"Charlie's Angels" and "Laura Croft: Tomb Raider" might have a debt to pay to 1953's "Johnny Guitar," a film many consider the forerunner of female-driven action movies, starring Oscar winners Joan Crawford and Mercedes McCambridge as feuding gunslingers who settle their differences in a kill-or-be-killed showdown.
It's interesting to note that according to Hollywood lore Crawford and McCambridge were feuding off-screen as well, with Crawford reportedly scattering McCambridge's costumes along the Arizona highway in a rage befitting her "Mommy Dearest" persona.
Eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes had already started sexing up the West several years earlier with his notorious take on Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, "The Outlaw," which placed more emphasis on Jane Russell's chest than the shootouts.
Hughes, an aircraft manufacturer, turned his engineering sensibilities to personally designing a cantilever bra to accentuate the 19-year-old Russell's already ample bosom.
Although "The Outlaw" was finished in 1941, Hughes spent nearly two years fighting censors to allow as much cleavage as possible. At one early showing, a San Francisco theater operator was slapped with an "offense to decency" charge.
Russell, now 84, claims the Hughes-designed bra was too uncomfortable to wear. Of course, she spent the latter part of her career as the spokeswoman for the Playtex Cross Your Heart Bra.
Certainly sex roles have played a bigger role in contemporary Westerns, and it's hard to think of a barrier that hasn't yet been broken. A transvestite rode off into the sunset in 1993's "Ballad of Little Jo," based on the life of Josephine Monaghan.
As the movie poster read: "In the Wild West, a woman had only two choices. She could be a wife or she could be a whore … Josephine chose to be a man."
Missing from most old Westerns -- but certainly present in the Old West -- were blacks. African-Americans actually composed an estimated 5,000 to 9,000 of the 35,000 ranch and rodeo workers in the post-Civil War era, but you can hardly appreciate that watching classic films from what's called the "Golden Era."
1937's "Harlem on the Prairie" -- billed as the "World's First Outdoor Action Adventure with an all-Negro Cast" -- was a breakthrough of sorts. Star Herb Jeffries, a singer for Duke Ellington's orchestra, became known as "The Bronze Buckaroo" and starred in a series of sequels, including "Two-Gun Man From Harlem" and "Harlem Rides Again."
In a time of segregated theaters, Jeffries became what many consider the first original blacksploitation movie star, and his film played a big part in raising consciousness of African-Americans as pioneers.
Of course, you could easily challenge the motives of producer and co-director Jed Buell, who was eager to exploit the popularity of prairie sagas with novelties. "Harlem on the Prairie" was made almost simultaneously with "The Terror of Tiny Town," an all-dwarf Western, featuring little people on ponies, wearing oversize 12-gallon hats and running under swinging saloon doors for gags.
Many of the dwarfs summoned to Hollywood to play munchkins in "The Wizard of Oz" populated this Lilliputian frontier, and it's a film that dwarf actors of today reflect upon with disgust.