Now Back on Screen: The Big Bang Bangs

“There are not many stories you can do about the west that are any good,’ the director Howard Hawks once said in his shrewd and cranky old age. ‘The western is the simplest form of drama – a gun, death …’ Film Forum is putting this view of the genre to the test — calling Hawks’s hypothesis out into the street — in a series boldly titled Essential Westerns 1924-1962, which began on Friday and runs through March 31: that’s 37 simple gun/death dramas. It’s a long, dusty trail, crowded with trigger-happy young gunslingers, crusty codgers, nervous homesteaders, lily-livered townfolk, slick gamblers, greedy cattle barons, mean varmints of every description, and, of course, men who do what a man’s gotta do (and the women who love them). ” (New York Times )

Critic Terrence Rafferty says you can actually get the drift by seeing only a few of these. As a film buff who loved westerns in my youth, a couple of Rafferty’s four ‘essentials’ are surprising choices. I hadn’t even remembered My Darling Clementine, John Ford’s take on the OK Corral mythos. The series’ definition of Westerns seems to stretch the boundaries of the genre, including some films I have loved but never considered Westerns even though they take place in the West, for instance Bad Day at Black Rock. There is even a sense in which Treasure of the Sierra Madre isn’t really a Western in a classical sense. But, hey, let’s not quibble over semantics, let’s just go out and see ’em.