The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 80, July 1976 - April, 1977

Southwestern Historical Quarterly

The Filming of the West. By Jon Tuska. (Garden City, New York: Double-
day and Co., Inc. 1976. Pp. ix+614. Illustrations, appendix, index.
$14.95-)
Whether you consider the "Western" a favorite diversion or an art form,
Jon Tuska's The Filming of the West will likely both please and disappoint
you. By concentrating on the producers, directors, writers, and stars of
what he considers to be the best one hundred motion pictures on the West,
Tuska set out to write a history of the industry as it pertained to the film-
ing of Westerns. His use of interviews with numerous important personali-
ties of the industry might have produced an entertaining as well as informa-
tive study. But his book is marred by an excessive preoccupation with
inter- and intra-studio conflicts, budgeting problems, and other aspects of
motion picture producing. Even the intimate details of the stars' lives are
less captivating than they might be, because they are inserted into the nar-
rative in clumsy and haphazard fashion.
Yet, there are rewards for the patient reader. Tuska's inside stories ex-
plode a few myths and tarnish a few idols. For example, we learn (if we
did not already know) that Tom Mix did not fight in a single war. Nor
did he ride with the Texas Rangers. Gene Autry emerges as more the cold-
blooded entrepreneur than the pleasant character he portrayed on the
screen. When informed that he could have his deceased horse and faithful
companion Champion bronzed for $2,500, stuffed for $i,500, or buried
for $50o, Autry replied, "Bury him!" (p. 480).
Tuska's analysis of Westerns as an art form is the book's main strength.
Character portrayal, he demonstrates, evolved from the excessive melo-
drama of early heroes to a "natural style." Simultaneously the flamboyant
heroes emerged. Adopting a distinctive albeit unrealistic style of dress, and
performing their own stunts, they made sensational action sequences that
dominated low-budget westerns until the singing cowboy came along to
charm rather than excite audiences. Tuska maintains that films of the
post World War II era have increasingly portrayed heroes as lonely, isol-
ated, and aloof and, more recently, have denied the existence of heroes.
"The conquest of a continent and the conquest of the personality" (p.
58o), Tuska believes, are the dominant themes in Westerns. He maintains
that the theme of the West as a land of opportunity that must be kept so
by righteous, able, and strong men has, to a great extent, given way to the
image of the West as a savage, unjust world in which violence is therapy
against despair. But he also emphasizes that John Wayne's films, by stick-
ing to traditional values, have far outgrossed the pessimistic ones. The
emerging conclusion is that the American people are not yet done with

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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 80, July 1976 - April, 1977. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101204/. Accessed August 20, 2014.