It is Legends of Western Cinema Week, folks! Two of my favorite blogs, A Lantern in Her Hand and Meanwhile, in Rivendell, have teamed up to bring us a week of wonderful western movie fun, which you know makes me as pleased as punch. They promise to post all kinds of fun things on their own blogs all week, and I've got a couple of posts lined up for my more movie-oriented blog, Hamlette's Soliloquy, too. But I thought I'd kick my contributions off with a post here about some of my favorite western movies that are based on books I have also read, and kind of how they compare in the two mediums. (I'm doing them in alphabetical order, not order of how well I like them.)
This one is a little wonky, just because first it was a short story called "The Gift of Cochise" by Louis L'Amour, then they made it into a movie, and then L'Amour wrote a novelization of the movie script. I've never read the short story, but I've read the novel (my review here), and it's so enjoyable. Because it's based on the movie, it's exceedingly similar, both in plot and characterization.
Hondo is the story of Hondo Lane (John Wayne), an army scout who happens on an isolated ranch run by Mrs. Lowe (Geraldine Page), who lives there alone with her young son while her ne'er-do-well husband roams around the countryside. There's an Indian uprising brewing, and Hondo tries to convince Mrs. Lowe to take her son to the fort until things calm down, but she refuses because she say her family and the Apache war chief Vittorio have an agreement to live in peace, and she trusts him.
This story has an unusual love story, a strong (if naive) female lead, and lots of exciting action. I really like both book and movie! One advantage the book has, of course, is that you learn more of what both Hondo and Mrs. Lowe are thinking, and their romance grows a little more slowly and believably as a result.
The Mark of Zorro
Johnston McCulley's seminal Zorro story was originally serialized in a pulp magazine back in 1919, with the title "The Curse of Capistrano." Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. liked it so much he insisted on making a silent movie of it, and he changed the title to The Mark of Zorro for the film. It was so popular that when the serialized story was collected into book form (my review here), it was published under the same title as the film.
I have not seen the Fairbanks version yet, but I've seen the Tyrone Power adaptation, and it is delicious. Both book and movie have lots of swashbuckling action, a healthy dollop of romance, and enough thrilling heroics to keep any adventure-lover happy. Of course, there are oodles of other Zorro adaptations, both TV shows and movies, and numerous novels, including three more by McCulley himself that I haven't read yet.
Another story that was originally serialized! Man, I wish I'd lived back when western stories in magazines were a common thing. The titular character in Jack Schaefer's story is a mysterious stranger who rides up to a homestead one day, befriends the family there, and winds up helping them and their neighbors fend off the intimidation tactics of a big, powerful rancher.
I like the movie better than the book, in this case, and it's largely because of the performances by Alan Ladd as Shane and Van Heflin as the homesteader. They have an awesome friendship, and their chemistry is excellent, something that the book just can't convey quite as easily. However, the book is really good too.
This novel by Charles Portis is a revelation. The dialect is amazing, the characters are fresh and original, and the plot pounds along at a gallop. The 1969 movie, starring John Wayne as Rooster Cogburn and Kim Darby as Mattie Ross, fails to live up to the novel, in my humble and dedicated-fan-of-John-Wayne opinion. The 2010 movie, with Jeff Bridges and Hailee Steinfeld, keeps much closer to the novel's flavor. I actually didn't read the book until after I'd seen both versions, but even before I read it, I preferred the 2010 adaptation.
True Grit is about a young girl, Mattie Ross, who hires a grizzled and ornery Marshal to help her track down her father's killer. And she insists on riding with him into all sorts of hazards. In the 1969 movie, she comes across as stubborn and petulant, but in the book and 2010 film, she is intelligent, self-possessed, and as capable as an adult in almost everything.
Owen Wister's 1902 classic about life in the west set the standard for what we now think of as a western. The novel is narrated by an unnamed tenderfoot, but the story focuses on Miss Molly Stark, an easterner who goes west to teach school for a large ranch. She there encounters a man known simply as The Virginian, a sort of knightly, courtly, violent gentleman in cowboy form. He fascinates her, she entrances him, and an unlikely romance develops oh-so-gradually while the narrator observes them.
There's a really great '60s TV show based on this book, though it changes around some of the characters (Trampas becomes The Virginian's sidekick instead of his archenemy). And there are several movie versions, my favorite of which is a wonderful made-for-TV movie version from 2000 that stars Bill Pullman and Diane Lane that sticks close to the original story. I wholeheartedly recommend it.
That's all for now, folks! Please visit A Lantern in Her Hand and Meanwhile, in Rivendell for more western movie fun. Eventually, they'll also have a link list up with all the individual posts from other participating blogs, like this one and the posts I'll be doing later this week on my Soliloquy. And if you want to get in on the fun, it's not too late to join!