Westerns have enjoyed an unexpected renaissance in recent years. But whether we’re talking 1950s classics or modern-day romps, every single one seems to be littered with the same old stereotypes and tropes.
So grab your gunbelt and stetson and hop aboard the stallion of predictability. Here are nine of the most over-used clichés in cowboy movies.
1. The over-the-hill lawman
Danny Glover has nothing on this veteran justice-dispenser. Despite having lost an eye/limb, being haunted by hundreds of shoot-outs, and clearly having little real respect from the townsfolk, he gamely continues to try and take on villains a quarter of his age. Bonus points if he’s a drunk.
2. The hard-bitten spinster
She probably runs a ranch. She definitely lives alone. And she can certainly handle herself. Who’s betting this tough lady and our fierce hero will develop a mutual respect as the plot plays out – and possibly an unlikely romance too?
3. The tumbleweed
As essential to the action as the hero’s six-shooter. How else are you going to generate tension when the hatches are battened, and the bad guys are about to roll into town?
4. The ludicrously drawn-out showdown
In real life, Wild West gunfights were usually over pretty much as soon as they began. In Western flicks, however, people stare each other out for a good ten minutes first. Either that, or once the bullets start spewing it’s a full 90 minute orgy of flying lead, whinnying horses and splintering saloon doors – with the combatants pausing for half-time tea and cakes so they can have a little breather along the way.
5. Everybody takes ten minutes to die
It doesn’t matter what the scenario is. The villain/henchman/anti-hero takes a single bullet to the chest – and then promptly staggers around for an age before finally keeling over. Sometimes they even get back up again first, like a horror movie monster coming back for one last scare…
6. Mexicans are either bandits, or poor farmers
Perhaps we should blame this on good-old fashioned Hollywood racism. Yep. If your character’s from south of the border – forget about them having a dignified role.
7. Bad guys wear black
Aside from their dodgy facial hair, bad table manners and unfortunate habit of gunning down innocent peasants for no reason, pretty much all villains helpfully telegraph their moral darkness by dressing in black – while the goodies stick to a lighter wardrobe (except for the Three Amigos, of course).
8. Shootin’ the noose
Whenever there’s a lynching, and some poor soul is left dangling from a post or tree by a thick, strangle-ready rope, there’s a strong chance some kind saviour will stun the assembled crowd by blasting effortlessly through said rope from fifty yards away. What are the odds?
9. “Dance for me boy!”
Pretty much every cowboy flick going has a scene where some not-very-nice people make someone jig along the deck, namely by firing live rounds at their feet and whooping wildly. Hell, this is probably one of the oldest cinematic clichés going: The Great Train Robbery did it as far back as 1903.
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