For generations of filmgoers, the Oscar/box office success of “Unforgiven” and “Dances With Wolves” and such TV fare as “Lonesome Dove” is sweet revenge for the naysayers who claimed the Western genre was dead. Give ’em a good shootout and they will come.
A total of six gun sagas and sagebrush dramas are a fixin’ to corral a new audience. But it’s been fully two decades since oaters were a significant staple of the production diet.
Eastwood deserves a special award as the man who picked up John Wayne’s mantle and kept the Western alive when all others were moving into science-fiction and buddy-cop movies. “Pale Rider” ranked as the 13th top grosser in 1985, a year that also saw the revisionist “Silverado” chew up a lot of dust.
Between 1975 and 1985, Eastwood was virtually the only rider on the horizon. The others included more modern variants such as “Urban Cowboy” and “The Electric Horseman.”
Just one year earlier, four Westerns were among the year’s top 10 –“Blazing Saddles,””The Trial of Billy Jack” and reissues of the original “Billy Jack” and “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.”
Just prior to 1974, the marketplace embraced both traditional fare such as “The Cowboys” and 1970’s second-biggest grosser, the offbeat “Little Big Man.”
However, for die-hards, 1969 was the last great ride. Audiences experienced cinematic saddle sores from Butch and Sundance, “True Grit,””The Wild Bunch, “”Once Upon a Time in the West,””Support Your Local Sheriff” and a passle of others including Burt and Raquel in “100 Rifles” and the Duke in “The Undefeated.”