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