More than any other genre, the Western remains a quintessentially American form
of storytelling. The United States was a country formed by frontiersmen heading
into unchartered territory, fending for themselves against indigenous tribes, other
opportunistic settlers, and even the harsh wilderness itself. Much of what we understand about America and its identity dates back to the Wild West era. In today’s socio-political climate where gun control is increasingly a hot button issue, one need only look at these stories' sheriffs and bandits, lone gunslingers and vicious bounty hunters to garner some understanding of what the Second Amendment originally meant.
The romanticism of the Wild West provides the perfect backdrop for filmmakers to spin adventures of heroics and escapism. It was an era that actively nurtured mythology and celebrities, like Jesse James, Billy the Kid or Wyatt Earp. One of the earliest American films in existence is The Great Train Robbery from 1903. It was John Ford's Stagecoach in 1939, however, that catapulted the genre into the Hollywood mainstream. Throughout the 40s and 50s, its popularity endured, with every major star from James Stewart to Gregory Peck, Humphrey Bogart to Paul Newman, getting into the saddle to try their hand at gunslinging.
However, by the 1960s, Hollywood audiences had tired of the Wild West, until the ever-opportunistic Italians recognised they could produce their own Westerns at home, for considerably less money. Sergio Leone led the way in creating the so-called Spaghetti Westerns, making stars out of actors like Clint Eastwood and Franco Nero in the process. This European sensibility that favoured visuals and operatics over politics and allegory helped restore the public's interest in Westerns, a sentiment which Eastwood himself has been integral in upholding to this very day.
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