Using a bait-and-switch approach, TNT and Galen Films coax viewers to view “Big Guns Talk: The Story of the Western.” Promising to explore “myths, legends, heroes, stars, history and the tremendous impact of the Western film genre on our culture,” the paste-up spec, whose history lesson includes few pre-War World II oaters, looks like little more than a promo for TNT’s Western library.
Docu reels off a two-hour retro without mention of Harry Carey, Buck Jones or Fred Thomson, just for starters. Or Ken Maynard, Tim McCoy, William Desmond, Bob Steele, Yakima Canutt, Johnny Mack Brown, William Boyd (“Hopalong Cassidy”), Rex Bell, George O’Brien, Richard Dix or, unbelievably, Hoot Gibson, to mention only a few among the missing. Silent pics are skipped. It’s history without founders or foundation. Straight-faced.
Though press kit boasts “memorable clips from more than 100 contemporary and classic films spanning every generation,” docu includes only a glimpse of the great William S. Hart, whose picture’s flashed on the screen without i.d. His name’s mentioned later.
Tom Mix, whom the late William K. Everson, program’s senior film consultant, described elsewhere as “the most popular Western star of them all,” doesn’t get a nod in the roundup.
Western serials, which influenced and energized generations of youngsters in darkened Saturday matinees, earn nary a mention. Several commentators deplore the way Westerns portrayed Indians, blacks, Asians and Latinos; these guilty Westerns were, of course, reflecting the dismal attitudes toward all minorities both in most films and in society at large. Westerns hardly sired bigotry.
“Big Guns” does talk about and show a few feet from 1903’s “The Great Train Robbery,” but not a word about the magnificent 1923 “The Covered Wagon,” photographed so masterfully by Karl Brown. The docu’s film consultant Everson, in his “A Pictorial History of the Western Film,” described “Wagon” as “one of the perhaps no more than half-dozen [key Western films] that have made a major contribution to the development of the genre.” Rates at least a bow in this spesh.
Nor does Cecil B. DeMille’s historic 1913 “The Squawman,” with Dustin Farnum and Red Wing, qualify; the 1991 “City Slickers” does. Maybe there’s no way for Galen and TNT to get footage of silent films, but stills and extensive references would seem obligatory in a story about Westerns.
James Garner strolls around Warner Bros.’ backlot, verbally and genially leading the way from one film spurt to another, and Western-connected celebs contribute opinions and anecdotes. Kris Kristofferson amusingly reveals that Sam Peckinpah “simply forgot” to paint blood on the actor in his death scene in “Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid.”
“Hollywood stopped making big Westerns,” notes Garner. Someone, maybe supervising writer Georgia Searle or Harvey Ardman and John Budris, who created the program’s “treatment” with Searle, should explain the rules of what was to be included here. As entertainment or as film history, “Big Guns” goes phfft