Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version

Fall 2007


Great Plains Quarterly Vol. 27, No. 4, Fall 2007, pp. 297-98.


Copyright 2005 by the Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska-Lincoln


The Western, yet again, lies dormant. The revival that began in the late eighties with the greatest of adventures on the Great Plains, Lonesome Dove, and peaked some years later with Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven (followed closely by George Cosmatos's Tombstone), announced that the gente had reclaimed its luminous moral core, even if it would henceforth cast its light in chiaroscuros of regret and remorse. Released in late 1990, Kevin Costner's Dances with Wolves revitalized the Indian Western, though in doing so it also revived the rancid myth of the Vanishing American. Whatever else may be said about it, Costner's film validated other important Indian Westerns-Geronimo: An American Legend, The Last of the Mohicans, and Ted Turner's Geronimo.

Despite the prequels and spin-offs-and even despite the popularity of HBO's Deadwood -the Western's light had dimmed again. Open Range (2003) and the Indian Western The Missing (2003), as well as the two miniseries Into the West (2005) and Broken Trail (2006), however lavishly produced, but dimly mirror Westerns of the preceding decade. Two of these titles feature Robert Duvall attempting to resuscitate Lonesome Dove's adorable Gus McCrae. The Missing features Tommy Lee Jones, who played McCrae's crusty sidekick, Woodrow Call. And Broken Trail, a cattle-drive tale of the Great Plains, has Cosrner in the lead, connecting him inevitably not so much to Dances with Wolves but to the failed Wyatt Earp (1995), which is surely the Heaven's Gate of its time. Yet this dormancy, lamentable as it always is, also signals the opportunity for new investigations into the Western. Two promising and timely studies have seized the opportunity.

Framed by a solid introduction and, at the back end of it, an excellent filmography and a first-rate bibliography, Hollywood's West: The American Frontier in Film, Television, and History offers both canonical and revisionist insights into the Western. The editors plunge into their introduction with all the vigor of a Sooner land rush, attending to Western history, art, and scholarship at breakneck speed. What they choose to see along the way, however, does not always accord with one's view of "The West, Westerns, and American Character," as they title their introduction. In the review of scholarship, for example, they give Henry Nash Smith (Virgin Land) his widely acknowledged due as trailblazer, but the pursuers of trails as adventurous as Smith's own do not fare so well here. It is disappointing to find Patricia Limerick credited with an idea-la frontera- first put forth by the late Gloria Anzaldua (does contributor Kimberly Sultze know this?). The editors cannot do better for John Cawelti's genius for concision and classification than to reduce it to "enthusiasm and ingenuousness." Moreover, they briefly discuss-and all too soon dismiss-Richard Slotkin's magisterial work as "wrongheaded," though Slotkin is likely the most cited author in the collection. In truth, these editors want their Westerns good and simple-if not downright nostalgic. And this is, perhaps, why an important movie like Little Big Man gets short shrift, or why Soldier Blue and Ulzana's Raid receive no mention at all-as if the Vietnam War had never touched the Western.