Hide 'Em Cowboy: Quirky Westerns

Maybe Clint Eastwood and Lee Marvin never shared a tent like Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal do in "Brokeback Mountain." But in 1968's "Paint Your Wagon," they did share a wife.

"Paint Your Wagon" never stirred controversy for advocating three-way marriage, even if movie posters promised that these riders are partners in "everything." The big-screen bomb is more infamous as Eastwood's first and only attempt at starring in a musical -- an excellent career move judging by his version of "I Talk to the Trees."

Tough guy Marvin actually became the William Hung of his day, with the so-bad-it's-good chart-topper "Wandrin' Star" -- a must-own recording for anyone who collects William Shatner albums.

Clearly, Hollywood has proved over the years to have a very open range. A year after "Paint Your Wagon," while "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" was still in theaters, Jon Voight donned a Stetson to play a Texas drifter in New York City who turns to male prostitution in "Midnight Cowboy," the first X-rated Oscar-winning best picture.

While "Midnight Cowboy" isn't exactly a Western, "Brokeback Mountain" heads into Oscar season as America's most-talked-about movie, and while many call the Ang Lee film controversial, it's hardly the first to challenge the traditional cowboy image.

Out of the Closet and Into the Campfire

With Academy Award nominations coming next Tuesday, even President Bush was asked about the film. "I'd be glad to talk about ranching … but I haven't seen the film," the president said to a roar of laughter at a press conference this week, adding. "I've heard about it."

With "Brokeback" gaining momentum as a front-runner for best picture, it's worth remembering some of the many unconventional Westerns -- from art house films to B-movie schlock -- that took sex, drugs and all sorts of behavior society tends to shun out of the closet and into the campfire, where everyone could see it.

"One of the biggest mistakes is to say that anyone ever seized the sacred mantle of John Wayne and desecrated the image of the Western," says Michael Medved, radio commentator and co-author of "The Golden Turkey" movie award guides.

"The Western is like jazz. It's an American creation, but it belongs to the world. Everyone has had their say on the West, and they've been twisting it however they like. Why, everyone knows one of the Village People was a cowboy … or at least he wore a cowboy outfit."

Perhaps that's why it wasn't so strange, six decades before Eastwood's classic spaghetti Western, "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly," to see cowboys singing in Italian in Puccini's three-act opera "Fanciulla del West" (The Girl of the Golden West).

Still, there was an enduring, rock-solid cowboy image, the kind that was maintained by Roy Rogers and Dale Evans through 27 films and two TV series. The King of the Cowboys and the Queen of the Rodeo had one rule throughout their career: No public displays of affection.

As Rogers once famously said of his movies, "I get to kiss the horse." At least Trigger never complained.

'Johnny Guitar's' Feisty, Feudin' Female Gunslingers

Even through the staid 1950s, when John Wayne was the big screen's most bankable star, the home where the buffalo roam was a test ground for social change.

  • 1
  • |
  • 2
  • |
  • 3
Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
You Might Also Like...