Category: Dead Man

Inventory: Dark Side Of The West: 17 Truly Grim Westerns

1. High Noon (1952)
Westerns are almost inherently grim: Traditionally, the quintessentially American genre would have us believe that the country was wrested from the wild by a few unrelentingly strong, stubborn, self-sufficient men bravely facing incredible odds and probable death. Still, Westerns tend to be about heroes, and heroes usually win. Which makes stark, morally muddy features like High Noon stand out. Gary Cooper won an Oscar for his portrayal of a weary-looking Old West marshal who, literally minutes after marrying Grace Kelly and hanging up his badge, learns that a killer he put in jail has been released and will be back in town for revenge in less than 90 minutes via the noon train. Operating in real time, Cooper re-dons his badge and scours the town, trying to assemble a posse to deal with the killer and his band, but all his friends and neighbors turn their backs on him, out of apathy, cowardice, denial, naïve hope that the problem will just go away, or even ambition for Cooper’s job. As his hopes for help disappear one by one, Cooper looks increasingly strained and exhausted, and becomes more and more of a Christ figure, abandoned by his disciples and desperately wanting someone to tell him this cup will pass from him, yet holding to the courage of his convictions. In the end, Cooper dutifully faces the problem and triumphs, in a manner of speaking—he’s alive, but his faith in humanity, virtually all his friends, and his belief in the things he spent his life fighting for are irrevocably gone. High Noon isn’t about Western heroism, it’s about surviving utter betrayal and moving on.

Originally published on avclub.com Sept. 3, 2007 as part of a group-written Inventory feature; I wrote the sections on High Noon, Once Upon A Time In The West, The Wild Bunch, High Plains Drifter, and Dead Man. Read the complete article.

Inventory: 13 sidekicks who are cooler than their heroes

1. Tonto, the Lone Ranger movies
The Lone Ranger’s faithful Indian companion debuted in the 1930s, an age not known for its enlightened attitudes toward minorities. And writers like Sherman Alexie have pointed out Tonto’s more problematic aspects, like his stereotypical broken English. But from the beginning, Tonto was depicted as a heroic figure in his own right, and not so much the Lone Ranger’s assistant as his friend. Tonto was saddled with pidgin dialogue, but he wasn’t dumb, and could track bandits and right wrongs with a skill equal to the masked man’s. Also worth noting: The similar character dynamic in the Lone Ranger spin-off The Green Hornet, between the Hornet and his Asian sidekick Kato, led to Bruce Lee’s American breakthrough role on the short-lived 1966 TV series. And few people, sidekicks or not, are cooler than Bruce Lee.

9. Dr. Pretorius, Bride Of Frankenstein
It’s so hard to find good help these days, as Dr. Henry Frankenstein found out. In the original movie, his lab assistant steals the wrong brain. In the sequel, Bride Of Frankenstein, his old teacher shows up and nearly steals the entire film. Though Henry is nominally the lead scientist in their partnership, Dr. Septimus Pretorius wins hands down in the “mad scientist” department, swanning through the movie with such gleefully macabre abandon that he makes the wet-blanket Henry instantly forgettable. Where Frankenstein is plagued by his wishy-washy conscience, Pretorius revels in his blackmails and grave robberies, and even goes tomb-looting with a sense of style, sticking around after the corpse is dragged away, and having a light supper and a smoke inside a mausoleum.

11. Marvin, The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy
Douglas Adams’ science-fiction satire contains no shortage of characters who’d be fun to get drunk with. And even terminally bewildered protagonist Arthur Dent seems like a nice enough guy. But no character captured the hearts of Adams’ fans as much as the gloomy Marvin, the Paranoid Android. Though Marvin’s constant melancholy was a source of irritation to his shipmates on the Heart Of Gold, it was easy to sympathize with the slump-shouldered robot. Marvin may have exaggerated and obsessed over his many burdens—pain in all the diodes on his left side, or being forced to park cars for millions of years while his friends went to a fancy restaurant. But in Douglas Adams’ mixed-up and often terrifyingly random universe, Marvin’s weary resignation was one of the only sane responses to life. Besides, Marvin was more than a piece of miserable machinery, he was also the series’ stoic hero figure—often the only character smart enough to know what was actually going on, he repeatedly saved the lives of his (usually ungrateful) friends at great peril to himself. Whether it meant facing down an intelligent battle tank unarmed or staying behind on a doomed starship while the others teleported to safety, Marvin was always willing (though never eager) to put himself in harm’s way. Perhaps Marvin’s popularity also owed something to Adams’ own identification with the character—though it was inspired by a fellow writer named Andrew Marshall, Marvin’s disconsolate pessimism also came from Adams’ own bouts with depression.

Originally published on avclub.com Feb. 26, 2007 as part of a group-written Inventory feature; I wrote the sections on Tonto (and Kato), R2D2, Nobody, Inigo Montoya, Dr. Pretorius, Marvin, and Mouse. Read the complete article.

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