The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 85, July 1981 - April, 1982

102 Southwestern Historical Quarterly
tive and encouraging collection of essays. Collectively, they raise more
questions than they answer. If the editor's intent was to spur further
interest and research, he has succeeded.
Institute of Texan Cultures W. PHIL HEWITT
Showdown: Confronting Modern America in the Western Film. By
John H. Lenihan. (Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 1980.
Pp. 214. Introduction, bibliography, index. $12.96.)
The rising interest in courses in popular culture has spawned an
increasing number of studies that seek to show how certain media can
mirror or gauge changing attitudes about major contemporary politi-
cal, social, and intellectual concerns. An example of this approach is
Showdown: Confronting Modern America in the Western Film by
John H. Lenihan, a history professor at Texas A8cM University. In a
reworked version of his doctoral dissertation, Lenihan draws on a
variety of sources-film reviews, press books, interviews, and his own
viewing of over 500 Western films-to determine the extent to which
movies reflected attitudes from 1945 to 1978, a period fraught with
anxieties about foreign affairs, ethnic problems, social progress, and
challenges to traditional beliefs and institutions. The result is a well-
written, sophisticated analysis that sharply delineates the role that
movies play in mirroring the national character.
Lenihan divides his book into six chapters: Introduction (which
also should be read as a conclusion, for there is none); Western For-
mula; Cold War-Path; Racial Attitudes; Postwar Alienation from the
Good Society; Society in the 1950s: Complacent or Plaintive; and
Against the Establishment. The author's approach is both provocative
and subjective. Focusing on some twenty-five Westerns-Broken
Arrow, Shane, High Noon, Gunfighter, etc.-he discusses plot sum-
maries against a backdrop of contemporary national concerns. Unlike
other students of Westerns, Lenihan sees the Western formula-
stressing individual heroism and social progress-as flexible, accom-
modative, and as a barometer of the social scene. He sees national
anxieties during the Cold War and Korea reflected in Westerns that
stressed negotiation with the Indian, the desire for peaceful coexis-
tence on the frontier, and a disenchantment with American policies.
At the same time, writers and producers of Westerns, sensitive to Mc-
Carthyism and investigations for un-American activities, carefully
skirted racial issues, and expressed social criticism primarily through

Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 85, July 1981 - April, 1982. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101208/. Accessed July 14, 2014.