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The Western is one of film's oldest genres, which dates back to Edwin S. Porter's The Great Train Robbery of 1903. This category also predates film; Westerns were America's preeminent literary category and include the first captivity narratives. Stock characters of the Western plot include: the cowboy-hero, the comparatively civilized rancher or lawman, the prostitute with the heart of gold, and the settler wife, often a cultivated Easterner, and a Native American. The frontier landscape is key to the Western's iconography, and many have argued that this sense of open, untamed space is a crucial American ideal.

The cowboy is typically reluctant to get too involved with established society but comes through in a crisis to save the day in a way that the civilized characters cannot. He also represents the ideal form of masculinity. His skills are physical, and this is displayed through the conventions of expert handling with horses, guns, lassoes and any difficulty presented by the landscape.

It's a nostalgic genre, set in a mythical past, and scholars have argued that audience's fascination with Westerns is linked to a deeply-seated American desire for choice-avoidance: we want both the maverick, loner cowboy freedom and the safe, but boring and emasculating, town life. Audiences identified with the desire to have a dangerous-but-secure lifestyle, and were captivated by the central conflict between civilization and savagery. Key examples of classical Western films include Stagecoach (1939), My Darling Clementine (1946) and The Searchers (1956).



On the stagecoach, is an Easterner who is purely out of his element, a doctor who is a drunkard, a gambler who comes from an aristocractic family (looks like a gentleman, but he's usually treacherous, the "good" woman who gives the appearance of goodness, but it is a facade, the prostitute, really is a good woman who usually wins the heroes heart. Then there is the hero who is usually a loner who is soft spoke, a man of few words, but backs up what he says with action.

Highnoon is unique among westerns because it breaks away from the formula.  It speaks for the time in which it was made, the 1950s. While all around him are scared to death, the hero faces the threat to the town alone./The Magnificent Seven features a conglomeration of misfits who become heroes.

For two decades there was a dearth of Westerns, but Silverado brought the genre back to the screen.  While Dancing With Wolves is not the typical western, it does feature an outcast as hero and of course it does include Native Americans, the Calvary and one of the most important aspects of all, the landscape.


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