Perhaps our memories are short and we’ve forgotten just how utterly enjoyable a good Western movie or book can be. Or maybe some of us have never been exposed to Westerns. Either our families never introduced us to the wonderful world of the Old American West or our nascent curiosity about this golden era and this captivating literary and cinematographic genre was prematurely snuffed out when the moguls of cool decided some time ago that Westerns didn’t pass their litmus test. Well let them scurry off to another round of Grey Goose martinis while you and I go have some serious fun. Open your eyes and ears, my friends. Westerns are exceedingly cool, and here are five of the many reasons why.
1. Horses—Beautiful, noble animals—powerful, blazing fast, ready to go where folks in wheeled and tracked vehicles fear to tread. Any hero is cooler on a horse, whether on a flawless palomino, a terrifying black stallion, or a colorful paint. Chase scenes on horses can be even more gripping and nail-biting than chase scenes in cars.
Remember the movie “Hidalgo?” It begins and ends in the Old West, even if it takes a wide detour all the way to the Middle East. Viggo Mortensen’s character rides a spirited pinto in a high-stakes cross-country race against aristocrats, rogues, and cutthroats in this compelling tale. And that’s just one quick example, amigos.
No self-respecting cowboy would be caught dead on foot when he had the option of sitting saddle. And contrary to the cliche, I’ve only seen one Western where the hero kisses the horse at the end of the movie. Being that it was such an innocent kiss, I wasn’t even offended, much less scarred for life.
2. Great Movie Soundtracks—Think about the opening music from the classic film “The Magnificent Seven.” It’s a vibrant score that paints a tonal picture of broad landscapes populated by consummately adventuresome heroes. And what about the music to “Dances with Wolves?” When you hear it, you can’t help but think of the vast expanses of the American West spreading out beneath spectacular deep-blue skies.
The Westerns brought us iconic musical motifs such as the theme from “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.” When those few bars of music cross your mind or tickle your ear bones, your fingers can’t help but twitch, searching for the grips of your Colt .45, can they?
And speaking of six-shooters, who’s reading or movie-viewing experience is not kicked up a notch the moment somebody pulls a weapon?
3. An Array of Weapons, and Folks Who Know How to Use Them—Whether aimed at a rattlesnake poised to strike, or at a cold-blooded villain intent on having his way, characters in classic Westerns pack iron. They tote lead-pushers with names every bit as famous as Levi’s denims and Stetson’s hats. From Colts to Winchesters, from Derringers to Gatling guns, the names and profiles of those weapons helped define that grand era and its cast of colorful characters.
No, there are no nukes or EMP devices in Westerns (not unless you want to go the route of Will Smith’s “Wild, Wild West” or Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig’s “Cowboys and Aliens”), but for those who enjoy a desperate shootout and maybe a few singularly spectacular explosions, there’s plenty of that to be had in most books and films about the West.
4. The Land—For all the excitement and sophistication of modern New York, Paris, or Shanghai, there’s still so much to be said for the boundless stretches of prairies, mountains, canyon lands, and deserts that the inhabitants of the Old West had to conquer, or at the very least survive. Ghost towns, boom towns, and cow towns dotted the broad American West—some rip-roaring and wild, others haunting in their austerity. In either case, the stages on which the many and varied dramas of the Old West were played out offer countless daunting obstacles, adrenaline-inducing adventures, and sensational thrills to the heroes of Western books and films. It’s not just badguys that the brave and impassioned men and women of the Old West had to face, but also the forces of nature–snow storms, dust storms, and searing desert heat.
5. Heroes With Character—Some had panache, others sheer grit. Mountain men, cattle drovers, gamblers, lawmen, railroad barons, saloon girls—they each had their stories. Tales of hardship, trials, and victories. These were people who faced the world head-on. And a tough, unforgiving world, at that.
The characters of the Old West knew how to live all-out. They laughed. They made their own music. They clinched their teeth and pressed on in the face of every challenge the land and the times could throw at them.
Some came from Mexico, others from back East, yet others from the Far East. They each added their part to the immensely variegated stories that spun out of that tumultuous and fascinating epoch when strong, resourceful men and women subdued and tamed the wide and wild West.
So if you haven’t read or watched a Western in a while, why not head to your favorite bookstore or video source and look for a classic. Horses, music, guns, land, and characters–there’s something cool for everyone in a Western.