guerillas, a bank run, and plenty of bad guys and you have a story that was nominated for two Academy Awards.

I enjoyed this film for several reasons. First it is a classic old western that is a story about morals, character, and good triumphing over evil.

Roy Rogers & Claire TrevorSecondly, it was great fun for me (being a Roy Rogers fan) to see him play a different type of man than the usual flawless, clean, singing cowboy. He shows just what he can do when he gets a chance at an A-western.

Another great thing about it is the dialogue, and of course John Wayne’s delivery of his lines. The western character he portrays, Bob Seton, is not quite like his later stereotypes, but it is one of my favorite films of his and makes a fun 90 minutes.

John WayneThere are a couple great scenes that really stand out and make this film worthwhile. One is a scene between Bob and Mary where he is handed a staggering test that calls for integrity and courage. The other is a scene where he meets with his enemy to try to be his friend and give him the advice he needs to hear and every chance to redeem himself and do what is right. He looks out for his fellow man like every lawman ought to, and takes a personal interest in their character and the way their lives are going, and doesn’t shy away at at the hard conversations. And yes, I’m being vague here on purpose, because who wants the best scenes spoiled?

#13Tensions simmer steadily and little bits of humor are sprinkled thought to add to the fun as chases and gunfire round out the film.

The folks in this story are well developed and it brings them strikingly to life, leaving you rooting for them and sympathizing with their struggles and disappointments.

It is a tale of courage. Courage in the gritty, tough, moral challenges of life and in the battle for right and justice.


This film is in public domain, and there are many poor copies on the market and available for free.  If you are looking for a clear and good quality copy of the film I recommend this one. This review is written for The Legends of Western Cinema Week hosted by A Lantern In Her Hand and Meanwhile in Rivendale.

#4Have you seen Dark Command? What do you think of Wayne’s early films? Do you have a favorite?



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The Western Desk Is On Instagram!


TheWesternDeskButton

For all you instagrammers: The Western Desk is now on Instagram! My page is @thewesterndesk and will be filled with photos pertaining to all things western, and all things to do with my work as an artist!

Hop on over to my account and give it a follow or just leave me a comment and introduce yourself!

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