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Fountains of Wayne

John Wayne died 32 years ago, but he’s still one of the most popular actors in America: number three on the most recent (2010) Harris Poll, following Johnny Depp and Denzel Washington. He’s also the only (forcibly) retired actor in the top ten, and well as the only star to make the list every year since 1994.

And with this week’s surge of pre-Father’s Day releases, he may be the classic star best represented on Blu-ray: new to the market are “The Horse Soldiers” (John Ford, 1959) and “The Comancheros” (Michael Curtiz, with an assist from Wayne, 1961), both from Fox/MGM, and two late efforts from Paramount, “Rio Lobo” (the final film signed by Howard Hawks, 1970) and “Big Jake” (the final film signed by George Sherman, though again Wayne is said to have taken over for the aging director). Hurried considerations of all four in this week’s New York Times column, as well as some speculations on the evolution of Wayne’s image over his fifty year career.

140 comments to Fountains of Wayne

  • Barry Putterman

    Robert, I did not and have not yet listened to the radio episodes of “Gunsmoke” (which not only starred William Conrad as Matt Dillon, but featured the late, great Parley Baer as Chester Goode), but I know that I must. For the radio show was also produced by Norman MacDonnell and written by John Mesten, who, along with writer Kathleen Hite, were the backbone of the television episodes as well

    And that underlines the necessity of thoroughly knowing network radio history in order to fully understand its central role in creating television history, not only in specific cases such as “Gunsmoke” or Jack Benny, or “The Life of Riley,” but in general genre themes and structures as well.

    By the way, as I understand it, Merian Cooper was probably also shouting “Communists!” at that some point.

  • Barry Putterman

    Blake, I just saw your post and I must say that your questions about “Gunsmoke” are one which are constantly with me. How did they manage to portray this vision of life in the context of network television and become so enormously popular through it. It really wasn’t the times. The two shows which I think successfully modeled themselves on “Gunsmoke” and its viewpoint, “The Westerner” and the 1960 “Outlaws,” were both commercial failures.

    The shortest of shorthands I can give for this is that the show created a Fordian community of a town and a Hawksian family of continuing characters, and with that as an audience friendly foundation went on to examine a world view of bleak isolation, lonesomeness and tragedy. If it helps to give you any kind of perspective, I’ve always thought of “The Andy Griffith Show” as “Gunsmoke” re-imagined as a sitcom.

  • Patrick Henry

    In a Mill Creek potpourri, “Ultimate TV Westerns,” I recently came upon a “Bat Masterson” episode, “Stampede at Tent City,” which guest-stars William Conrad, Joan Marshall (aka Jean Arless in HOMICIDAL; here she’s much more appealing) and James Best–a sort of a vest pocket version of THE OX-BOW INCIDENT. Directed and co-written by one David Friedkin, it’s unusally good.

  • “I remember a show where Matt and Chester are pursuing the outlaws and finally find them and, out of sight of them, have them covered. Chester asked Matt “What are we going to do, Mister Dillon?” And Matt said “We’re going to kill them Chester.” Just barely surprised Chester nodded in assent as I recall and on Matt’s signal they open fire and simply shoot and kill all the outlaws.”

    “Gunsmoke” was neo-conservative godfather Leo Strauss’s favorite TV show:

    Stanley Rosen, Pupil of Leo Strauss:

    “Strauss was a great fan of American television. Gunsmoke was his great favorite, and he would hurry home from the seminar, which would end at, you know, 5:30 or so, and have a quick dinner so he could be at his seat before the television set when Gunsmoke came on. And he felt that this was good, this show. This had a salutary effect on the American public, because it showed the conflict between good and evil in a way that would be immediately intelligible to everyone.”

    Strauss believed that the liberal idea of individual freedom led people to question everything—all values, all moral truths. This threatened to tear apart the shared values which held society together. But there was a way to stop this, Strauss believed. It was for politicians to assert powerful and inspiring myths that everyone could believe in. They might not be true, but they were necessary illusions. One of these was religion; the other was the myth of the nation. And in America, that was the idea that the country had a unique destiny to battle the forces of evil throughout the world. This myth was epitomized, Strauss told his students, in his favorite television program: Gunsmoke.

  • jbryant

    Barry: Now you’ve got me pondering the parallels between Chester Goode and Barney Fife (to say nothing of Festus Haggen and Gomer Pyle).

  • Johan Andreasson

    James Arness, whose family came from Norway, was extremely popular in Scandinavia. The big thing here was not GUNSMOKE, but the 1978 TV series THE MACAHANS. It made the front pages of most Swedish papers is that “Uncle Zeb” had died.

    I don’t think THE MACAHANS was that big a deal in the U.S. It was the same way when Tony Curtis passed a while back. Here the TV series THE PERSUADERS was a big hit and “Danny Wilde” made the headlines, with Curtis’s movies mentioned as a footnote.

  • Robert Garrick

    I love the information on Leo Strauss. Strauss was, like our host, associated with the University of Chicago. His belief in the importance of shared cultural experiences and rituals is right out of the John Ford playbook. A group of people singing “Shall We Gather at the River” at a funeral? He would have loved that.

  • Barry:
    “the necessity of thoroughly knowing network radio history in order to fully understand its central role in creating television history”

    Agreed. In many ways, American TV is best thought of as “radio with pictures added”.
    Similarly, US comic books can be described as “pulp magazines with illustrations added.”
    I agree with you about how downbeat GUNSMOKE is, especially the only time frame I’ve seen much of (1961 -1966).

    While I like the whole cast (Dennis Weaver is especially good), it’s True Confession time:
    I often prefer Westerns that are glitzier and more upbeat. The dazzling color design and more light-hearted plots of THE BIG VALLEY and THE VIRGINIAN are inauthentic,
    entertainment oriented – and really fun to watch.
    Even middle-aged auteurists from Detroit might look good in James Drury’s red-and-black cowboy outfit 🙂

    I agree that many conservatives are tireless in seeing Westerns and detective stories as Good vs Evil, and hence examples of “conservative values”.

    But may this liberal offer some dissent?
    First, we liberals believe in morality, too!

    Second, GUNSMOKE, like many other TV Westerns of the 1960’s, was very strongly pro-Native American. And by extension, strongly pro-Civil Rights.
    GUNSMOKE had a good guy Native American regular, the blacksmith (played by an uber-hunky Burt Reynolds).
    And stories like I CALL HIM WONDER and CHIEF JOSEPH offer startlingly powerful commentary on Native American rights.

  • Barry Putterman

    x, in a way it is a comfort to know that Strauss misinterpreted “Gunsmoke” as badly as he did a country’s social needs. The series is much closer to Eastwood’s PERFECT WORLD than Strauss’.

    Mike, “I Call Him Wander” is one of my favorite episodes. But I really wouldn’t characterize it as liberal.

    jbryant, I think you’ve got the general idea here. But you are going to have a much tougher time equating Aunt Bea with Miss Kitty.

  • jbryant

    Barry, clearly Helen Crump is the Miss Kitty in this equation. But who’s Doc? — Otis? Floyd? Howard Sprague? Somehow, none of them seem to fit.

    Johann, a Swedish friend of mine in another forum mentioned that about Arness’s Scandinavian popularity in THE MACAHANS. I didn’t know that before. Over here, the series was called HOW THE WEST WAS WON, having been spun off from the film of that name.

  • Robert Regan

    Early tv was indeed “radio with pictures”. This worked fine with the musical and quiz shows and dramas, but the westerns and other adventure series suffered by comparison to their models. Having been a fan of The Lone Ranger for some years, I couldn’t bear the tackiness of its tv incarnation. They rode past the same rock every week, and an Indian attack was a half dozen white guys in make-up. The power of radio to inspire our imaginations produced spectacular vitas and hordes equalling what we saw in the best movies. That was beyond the budgetary limitations of tv. Things got a little better by the time Gunsmoke came along.

  • An early childhood memory is being teased by my father for pronouncing Macahans Mack-ah-haans.

    And Johan (and possibly jbryant), when we’re talking about western series on Swedish television we must’t forget BONANZA. My thesis is admittedly primarily about Hasse Ekman, but BONANZA was big enough a cultural phenomenon to warrant a couple of sentences. If I may be permitted to quote from the thesis: “Among the most popular foreign TV-series were the American western series Bonanza, which was first shown in Sweden in 1959 (and lead to a debate about violence on TV and its effect on society), and later in the 1960s the British The Forsyte Saga. And the most popular Swedish TV-show was Hylands hörna (Hyland’s Corner), which ran from 1962 to 1983 and was a Swedish version of The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson.”

    My own favourite was THE PERSUADERS.

  • ” GUNSMOKE, like many other TV Westerns of the 1960′s, was very strongly pro-Native American. And by extension, strongly pro-Civil Rights.”

    That aptly sums up the “Gunsmoke” of the 1960s, but the 1950s episodes so admired by Strauss were the half hour ones with their necessarily simple plots (one reason why Strauss may have misinterpreted the series). Some of the 50s episodes were good when they had directors who brought a little inspiration to the material though.

  • Robert Garrick

    I’ve read all these posts and while everyone seems to agree that Strauss “misinterpreted” “Gunsmoke,” I can’t see where anyone has actually made an argument to support that view. I think Strauss’s argument, which x359594 describes in his first post, is easy enough to understand, and I can’t see how it’s obviously “wrong.” It’s fine to disagree with Strauss’s entire philosophy, but I don’t believe his narrow point involving “Gunsmoke” is incorrect.

    The people on this board need to be careful. x359 sets forth the argument well, but it’s easy to be confused when Strauss says “liberal.” That term could just as easily mean “libertarian” (today, mostly a creature of the right) in today’s usage. And obviously, there’s nothing inherently “conservative” or “liberal” about a film that superficially portrays a battle between good and evil.

  • Barry Putterman

    Robert, x’s initial post states that Strauss felt that “Gunsmoke” “showed the conflict between good and evil in an easy way that would be immediately intelligible to everyone.” And I said that the presentation was closer to Eastwood’s A PERFECT WORLD. So, unless you want to make the case that the Eastwood film fits the Strauss definition, I would say that you are the one who is confused.

  • What Strauss had in mind was the USA as (his idea of) Marshall Matt Dillion, righting the wrongs of the world, especially with the black hats hiding behind the iron curtain.

  • Robert Garrick

    Barry, the reasoning is in the last paragraph of X’s original post. The notion that society needs shared myths and cultural icons to hang together is neither a conservative idea nor an idea that involves “good and evil.” It’s a lot more complicated than that. Strauss thought that people needed to believe in “good and evil,” and he wanted those ideas to evolve naturally, not to be imposed on society by government. But he didn’t necessary think that “good and evil” were values that were easy to define. Strauss was not a political partisan like Paul Krugman or Jonah Goldberg. He wasn’t too concerned with economics or with rational maximizing, either. His ideas have been adopted by some conservatives (notably William F. Buckley) but others, including Strauss’s own daughter, would not place him there.

    This isn’t an easy area and we don’t want to get into it. Another University of Chicago professor and “father of the neoconservative movement,” Daniel Bell, was critical of Strauss. (Bell was also a socialist.)

    I commented not because I want to start a discussion of Leo Strauss, which would certainly be off-topic, but because I thought the initial dismissals of him as a simple “conservative” who had misunderstood “Gunsmoke” and whose ideas could somehow be reduced to “good and evil” were inappropriate.

    P.S. Barry–I think you are on to something when you compare Eastwood to Strauss.

  • Robert Garrick

    X, when Strauss died in 1973, he wasn’t crazy about the way things were going in either country. It’s also a fact that Strauss’s critics have compared him to both Trotsky and Lenin. One thing I can tell you for sure is that he wasn’t a guy who believed in white hats and black hats.

  • Barry Putterman

    Robert, the only one who was reducing something to a simple good vs. evil was Strauss’ completely off the mark description of “Gunsmoke” as quoted by x at 2:48 and repeated by me at 8:43. I don’t know a whole lot more about his belief system beyond that, but if he is so entirely clueless regarding his analysis of a television series to which he was devoted, I would suspect that much of the rest of what he says will be equally suspect. Exactly what Paul Krugman and Daniel Bell have to do with that is beyond me.

    And seriously, if you really think that Eastwood’s films can be equated with what you are describing as Strauss’ ideas I would suggest that you take a very long refresher course on his career. Or at least try to read Dave Kehr’s piece on SUDDEN IMPACT in “When Movies Mattered” with some degree of understanding.

  • “It’s also a fact that Strauss’s critics have compared him to both Trotsky and Lenin.”

    Yes, but as the anti-Lenin and anti-Trotsky, but particularly Trotsky since so many of his neo-con followers were ex-Trots who’s ideological program was to turn Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution into permanent counter-revolution.

    But I fear we’re drifting far off topic now, I prefer to have tendency and ideological discussions at

  • Robert Garrick

    Barry, I know a little bit about Strauss but not so much about “Gunsmoke”–I rarely watched the show. But my parents did (it was really the only show they watched) and it was always my impression that they wanted Matt Dillon to prevail over the various homicidal maniacs who drifted into town. Would I be going out on a limb to suggest that most Americans–maybe every last one-felt the same way?

    In other words: “Gunsmoke” “showed the conflict between good and evil in a way that would be immediately intelligible to everyone.”

    To me, that’s blindingly obvious. To you, it’s “completely off the mark.” So we disagree.

    That’s not to say that good and evil were presented simplistically in “Gunsmoke.” I understand that Dillon was a complicated, scarred character, not always the nicest guy, not always successful, etc. But I think the viewers were unanimously on his side, and that is Strauss’s point. His other point is that such shared experiences were a good thing for society.

    The idea that certain “myths” (such as that America is a force for good) are required for all governments comes straight out of Plato’s “Republic.”

    Strauss’s legacy was carried on at the University of Chicago by Allan Bloom and Saul Bellow, who wrote about his great friend Bloom in his last book “Ravelstein.” Our host has [wisely] stayed out of this discussion, but it’s more than possible that he came in contact with some of these ideas while he was at Chicago, starting in 1971.

    As for Eastwood, I was thinking more of “Gran Torino,” where two disparate social types (grumpy old vaguely racist ex-autoworker and his immigrant Hmong neighbors) gradually reach a natural accommodation, as a result of experience, and learn to function together in society. I think Strauss would have enjoyed the Eastwood character in this film–both as an angry skeptic early on, and later as one who makes the ultimate sacrifice.

    And finally to X (I always visualize you as Ray Milland): there’s no “anti” about it. Noam Chomsky says that Strauss’s theories are a form of Leninism, and Claes Ryn has written that Strauss’s ideas come from Trotsky. He didn’t mean that in a nice way, either. You are correct that some neoconservatives (Strauss was no longer alive when the term was invented) look to Strauss as their mentor. Whether this is appropriate remains controversial.

  • Johan Andreasson

    I knew there was something familiar about the quote in X’s first post (June 4, 2:48 pm) on the subject of Strauss and GUNSMOKE, and after a nights sleep I remembered that it’s from the Adam Curtis BBC documentary “The Power of Nightmares” concerning the parallel development of modern Islamic radicalism and American Neo-conservatism.

    If anyone is interested in watching it, it’s on YouTube:

    The part about GUNSMOKE is in the first episode: “Baby it’s Cold Outside”.

    I’ve never seen a single episode of GUNSMOKE, but as Fredrik points out BONANZA was big cultural phenomenon in Sweden in the 60s. Maybe someday the BBC will make a documentary analyzing what that says about us.

  • Alex

    Strauss had an important influence on U.S post-WWII conservative foreign policy thinking as a propagator of the belief that elite Machiavellianism was appropriate to the champions of cherished political values in the pursuit of s: Defenders of Freedom, an influence he shared with once-Troskyist James Burnham (author of “The Machiavellians: Defenders of Freedom.) As such he was an important source of the foreign-policy branch of neo-conservatism. He is also viewed as something of disciple of the Plato of “The Republic” with its stress on elite realization of order through proper schooling of the people in right values, another line of thought continuous with neo-conservatism. He was certainly a conse4vative of sports in his political impact; and it would seem to me that there’s good prima facie evidence for considering him a conservative of sorts, whatever he or his daughter might have thought of the identification. ( I write “of sorts” because there are varieties of conservatism Strauss might not have fit: for example, he might not have been a free market conservative, almost certainly was not a libertarian conservative, and might not have been too inclined toward a Burkean discretion in political action. ) Islamist Qubt’s response to “Baby it’s Cold Outside” is pretty scary, though not necessarily so much so as to bar comparison of him with Neo-con architects of the second Iraq War, and their ilk.

    But why an interpretation of “Gunsmoke” in terms of conflict of good versus evil is particularly off the mark escapes my level of recall or subtlety about the show.

  • Barry Putterman

    Robert, it is painfully clear that you don’t know much about “Gunsmoke,” and your characterization of Matt Dillon prevailing over various homicidal maniacs drifting into town is as far off the mark as Strauss’. It encompasses so many false assumptions; that the episodes always had Matt Dillon at the center of the conflict, that the resolutions always came through his positive actions, that the non-regular characters were always drifters, that they were homicidal maniacs, that one hardly knows where to begin in trying to correct the false impressions. About the only thing that I can agree with you and Strauss about is that the audience feels an identity with the continuing characters, which is something you can say about every television series of the period from “Star Trek” to “I Love Lucy.”

    I really don’t want this to turn angry or personal. But seriously, don’t you think it would be a good idea to become more familiar with what is ACTUALLY taking place in “Gunsmoke” episodes before offering an assessment?

    As for Strauss, I agree with x that that is a discussion for another time and another web site. I would be playing a very minor role in it since I am as unfamiliar with his writing as you are with “Gunsmoke.”I would only say that in a general way, however nuanced, I find a philosophy of national exceptionalism to be dangerously misguided and one which often leads to the kinds of tragedies one can sometimes see in “Gunsmoke” episodes.

  • I’ve never seen any of the pre-1960 half-hour episodes of GUNSMOKE, or listened to any of the radio shows.
    And there are many today obscure TV Western series never seen here: ZANE GREY THEATER, TRACKDOWN, BLACK SADDLE, for example. These were all made by Four Star Television, the company that did the high quality IMHO series THE RIFLEMAN and THE BIG VALLEY.

    Consequently, it is real hard for me to answer questions like “How left wing, or right wing, were TV Westerns as a genre?”
    Or: “How many TV Westerns feature a bad guy who rides into town, who then gets blown away by the hero in the final reel?”
    Or: “How many Westerns featured a love interest for the hero?”
    Or: “How many Western heroes wore vests?”

    To be blunt, I think it is also hard for most other people to give informed opinions on these issues. The availability of TV series is just not there.
    We should be very, very cautious about taking sweeping generalizations about old TV as fact. They are likely not based on any really in-depth research.

  • Junko Yasutani

    About GUNSMOKE showing conservative ideology, I have not seen, but thinking of Jean-Pierre’s statement from earlier thread that all movies is political (and TV show too) could be changed to say that all movies is made in ideological context.

    During Japanese fascist period, government required conformity to its ideology, and many movies was showing that ideology, and some movies seemed to show but subtely criticized. My conclusion is, it is difficult to make argument for completely ideological conformity of movie, especially great movie.

  • jbryant

    Mike: Several years ago, TVLand ran episodes of TRACKDOWN. I think for a while there, they were running Westerns on Saturdays, but some shows were seen only sporadically. I caught one episode of TRACKDOWN, and liked it (big Culp fan), but then it went away. Maybe Encore will pick it up someday.

    I suppose since it never hit the magic 100 episodes (it was canceled after 70), it didn’t get into syndication. A DVD set would sure be a nice tribute to Culp, who also wrote at least one episode of the series.

  • Alex

    I take the imputation of a good vs. evil aspect of “Gunsmoke” to require nothing more than a big good guy/bad guy emphasis to be true, which is to imply nothing more than that “Gunsmoke” generally presented pretty routine sorts of (Sheriff-centered) formulaic Westerns episode. Saying Strauss liked them doesn’t say a lot about “Gunsmoke” or Strauss.

  • Alex

    “it is difficult to make argument for completely ideological conformity of movie, especially great movie.”

    This is an pretty useful interpretive guideline, but a bit broad.

    Actually –to name only films I think may reasonably be considered great– I don’t think a films could come much more libertarian than Alessandrini’s “We the Living,” much more Bolshevik than early Eisenstein, much more moderate conservative than “Four Feathers,” much more anarchistic than “If” or much more social democratic (though actually proto- Euro-Communist”) “Umberto D.” or much more an expression of National Liberation Struggle “Battle of Algiers” or much more classically liberal than “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Of course even purer ideological specimens can be provided for ideology if “greatness” is tossed aside (say “The Fountainhead” or “Tucker” for libertarianism).

    I don’t think it’s just a matter of reflection the context of production as opposed to personal convictions that may or may not be in line with such a context. For example Alessandrini’s made “We the Living” under Mussolini (though under the guise of an anti-Soviet film).

  • Junko Yasutani

    ‘I don’t think it’s just a matter of reflection the context of production as opposed to personal convictions that may or may not be in line with such a context.’

    Alex, yes. I was trying to write something like that.

  • Robert Garrick

    Alex has got this one right. The question is not whether “Gunsmoke” was right-or-left wing in its orientation. (Strauss never raised that question, and I don’t know the answer.) The question is whether Marshall Dillon is a hero whom the audience supported week after week after week.

    And the answer to that question, of which I am confident despite my admittedly limited knowledge of the show, is “Yes.”

  • Barry Putterman

    That’s right Robert. And as I said previously in conceding the universality of that point, Lucy Ricardo is also a hero whom the audience supported week after week after week.

    So, now that we are now all in total agreement about something completely inconsequential, can we finally move on to more substantial subjects?

  • “And finally to X (I always visualize you as Ray Milland): there’s no “anti” about it. Noam Chomsky says that Strauss’s theories are a form of Leninism, and Claes Ryn has written that Strauss’s ideas come from Trotsky. ”

    My moniker is my IWW card number.

    As for fellow worker Chomsky (he’s also Wobbly) , he said the same thing about liberal policy makers like Arthur Scheslinger Jr and their journalist mouthpieces like Anthony Lewis. From his anarchosyndicalist perspective, both liberals and conservatives occupy positions on the statist/capitalist spectrum and differ only on the strategy and tactics to be used in the preservation of bourgeois privilege.

    And a crucial difference between Trotsky and Strauss is that comrade Lev was hip enough to collaborate with Andre Breton on the manifesto “Towards a Free Revolutionary Art.” Dig it, fellow workers.

    Thanks Dave Kehr for allowing this off topic discussion to go on as long as it has. No more from me (except on movies.) Robert, the last word is yours if you want it.

  • D. K. Holm

    Inspired by this discussion, I watched the first episode (of three) of the Adam Curtis documentary essay The Power Of Nightmares, and it is interesting. The series sets up surprisingly parallel if unofficial competition between the Neoconservatives, inspired by Leo Strauss via Irving Kristol, versus the Muslim Brotherhood, both following a severe and austere intellectual dogma with the exploitation of religious fervor. The Brotherhood decided that it was OK to bomb fellow Arabs, because society had deteriorated due to Western influence and their victims were no long really Islamic. The Neoconservatives got evangelicals to inspire their brethren to vote, and established a history of imagining weapons where there weren’t any.

    According to some of Strauss’s ex-students, his favorite program was Gunsmoke for the reasons stated here: for Strauss, anyway, the show was a contest between good and evil, which was the basis for his politique, a philosophy that led to the Neoconservatives elevating the Soviets back to “evil empire” status at a time when their society was about to fall apart. But Strauss’s other favorite show was Perry Mason, because Strauss liked the idea that one never really knew if the defendants were really guilty, and that was fine, because to save society, one has to lie or do anything to fight for freedom. Of course, this is a complete misreading of the series, in which Mason is always defending innocent people – he should have watched Anatomy of a Murder instead. Curtis makes the point that the two series show the two sides of Strauss’s “activism.” Aside from the material about the TV shows, Nightmares is a fascinating show so far.

    A friend of mine is re-watching Bonanza, which he once viewed as a kid, and says that the series is different from what he remembered, that there are links to historical incidents of the time in a carefully thought out presentation of a “civilization – garden” conflict.

  • “Gunsmoke trail. Oh tell me of days gone by”. I know the song but never saw the show. Gunsmoke never aired in Finland, but we had Bonanza (like Fredrik and Johan in Sweden), The Virginian, Rawhide, and other popular Western series in the 1960s. The John Wayne connection here seems to be that he was the first choice to play Matt Dillon, and it would have become one of his dark and complex character parts.

  • In the morning news there is an unwelcome Gunsmoke connection… James Arness, rest in peace.

  • Before RIO LOBO thread disappears, want to note it is one of many favorite Hawks films.

    It is unusually rich in camera movement. Especially that Hawks type “showing men walking through an architectural region, usually our first glimpse of that architecture”.

    In general it is one of the most pictorial of Hawks’ films. It has a good use of color, especially in the opening train sequence. The film is also rich in outdoor filming, with a concentration on plants of all sorts.

    I also like the Civil Rights aspects, with three Mexican-American heroes, and a heroine who gives Women’s Lib speeches.
    More thoughts on TV:
    Should each episode of a TV series be regarded as a separate work of art? Or should we talk about the series as a whole, regarding “BONANZA” or “GUNSMOKE” or “MAD MEN” as a unified art work?
    Many people who watch cable TV series like DEADWOOD or THE WIRE prefer the latter approach. I don’t watch much of these series – and who knows, this might be the best approach to current cable TV series like MAD MEN or DEADWOOD.

    But for older American TV, I strongly lean to the other approach: regarding each episode of GUNSMOKE or THE OUTER LIMITS as a separate entity.

    The ONE KILLER ON ICE episode of GUNSMOKE is just packed with subjects and film techniques found in other works of its director, Joseph H. Lewis. It has more in common with other works by Lewis, than it does with other GUNSMOKE episodes, IMHO.

    So it makes sense to regard ONE KILLER ON ICE as a separate work of art.

    We should also pay attention to Andrew Sarris’ claim that it is better to look at the “trees” (individual films) than the “forrest” (Hollywood as a whole).

    Since the death of James Arness a few days ago, vast quantities have been written about him and his work, in the press and on the Internet.
    But hardly anybody talks about actual individual shows in which he appeared.
    This despite that they have been running on US TV for 50 years, and are widely available on DVD and streaming!
    This seems profoundly weird to me. Maybe even a bit …creepy.

    By all means, watch individual GUNSMOKE episodes in which he appeared, such as I CALL HIM WONDER and CHIEF JOSEPH and ONE KILLER ON ICE.
    You will learn more than from all the think-pieces on GUNSMOKE-as-a-whole ever published.

  • jbryant

    Mike, when someone like Arness dies, most of the think-pieces and articles about him are likely to be career summations or appreciations (or obits, of course). I think I would find it profoundly weird (but not creepy) if numerous journalists/critics/bloggers started singling out favorites among the 635 GUNSMOKE episodes. Such pieces may be on the way, however, as Arness’s death inspires sampling or reconsideration of his work.

    That said, surely somewhere on the web is a blog by some GUNSMOKE expert who’s been waiting for the perfect opportunity to unleash his 40-page dissertation on ONE KILLER ON ICE. 🙂

  • Barry Putterman

    Mike, most of the more recent series are set up to be continuous narratives, along the lines of the now all but disappeared daytime serials; while the older series were basically set up to be individual self-contained episodes. So it would be natural to consider the more recent shows in terms of their entirely and the earlier ones in terms of their individual parts.

    However, I don’t see where these approaches have to be mutually exclusive. After all, do we judge people exclusively on either their individual actions or their overall characters? “One Killer on Ice” has many things in common with Joseph H. Lewis’ other works and many things in common with the general run of “Gunsmoke” episodes. I should think that a thorough understanding of both aspects would enrich the enjoyment of watching it from both ends of the spectrum.

    It should be pretty clear that I am in complete agreement with you about the importance of actually watching the shows, but good Lord the amount of time it takes up! “Gunsmoke” alone is well over 500 hours. And then when you think about all of the other shows, it begins to look like asking somebody to become familiar with Japanese cinema from a standing start.

    Which is why, as tempting as shows like “Mad Men” and “The Wire” sound, I know that I’m not going to get to them for a long, long time.

  • To bring us back to John Wayne, here’s a great clip that ties up all loose ends in this thread.