I've been watching a lot of Westerns lately. Partially it's because I started reading Larry McMurtry's "Lonesome Dove" books, and they put me in the mood for Stetsons and dust and desperate struggles beneath the merciless desert sun. Partially it's because I've been bummed out about this, that and the other thing, and I find old Westerns strangely comforting.
I would say it's an American guy thing, but of course it isn't an American guy thing anymore. It's an American guy thing from the '50s and '60s -- before I was even born. As near as I can tell, today's American guys are into Call of Duty, Adam Sandler movies and doing grievous bodily harm to themselves so they can rack up views on YouTube. So I'm not sure why I find the sight of John Wayne doing his left-listing lumber through a pair of bat-wing doors so very reassuring. I'm not even a Republican!
Still, I've written about my fondness for Westerns a few times in the past, either to wax categorical about the classics or spit some venom when it's called for. But it didn't work. Hollywood, apparently, wasn't listening. So I'll try again in the hopes some learning will get done.
THINGS THAT YOU NEED FOR A GOOD WESTERN
- Guns (non-laser)
- Interesting characters, a few of whom viewers will like and come to care about
- A conflict, preferably of the life and death variety
- An exciting climax
- A satisfying resolution (Note: "Satisfying" doesn't necessarily mean "happy." It means "logical" and "not brain-dead stupid.")
THINGS THAT YOU DON'T NEED FOR A GOOD WESTERN BUT THAT NEVER HURT
- A villain who's unique and human, not just nasty
- Humor (What? You don't think people on the frontier cracked funnies? How else were they going to pass the time?)
- Strother Martin
THINGS THAT YOU DO NOT NEED FOR A GOOD WESTERN
- A $250 million budget
- $175 million for marketing
- A two-and-a-half-hour running time
- A major international film star with a dead bird on his head
RECENT WESTERNS THAT MET MY DEFINITION OF GOOD AND STILL TURNED A PROFIT
- True Grit
- Django Unchained (O.K., there were some explosions and it was really long. But there were no dead-bird-hats. And I liked it.)