One of the things I’ve been trying to do is watch more old Westerns. That Man enjoys watching them (much more than something like Star Trek, although he’s watched several with me), but mostly because I was so impressed with Firefly. I know it’s basically a Space Opera Western, and I loved how familiar it made the world feel despite the science fiction.
That’s one thing I think I need to work on. I can worldbuild all day long and I love it, but I don’t think my worlds are always immediately accessible.
So thanks to Netflix, we just watched Once Upon a Time in the West. It was ranked as one of the top 100 Westerns of all time, and starred some big names like Charles Bronson and Henry Fonda.
I have to admit that we were confused quite a bit. It was hard to figure out how the characters were related and what was happening. For example, at the beginning, three characters arrive at a train station and basically take it over. This scene goes on and on, with the characters sitting around, waiting, flies buzzing, wind blowing, etc. Literally, at least 10 minutes were spent on this, and we had no idea what they were waiting for.
Then Bronson’s character arrived and it was a shoot out. Why? I have no idea. Was Bronson a bad guy? Who was he looking for?
The other characters were introduced in the same way. Gah, so confusing. And oh, the long, meaningful stares and looks. It became hilarious by the time we got to the last huge showdown. Oh, look, a stare! Now closer! Get a good shot of Fonda’s nostrils!
For all the loooooong stares and our confusion, we really did end up enjoying the movie (although I wouldn’t watch it again). Bronson’s character was especially well done with the harmonica and what that meant, but we didn’t learn WHAT THAT MEANT until the last 10 minutes of the movie! Very nice static trait, though.
The part that sticks with me is the ending. Jill McBain, the widowed prostitue who’s struggled to keep her dead husband’s land, ends up falling in love with Bronson. It was very subtle (more meaningful stares, snickers) and she actually has a sexual relationship with Fonda’s character to save her own skin. But in the end, Bronson walks away.
I guess a lot of old Westerns end this way, with the moody cowboy/hired gun riding off into the sunset alone, but yeah, it didn’t do much for this romantic heart. More, I just wasn’t satisfied with the ending. How was Jill going to manage Sweetwater Station by herself? She had dozens of workers to keep, and we know women didn’t do “business” type work back in those days. Yet both of the men she’d come to rely on left her.
I couldn’t help but translate this to a science fiction setting. Think about it: a colony, with an older, established woman trying to make a go of it against bandits and the land itself. She doesn’t know who to trust. The men she counts on walk out on her. How is she going to rally her workers even if they don’t respect her?