Throughout history Americans have had a fascination with unexplored, uncharted, and
untamed territory. Never has this been so pronounced as with the American west.
Stories of bravery, new peoples, cultures, and strange new lands have enchanted
Americans for nearly two centuries. This attraction is strikingly prominent in the film
history of the west. Yet, despite it's early and lasting popularity, the Western has not
until recent years attracted the attention of interpretive critics. Many critics viewed
Westerns as an escapist, immature medium. "Discussions of Westerns characterized the
genre as endlessly repetitive, utterly simple in form, and naive in its attitudes (Cook 64) ."
However, since the late 1960's Westerns have been recognized, "similar to other forms of
popular culture, as a useful barometer of shifting currents in American society and
culture (Etulain 3)." The development of the western film genre in American film culture
has progressed in manner, style, and ideology, and can be tracked in association with the
political, societal, and cultural trends of the last 90 years.
The first westerns were the same as many other first films, merely scientific
recordings of actual events such as wild west shows and rodeos. The first Western with
any content was The Great Train Robbery (1903). While still very primitive it gave much of
the stock form to westerns that exists today.
"It established the essential formula of crime, pursuit, showdown, and justice,
and within its ten minute running span it included, in addition to the train
robbery itself, elements of fisticuffs, horseback pursuit and gunplay, along with
suggestions of small child appeal, and probably the first introduction of that clichÃÂ©
to be, the saloon bullies forcing a dude into a dance (Everson 15)."
As train robberies and similar crimes were not uncommon in the early nineteen hundreds