Friday, January 24, 2014

LOVE AND THE WESTERN HERO - Meg Mims

It may be January, but in two weeks everyone's thoughts will be drenched with loooooove.

Valentine's Day brings hearts, flowers and chocolate (of course!) to mind, but to any lovers of the western genre, it may also bring a fluttering for their favorite cowboy or soldier hero. Today I'll explore some of the movies set in the west that the ladies consider real heart-throbbers.

Look at that baby face to the left. What I found interesting was seeing images of the actors when they were young, versus being portrayed as western heroes. Oh, the manliness! Oh, the chiseled jaws! Oh, the *muscles*... er, sorry.

I'd like to start with THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS, which for its time was set in "the western frontier" of the United States as depicted in James Fenimore Cooper's day of 1757 during the French and Indian War.

Notice the change wrought in Daniel Day-Lewis' face after he takes on the role of Hawkeye, or Natty Bumpo, or Long Rifle... whatever you want to call him. He looks worried. He's got major diplomatic troubles dealing with the French and British, plus the Huron scout Magua. He's supported by Chingachgook and his son (as the last of the Mohicans) and then the Delaware tribe -- since the measly British won't send reinforcements for poor Colonel Munro and his soldiers. All that worry! He looks exhausted too.

Thankfully the movie plot simplifies the book (for the better, imo) by boiling down the war between the French and British, setting up a four-way romance with the Munro daughters, Hawkeye and Chingachgook's son. When Wes Studi (Magua) is determined to kill Munro and take his daughters captive -- well, let's just say I'd jump off a cliff too. That Magua scared me to death!

Hawkeye gets the girl, that's the important point of a romance. It's all about the HEA -- happily ever after. Come on! Who wouldn't want to end up with DDL in that costume? But being a western hero sure changes a guy. Really.

As a bonus, I found this image of Daniel Day-Lewis and Russell Means.
Both of them are pretty hot here.


Every single time I watch Mohicans, I weep when Russell Means is killed and Alice chooses to fall off the cliff after him rather than remain Magua's captive. When I met Wes Studi last summer in Albequerque at the WWA convention, I changed my mind about choosing that same fate. Wes is a great actor -- funny, warm and sweet, very generous about taking photos and giving autographs. He sure fooled me when I first saw the movie! That's fabulous acting.

Let's move on to Elmore Leonard's HOMBRE with Paul Newman. Ooooh, those baby blues! Who can resist those, or that manly chiseled jaw, or those muscles... er. Ahem.

The book and movie are pretty strong (I saw the movie, but must confess I have not read the book) for the "revisionist" western genre -- meaning the underlying issues of race are brought to the surface, in this case, the hero was raised as an Apache and faced big-time prejudice after he returns to the white man's world. I guess the blue eyes didn't matter much. I had trouble believing Newman as a Native American, but his acting is decent in the film.

Still, I much prefer him as Butch Cassidy. Sorry.

How about the book DANCES WITH WOLVES by Michael Blake? Oddly enough, the Comanche tribe is switched to Sioux, and Kevin Costner acted and directed this epic western into a real classic.

Once again, portraying a hero takes a toll on youthful men. That's a very young and hot Kevin Costner on the right, versus portraying Lieutenant John Dunbar (see the photo to the left below.) He looks tired. And worried, especially given the problems he's facing...

Oh, all right -- enough of that. Kevin portrays a disillusioned Civil War soldier who wants to die and ends up an unlikely hero during a battle. He then requests a transfer to a remote western fort -- apparently to redeem his burden of guilt and serve his country after an attitude adjustment. Alas, he "goes native" after seeing how unfair the government treats "the people."

I'd say the gorgeous cinematography of the prairie along with the portrayal of the natives by wonderful actors, and even the wolves and teeming herds of buffalo (which bring to life what the early post-Civil War era of the west) are as much Western heroes as Costner's character.

Kevin also gets the girl, a white woman who was taken in by the tribe he befriends. Like I said before, HEA is what makes a real romance. They go off together into the sunset.

Next up, let's see how portraying a hero took a heavy toll on another famous western actor... the Duke. Talk about manly! Talk about a chiseled jaw!! Talk about muscles - oh, fine. On to the gallery of photos. First up, the young Marion Morrison himself.


 Such a baby-face here. He was born in Iowa but his family soon moved to California. Marion intended to play football on a USC scholarship - but a bodysurfing accident put an end to that dream. All the better for us romantics, I say! Who knows what would have happened to Duke if he hadn't turned to small bit parts at the Fox studio.

Marion's first leading role was in the western The Big Trail which came out in 1930. He kept working in other roles, a few leading, until he became a superstar in 1939 in John Ford's Stagecoach.

Based on a 1937 short story titled "The Stage to Lordsburg" by Ernest Haycox, it features several strangers who travel by stagecoach through Apache territory. I saw the film long ago and it was okay. Sorry, just my opinion! But it boosted John Wayne's career, that's for certain.

See the photo on the right - the Duke looks worried, if not tired. He portrays Johnny Ringo, a fugitive, and is attracted to the prostitute who was run out of the Arizona town and is heading east on the stagecoach to New Mexico, along with a seedy doctor, the pregnant wife of a soldier and a whiskey salesman. The stage driver and a lawman make up the "company" that meet hardships along the way, including an Apache raid, before the cavalry rides in to the rescue.

Filmed in the Monument Valley, the movie became a classic and was selected for preservation by the Library of Congress for their National Film Registry.

Let's take a look at another significant western featuring the Duke - The Searchers. Also directed by John Ford, the film is based on a novel published in 1954 by Alan LeMay, set during the Texas-Indian Wars, featuring a Civil War veteran on a quest to find his nieces kidnapped by Comanches.

The Searchers is one of the favorites of many Western Fictioneers and WWA colleagues of mine. I liked this one better than Stagecoach, although the setting is fairly similar, so perhaps it's the worry, the tiredness of hero John Wayne along with his adopted nephew (Jeffrey Hunter, who caught my eye as a hot hero - see photo).

That was one looooong search, and Natalie Wood didn't seem all that appreciative of their efforts. Yeesh.

The Searchers earned some great top honors. In 2008, the film was  named the GREATEST AMERICAN WESTERN OF ALL TIME (yep, you heard that right!)  by the American Film Institute. This after it climbed to 12th place on the AFI's 2007 list of the 100 Greatest American movies ever! Besides a few other awards, the film was named the Best Western of all time by the magazine Entertainment Weekly. Not bad! 
And BOTH heroes look like they went through HELL, all for love and loyalty. Sigh.

Here's several other young studs who looked fabulous -- until becoming heroes in famous western films. I tell you, being a hero out west is bad for your health. Look at these manly guys, the chiseled features, those muscles! Clint Eastwood looks great until he turns into a scruffy, worried, tired Man With No Name. Robert Redford looks spiffy in that uniform until he grows a thatch of beard and long hair, dons buckskin and then scalps people and eats their livers. See how Tom Selleck looks so happy, healthy and hot in Hawaii as Magnum, the ultimate private eye, until he goes FURTHER west to Australia and gets all worried, tired and grungy.





Of course, this is all tongue-in-cheek. We LOVE these hot western heroes. They're worried for good reason -- the situation needs changing! The heroine needs loving! And they can prove just how much of an American manly man they are by saving the day.

God bless American heroes!



Meg Mims is an award-winning author with two western mysteries under her Eastern belt. DOUBLE CROSSING earned the 2012 WWA Spur Award for Best First Novel, and the sequel DOUBLE OR NOTHING was recently named the First Place Winner in the 2013 Laramie Awards for Western Mystery. Her story, "A Savior Is Born," is included in the Western Fictioneers' anthology A WOLF CREEK CHRISTMAS. Meg lives in Michigan, where the hills are like driveway slopes and trees block any type of prairie winds. LIKE her on Facebook, follow her on Twitter or check out her books on her website.









7 comments:

  1. An interesting take on the Western hero and anyone of them could put their boots under my bed anytime. (LOL) With all the cold out there, this post can't help but warm any woman.

    Fun and thanks. Doris

    ReplyDelete
  2. Meg,

    Well written and interesting take. But not ONE mention of the female counterpart.

    Now, Debbie Reynolds in HOW THE WEST WAS WON...

    Charlie

    ReplyDelete
  3. Meg, wonderful pictures and what a trip down memory lane. I loved Stagecoach, but I was so fascinated with how they could turn a short story into such a blockbuster, memorable movie. So many nuances and great characters in that story, through just the little things. And you're certainly right--Robert Redford looked tons better in that uniform! LOL Great post as always. I know I may be shot for saying this, but The Searchers is not one of my favorite movies. Maybe I need to revisit it--it's been many years.
    Cheryl

    ReplyDelete
  4. I'm with you, Cheryl - the Searchers may have been chosen as the best, but give me TRUE GRIT anytime. Doris, I'd love boots under the bed too. LOL and Charlie, I did a "HEROINES" blog post, but I failed to mention Debbie. Sorry! You'll have to explore her role in western film. She did make a good Molly Brown, the Colorado spitfire, in her Titanic movie!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Great post, Meg. Stagecoach is one of those movies that just stays with you forever.

    ReplyDelete
  6. How come it didn't stay with me, Keith? LOL - the only part I remember is the Duke saying, "Do I have to draw you a picture?" or something like that, after finding the dead woman. Not much else I recall. Prefer True Grit and his Rooster portrayal, lots of great scenes I remember in that - shooting the rat, the testimony in court, the ride across the meadow... now I'm gonna have to watch it again. heh

    ReplyDelete
  7. If you're talking John Wayne, I'll take Rio Bravo and El Dorado, plus Rooster Cogburn.

    Great article with lots of lovely photos - you should do a companion piece though, for the Ladies of the West!

    ReplyDelete