Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Forbidden Classic


As a forbidden literary critic, I’m well qualified to speak about forbidden classics. “Westward the Women” is ignored for at least four reasons, any one of which would disqualify it for proper consideration in today’s politically-correct climate, when true free expression is a chimera. These are the four reasons:

!.) A PROBLEMATIC RELATIONSHIP. The relationship between the two aptly-named leads, “Buck” (Robert Taylor) and “Fifi” (Denise Darcel) is one of the most fascinating in all film, but it starts out as a very dysfunctional relationship, because these are two complex, and in their own ways, dysfunctional personalities. There’s at least one surprising moment of cruelty between them. An almost shocking moment, or two moments, which must throw people. Yet the moments help to explain their relationship, as I intend to clarify.

2.) A PROBLEMATIC THEME. The movie is about the settling of the West. The settling of America, which is one of the great feats of human history, given that the settling led to the creation of the greatest civilization the world has known. It’s extremely unfashionable to say this, even though it’s true. The settling was accomplished with an amount of cruelty, hardship, and pain, no doubt, but that doesn’t detract from the achievement. The movie gives an indication of what a great achievement it was. Anyone who’s driven out to Cali and back has an idea of the nature of the difficulty, the vastness of the space. Sorry, but that a couple million or so people were scattered across that enormous emptiness beforehand is no argument against the achievement.

3.) ALTERNATE FEMINISM. The movie depicts an alternate feminist vision. One might call it Sarah Palin feminism—a world where women can shoot better than any man. (A side note. In another life before I ever started writing, I spent a lot of time pistol shooting. The best target shooter I knew then was a woman.) Worse than shooting, the women in the film also are interested in having babies! This is kind of a necessary corollary to the settling of a continent idea. Let’s keep in mind as well that the film was made in 1951, during the postwar baby boom, when babies were on everyone’s mind. Guns and babies! This isn’t Gloria Steinem feminism, folks. The date of the movie, and the exhibited strength of the women in the film—likely the strongest collection of women in any film-- shows that the alternate version of feminism actually came first. (The women in the movie are stronger than the men.) (Another side note: It’s no accident that western states like Wyoming were the first to grant voting rights to women. In those spaces of nature, women had long since demonstrated and taken their equality.)

4.) WISE PATRIARCH. If I haven’t already lost all of my p.c. readers, the fourth problem should chase any laggards away. “Westward the Women” contains a wise patriarch, Roy Whitman (John McIntire), the Moses-like visionary who settled the valley the wagon train is headed to. Whitman serves the purpose of one of three tutors or guides to our hero, Buck. The other tutors are Fifi, and an unusual cowboy named Ito. Whitman, who’s a minor character compared to the revealed heroes of the film, dies halfway through the journey, which leaves the new generation abandoned, but also allows them to complete the journey themselves. Like all good artistic journeys, it’s not simply a journey to a physical destination, but a journey toward fulfillment and understanding of themselves.

Despite all this untrendy matter, it’s a fabulous, fabulous movie. If you’re not moved and entertained by it you’re not a human being!

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