Forget riding off into the sunset, sun set on them ages ago
WESTERN week on DStv’s TCM channel didn’t hold much for me, but I did watch the 1948 oldie, Three Godfathers, which has been filmed several times since 1909.
Sentimental tosh, it centres on three bandits who come across an orphaned baby in the desert. Leading the outlaws is that staple of the Westerns of yore, John Wayne, looking more than a little embarrassed in the circumstances.
The reason I watched it was purely nostalgic. As a child in Pretoria, I was allowed to join my friends at the neighbourhood cinema on Saturday afternoons. Only Westerns were shown, so for three years I must have seen most of the horse operas filmed in the 1940s and early ’50s. Most were black-and- white B-pictures and other secondfeature flicks starring the then fashionable Hopalong Cassidy, Gene Autry and Roy Rogers. My favourite in those days was former American footballer Charles Starrett playing the masked, black-clad Durango Kid, often accompanied by Smiley Burnett for light relief.
I certainly never saw Three Godfathers then. Perhaps the distributors thought the Wayne movie was too grand for us in the suburban purlieus of fusty, crusty Pretoria. I don’t think I missed much at this late screening – and gave up on Western week.
Again I was prompted to wonder how the DStv programme compilers pick their movies.
Westerns have never been a favourite of mine, but I do think the compilers could have chosen better product for Western week. If they had to have a John Wayne movie to highlight the series, why didn’t they go for The Searchers, one of the best Westerns ever made? Incidentally, The Searchers is available in a recently released parcel of Wayne films on DVD.
And then there is 1969’s True Grit (for which Wayne won an Oscar) and Rooster Cogburn (1975) and The Shootist (1976). Any of them would have been better than Three Godfathers.
I was never a great fan of Wayne’s, but Owen Williams, the critic whom I succeeded as arts editor of the Cape Argus in 1979, always praised Wayne lavishly, but then we never did agree on much. He got stuck into me for criticising another veteran, Gene Hackman, whom I always thought overrated.
Another classic Western that the DStv compilers could have chosen for Western week include Gunfight at OK Corral (1957), with a hot cast headed by Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas.
Come to think of it, I don’t think there has been a decent Western since Kevin Costner’s Dances With Wolves of 1990, though you might argue that for a film set in the American Civil War it may not count as Western.
And how did you survive royalty week on DStv? It, too, was more than I could bear, particularly the programme focusing on the stuffy Prince Charles. I was reminded of the French philosophers’ attitude at the time of the French Revolution: it was felt that the aristocracy was a useless, ornamental class.
I was again reminded of this while reading Forget Not, the bestselling autobiography of the Duchess of Argyll which bears out the French criticism throughout.
Next I intend reading a recently acquired biography of Oliver Cromwell which, I hope, will bring a little balance to my present outlook.