I have seen "Blade Runner." I have had "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," seen aliens and galaxies you could not believe, been charmed by "E.T." and scared by "Poltergeist" and over the last several years been pulled and pummeled all over outer space. I yearn for a Western.
I want to see a man get up on a horse. I want to see someone ride off over the lone prairie. I would pay dearly to watch a duel in the main street, hear someone call for a posse, see the formation of a lynch mob ("let's get 'em"), listen once again to grown men call one another boys and see a man sing to his horse.
I want to see a film where men die but do not bleed. I want to go to a movie where a punch in the mouth is just a punch in the mouth--nothing to get upset about. I yearn for a movie where a rifle can bring down someone from a mile away, where if you grit your teeth an arrow can be removed from your heart, where all surgery is performed with the aid of whiskey, where some boss paid men to do nothing but sit in a saloon all day and where someone says, "Smile when you say that, stranger." Oh, how delicious!
I am sick of sci-fi. I am sick of outer space and the creatures that inhabit it. I do not like space ships and "replicants" and cuddly little machines that talk back. I would prefer a horse. I want to see people who can not float through space, who do not fight with laser beams and who speak a language I can understand--comprende?
Hollywood does not make Westerns anymore. But they were once the most popular movies made and it is a fact, set down in many books and mentioned from time to time by wise men everywhere, that you cannot make a bad Western. (Actually, "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon" breaks the rule.) All you need is a bad guy, a good guy, a couple of horses and a disputed water hole. With nothing but this, classics have been made.
Lots has been written on the popularity of the Hollywood Western--why it became a staple of the movie biz. It was simple, it was action-packed, it had good guys and bad guys and it connected with both American history and myth. Much of that is true also of the sci-fi film. In some sense, it is nothing more than a Western transplanted to outer space. There is, though, one difference and that is where the Western had certain rules--traditions of sort--the sci-fi film has none.
In a sci-fi film, anything goes. A punch in the mouth could either hurt a person or not hurt a person--or send that person a mile and a half into the air. It could shatter the person into a million pieces or make the person collapse inward like a balloon losing air or turn the head into silly putty. In sci-fi you don't even always have persons. Without persons you cannot possibly have a posse. It is a rule.
With a Western, the rules are firm. A punch in the mouth hurts but not terribly and the effects of it can be remedied if the head is quickly shaken. An accusation of cheating at cards has to be followed by a challenge to "draw." To order milk in a bar is to challenge the world to a fight. Ditto sarsaparilla (see "Shane") and to side with farmers against ranchers is to be on the winning side--but only after a fight ("Shane," op. cit., ibid. and Technicolor.)
In Westerns, men who refuse to fight not only really can, but will in the end. In the Westerns, marshals are honorable, sheriffs sometimes not and Indians always. In the Westerns, town women do nothing but gossip, town men hang around waiting to join a lynch mob, ranch men are always self-made and wonderful (their sons are permitted to be rotten) and ranch women can have any role, but widow is always to be preferred. That makes the woman (1) independent (2) feisty (3) originally from the East (4) a mother (5) hard (6) soft--and incredibly attracted to someone who says nothing more than "thank you, ma'am" and never bathes.
It is these rules that doomed the Western. They are harder to write. It is easy to write a script in which anything goes, much harder to invent a plot within the constraints of rules the audience knows. In other words, it takes more imagination to make a Western than a sci-fi film and it is clear from seeing the junk Hollywood has been turning out, that imagination is in short supply. It has ridden off into the sunset.