My Favorite “Western” Movie

I spent Saturday just relaxing in the hotel room, reading, writing and watching some TV.

The “Western” genre of TV shows and movies has never been one of my favorites. My dad loved watching “Bonanza”, “Gunsmoke”, “Rawhide” and others, but growing up in the age of space travel and technological leaps, my passion has always been science fiction, fueled by TV shows from my youth like “The Outer Limits”, “Lost in Space”, and “Star Trek.”

But there has always been one Western movie that I have loved watching, even though my first exposure to it was not the movie itself but rather through its theme music, and I got to watch it on AMC Saturday.

When I was 8 or 9, cigarette commercials were still a staple of TV advertising and Marlboro started using some western-themed music in their ads that grabbed my attention. I thought it was just some music written especially for the ad, but when I was 13 or so I found out that it was actually from a major motion picture score that had been written by Elmer Bernstein.

I was in my junior high school’s band playing trombone and I was very good (first chair) because I practiced, not only the music we played in school, but other music on my own. At my request, my mom bought me albums from the “Big Band” era which had lots of brass instruments, but also more modern instrumental groups such as “Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass” (as a 13 year old I LOVED the album cover of “Whipped Cream & Other Delights”! lol). One day she came home with a “Great Motion Picture Themes” album that included a theme that was very familiar and as I played it on our huge console stereo, I recognized the music from the cigarette commercials and discovered that score was for the movie, “The Magnificent Seven.” I’ve had the music on my computer and mp3 player for years now.

When I finally watched the movie for the first time in my mid-teens, I discovered that it wasn’t only the musical part of the film that I enjoyed. The story and characters intrigued me. I found out later that it was an adaptation of Kurosawa‘s 1954 film, “Seven Samurai”, with the setting changed to a western and the characters to gunfighters in the old West. I think the theme of all-too human yet selfless heroes defending and inspiring the defenseless appealed to me, but I also think the music made a connection that my general disinterest in Westerns could not overcome. Now, it is one of the few Western movies I can watch over and over and always enjoy.

The movie is full of great dialog. Here’s one of my favorite lines, out of many, spoken by Charles Bronson’s character when some young boys complain that their fathers are cowards because they are just farmers instead of gunfighters:

“Don’t you ever say that again about your fathers, because they are not cowards. You think I am brave because I carry a gun; well, your fathers are much braver because they carry responsibility, for you, your brothers, your sisters, and your mothers. And this responsibility is like a big rock that weighs a ton. It bends and it twists them until finally it buries them under the ground. And there’s nobody says they have to do this. They do it because they love you, and because they want to. I have never had this kind of courage. Running a farm, working like a mule every day with no guarantee anything will ever come of it. This is bravery. That’s why I never even started anything like that… that’s why I never will.”

How can you go wrong with dialog like that?

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