April Highlights on TCM
'50s Westerns (April 11, 8pm)--In the 1950s, the Western reached a kind of peak. It's often been said that the genre was almost synonymous with the development of cinema: it was defined by vast open spaces, by movement, and by conflicts and triumphs and tragedies played out on an enormous scale. The introduction of widescreen moviemaking in the early '50s added a crucial visual element to the Western--those desert floors and mountain ranges and prairies became even more visually dramatic in the wider aspect ratios. The post-war mood that set the template for film noir began to permeate Westerns in the late '40s, and it added another interesting element. On April 11, TCM has programmed a good selection of Westerns made between 1955 and 1959. Three of those pictures--The Man from Laramie, 3:10 to Yuma and Ride Lonesome--were made by directors who started in the '40s working in other genres (war films, noir, romances) and became true masters of the genre. One of those directors, Delmer Daves, was a Westerner through and through--his grandfather was a wagon master who did 19 crossings from Missouri to Utah, and Daves himself knew every corner of the American West and kept a vast library devoted to its history. Anthony Mann's Westerns, with and without James Stewart, also take place in a rich variety of Western landscapes, and they're extremely different experiences--the relationships between the characters, and between those characters and the forests and mountains and plains they're traveling through, is tough, punishing and sometimes shockingly violent. Budd Boetticher's pictures with Randolph Scott are altogether different--they were made for much lower budgets than most of Mann's and Daves' pictures and they're more intimate and elemental. Edward Dmytryk's excellent Warlock, which is something of a variation on the Wyatt Earp/Doc Holliday story (with Henry Fonda and Anthony Quinn), is also included in the program and so is John Ford's The Searchers. There's been so much said and written about The Searchers over the years, and we've visited and re-visited it many times in this column. It's one of the precious few truly essential films we have: essential to cinema, essential to American culture, just plain essential. Every time I see the picture, it becomes more unsettling, mysterious and powerful. You look at it again and again within the context of different eras and it keeps growing, changing, taking on new dimensions. It's a like a new movie every time. The same can be said of 2001: A Space Odyssey, also showing this month, which came out only 12 years after The Searchers but seems at first glance like it came from another century. People used to say that the science fiction film replaced or displaced the Western, and I suppose that there's some truth to that. And, as is the case with The Searchers, Kubrick's film is so brave and goes so deep that labels like Western or science fiction are finally beside the point. They both virtually defined their genres, and in so doing they left them behind. To say it simply, both pictures, among the greatest ever made, are complete and singular experiences.
by Martin Scorsese