Many a fellow still likes a good Western film and recently John Wayne has been given a wide showing of many of his screen adventures.
On our way to the Regal Cinema in Dunscroft back in the 1940s blackout we would excitedly exclaim ‘It’s a cowboy night!’ We got to know our cowboy heroes very well indeed. There was the much seen Hoppalong Cassidy; the singing cowboys Gene Autry and Roy Rodgers, sturdier characters like Jack Palance, William Boyd, James Stewart, and the best of all, the great John Wayne. William Boyd was always done up in his black attire with a touch of silver on his belt and boots.
The thrilling escapades of all these western worthies were worth every penny of the seven (old money) that we paid for our seats.
An equally fascinating aspect of these wild west yarns were the horses themselves. These played a major part in winding things up to a fever pitch of thrill as they tore down the streets of frontier towns or thundered across the open prairie. But didn’t those falling beasts make you wince. The gilt was taken off the ginger bread for me when I later read that the earliest films actually used trip wires, and that the awful business was stopped as scores of horses were injured or killed.
The training of horses for these westerns was certainly big business and some of them became stars in their own right. You will remember the renowned ‘Trigger’, Roy Rodgers’ mount. His trainer taught him over 30 tricks which he could perform on the word of command. He could dance, trot, rear up, lash out, play dead - you name it, he could do it. This incredible bronco starred in nearly ninety films and when he died at the grand old age of 33, Roy Rodgers called in a taxidermist, whose handiwork saw this famous charger immortalised in the actor’s Californian Museum.
Sometimes the reality behind the apparent bravado was quite a different story. The facade of William Boyd in fact hid a man who was really quite afraid of horses, and nor was Jack Palance much of a horseman.
Who can forget the marvellous Smoky in ‘Cat Ballou’ where he leans, cross-legged against a building, looking just as drunk as Lee Marvin. It was all great diversion to see. There were the great epics like, ‘Paint Your Wagon’, (a film that used 500 horses), but John Wayne saw no less than 2,500 used in ‘The Undefeated’, I well recall seeing the great film, ‘Stage Coach’ for the first time.
Yes - memory brings again those wonderfully stirring scenes. There was something unforgettably moving at the sight of a lone stallion going flat out across the scrubland, a long dusty wake behind him, and his rider’s bandana streaming in the wind. Poetry in motion! Next week Part 48 - When We Enjoyed Our Hedges.