View From Lodi, CA: Hollywood vs. the Old West

To commemorate 100 years of western
film making, David T. Matuszak compiled

“The Cowboy`s Trail Guide to Westerns.”

“The Great Train Robbery,”
released in 1903 was the first cowboy classic and also
the

first motion picture of any kind to tell a story.


Matuszak`s book
represents the most complete
collection of feature-length western reviews ever
published. More than 2,100 films including

domestic, foreign
and made-for-television are rated.

The author, who has spent his life
living and working in the west, describes himself as
being in constant search of the

essence
of the

American West.

Matuszak`s reviews, which he wrote
after watching more than 1,000 cowboy movies, lead the
reader toward his “100 Best of the West” films.
And Matuszak also lists who he considers the best
western actors, actresses, supporting actors and
directors.

“The Cowboy`s Trail Guide to
Westerns”
is divided into ten chapters:
Introduction, History, “B” westerns, Spaghetti Westerns,
the Myth of the West, the Spirit of the West,
Authenticity, Story, Acting and Directors.

One of the most interesting and
curious aspects of western movie history is that cowboy
films, despite their enormous popularity, have fared
poorly when the Academy Awards roll around.

No matter the Oscar category—actor,
director or best picture, the Western has been passed
over—and often ignored.

Here is the short list of Oscar
winners since the Academy Awards began:

1928, Warner Baxter, Best Actor for
his performance as the

Cisco Kid
one of the first talkies, “In Old
Arizona.”

1931, Best Picture, Cimarron,”

1952, Best Actor,

Gary Cooper,
“High Noon,”

1965,
Lee Marvin,
Best Actor, “Cat Ballou,”

1969,

John Wayne
, Best Actor, “True Grit,”

1990, Best Picture,

“Dances with Wolves,”

1992, Best Picture, “Unforgiven”
and 1992, Best Director, Clint Eastwood.

If you are wondering what happened
to “Fort Apache,” “Red River,”  “The
Searchers,”
you`re not alone.

Film critic and historian Danny
Peary provides some clues as to why the western doesn`t
score in Hollywood.

Wrote Peary in his book, Alternate
Oscars
,”

“The
Academy has no respect for Westerns. They didn`t make
Westerns with the intention of winning Oscars so there
was very little backing from the studios to get them
nominations. For many years, they would never give an
award to any film in which the

lead character carried a gun.”

Be that as it may, the Western is
an integral part of film history. And after reading
Matuszak`s book I have come up with my own top ten
all-time list that is significantly different than his.

Here, in reverse order and with
brief comments, are my choices:

#10–“My
Darling Clementine”—
The Earps establish law and
order in Tombstone, AZ. Directed by John Ford, starring
Henry Fonda and filmed in Monument Valley, CA.

#9–-“Will
Penny”
Charlton
Heston
as an aging cowboy uncertain about his
future.

#8—“Ride the High Country”—Two
retired gunfighters, Randolph Scott and Joel McCrea,
return a young bride to her father. Scott`s last movie.

#7—“High
Noon”
—Cooper and Grace Kelly star but the
supporting cast of Lloyd Bridges, Lee Van Cleef, and
Katy Jurado is great.

#6—The
Man Who Shot Liberty Valance


Jimmy Stewart,
a tenderfoot lawyer, goes against a
two-bit outlaw, Lee Marvin. Wayne stars.

#5—“The Searchers”—Another
Ford western filmed in Monument Valley. Wayne stars as a
Confederate veteran who spends five years looking for
girl (Natalie Wood) captured by Comanches.

#4—“Red River”—A cattleman
(Wayne) and his adopted son (Monty Clift) are at each
other`s throats during the first cattle drive along the
Chisholm Trail.

#3—“She Wore a Yellow Ribbon”—After
Custer`s defeat, a cavalry officer (Wayne) is reluctant
to retire.

#2—“The Shootist”—Wayne,
an aging gunfighter, is supported by outstanding
performances by Lauren Bacall, Jimmy Stewart, Hugh
O`Brian and Ron Howard. Wayne`s last movie and his best.

#1—Lonesome Dove—Originally
a television mini-series, this is the story of two
former Texas Rangers, played by Robert Duvall and Tommy
Lee Jones, on an epic cattle drive from Lonesome Dove,
Texas to Montana.

I am unapologetic that 5 of my ten
choices star John Wayne.

A few years ago, I was among a
small group of movie buffs listening to Bruce Dern
reminisce about what it was like to work with Wayne.

“John
Wayne was on time,”
Dern began. “And he was
prepared. When you worked with Wayne, you had better be
on time and prepared too or else there was hell to pay.
Anyone who thinks Wayne wasn`t serious about acting
doesn`t know what he`s talking about.”

Of all the thousands of memorable
lines delivered in great westerns, my favorite is Wayne
from “The Shootist”:

“I
won`t be wronged. I won`t be insulted and I won`t be
laid a hand on. I don`t do these things to other people
and I require the same from them.”

You certainly have your own Top Ten
list. But you won`t go wrong watching—or re-watching—any
of mine.

Joe Guzzardi [email
him], an instructor in English
at the Lodi Adult School, has been writing a weekly
column since 1988. It currently appears in the


Lodi News-Sentinel
.