Author: Alvira, Marco

Clint Eastwood or Daniel Craig?

(Editor’s Note: Today is Marcos’ second anniversary as a Welcome columnist. His presence on the scene has made this spot that much brighter an each-morning-of-the week destination for many of us. Thanks Marcos!)

Gene Autry or Roy Rogers? Clint Eastwood or John Wayne? You know how the game is played: A person rattles of a list “this or that.” Your responses are supposed to say something about your personality. Even in 1964, I recall arguing with friends over which of the two singing cowboys was best. To my mind, Roy Rogers was supreme; he had the fancy duds, the beautiful Dale Evans, the smartest horse on the planet, and a loyal dog. Not only that, he could really swing his fists. There was nothing like watching horse opries on Saturdays when the weather was to foul to go out and play.

Just this last Friday, my wife and I ventured out to the theater to see Hollywood’s latest western venture: Cowboys & Aliens. I’ll tell you one thing: Roy Roger never had to fight anything as tough as those laser slinging aliens that Jake Lonegran (Daniel Craig) is slapping leather with. Jake, a man with a violent past and immune to any society’s values, is the classic antihero that has been the mark of many protagonists in that genre. He’s strong, steel willed, speaks few words, and is a calamity for anyone crossing his path. His past is jaded and has a world view that makes him distrust people. We see this type of character beginning to emerge in the westerns of the 1940’s.

In the Twenties and Thirties, westerns were simple morality plays. Bad guys wore black, the good guys white…similar to the morality plays of the Middle Ages. The hero was full of “yessir’s” and “thank you mam’s” He was made to look all the smarter by the presence of his dopey sidekick. In 1939, John Ford made Stagecoach and introduced us to a new, dangerous type of hero, Johnny Ringo. John Wayne’s character became the archetype for the newer, more sophisticated westerns. He said more with his relaxed, yet menacing saunter than he could with any dialog. In the forties, he again portrayed men with more than a past…his characters were men with deep, amoral flaws--men driven by vengeance, hatred (Ethan Edwards, The Searchers) greed and misanthropy (Thomas Dunson, Red River).

Perhaps the epitome of this type is portrayed by Clint Eastwood in his Spaghetti westerns. He is the stranger who appears out of nowhere and without a name. He’ll squint and grimace, spit tobacco juice on a dog, spurn gratitude and love, and with the cool hand of an experienced killer, annihilate his enemies. In the end, the single thing that separates these men from villains is that they take right and just course of action, albeit, not always for altruistic reasons.

Of course, after about ten minutes into the Cowboys & Aliens, I began making the inevitable comparisons of Daniel Craig to John Wayne and Clint Eastwood. In Cowboys, Lonegran rides into a dusty mining town in the desert, reminiscent of Eastwood’s “Stranger” in High Plains Drifter. We will predictably find friendship, love, and trouble. It is a scene any real western fan has seen often, and I began to pick at his cowboy credentials. He seemed stiff in the saddle with his right arm constantly outstretched as if ready to draw at the moments notice (hard to ride long like that); his British accent creeps though at odd points of speech (a European can’t be a cowboy hero); and a countenance that is too stoic and impassive. Wayne would give that little tilt of the head or subtle shift of his weight that spelled doom for the man standing too near.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed watching a cowboy hero ride across the big screen with the rugged, desert wilderness as a backdrop. We were long overdue for a western, and I’m happy to have this one—even if does have aliens as the bad guys. For better or worse, westerns have created an archetypal hero and model of behavior that consciously, or subconsciously, comprises a part of the American male psyche. The lone individual with a dubious past rides into town; he quietly, determinedly, and without complaint, rights wrong; he rides away without accolade…his judgment and absolution lie in his actions and not in the opinion of others. We could use a few more westerns.

Posted:  8/7/2011

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