Outlaw Heroes as Liminal Figures of Film and Television

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About the Book

Unlike such romanticized renegades as Robin Hood and Jesse James, there is another kind of outlaw hero, one who lives between the law and his own personal code. In times of crisis, when the law proves inadequate, the liminal outlaw negotiates between the social imperatives of the community and his innate sense of right and wrong. While society requires his services, he necessarily remains apart from it in self-preservation.

The modern outlaw hero of film and television is rooted in the knight errant, whose violent exploits are tempered by his solitude and devotion to a higher ideal. In Hollywood classics such as Casablanca (1942) and Shane (1953), and in early series like The Lone Ranger (1949–1957) and Have Gun—Will Travel (1957–1963), the outlaw hero reconciles for audiences the conflicting impulses of individual freedom versus serving a larger cause. Urban westerns like the Dirty Harry and Death Wish franchises, as well as iconic action figures like Rambo and Batman, testify to his enduring popularity. This book examines the liminal hero’s origins in medieval romance, his survival in the mythology of the Hollywood western and his incarnations in the urban western and modern action film.

About the Author(s)

Rebecca A. Umland is a professor of English at the University of Nebraska at Kearney. She has coauthored two books: The Use of Arthurian Legend in Hollywood Film and Donald Cammell: A Life on the Wild Side, and has published book chapters and articles on Arthurian legend, world cinema, and British literature.

Bibliographic Details

Rebecca A. Umland

Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 296
Bibliographic Info: 10 photos, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2016
pISBN: 978-0-7864-7988-7
eISBN: 978-1-4766-2351-1
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments vi
Introduction 1

Part I: The Legacy of the True Knight and the Liminal Outlaw Hero 9
Chapter 1 The Typology of the True Knight: Sir Thomas Malory’s Lancelot 11
Chapter 2 Chivalry, the Medieval Revival and the Popular Imagination 22
Chapter 3 True Knighthood and the Liminal Outlaw Hero in Classic Hollywood Film 33
Chapter 4 Remediation: The Rise of Television and the Liminal Outlaw Hero 54

Part II: The Liminal Outlaw Hero and the Rise of the Urban Western 89
Chapter 5 Poetic Justice and the Dirty Harry Franchise (1971–1988) 93
Chapter 6 “Now cracks a noble heart”: Revenge Fantasy in the  Death Wish Series (1974–1994) 136

Part III: The Liminal Outlaw Hero in the Modern Action Film 183
Chapter 7 Reconciling Opposites in the Rambo Franchise (1982–2008) 187
Chapter 8 Dark Days and the Dark Knight in Gotham City (2005–2012) 222

Chapter Notes 261
Works Cited 275
Index 281

Book Reviews & Awards

  • “a compelling and insightful study…strongly recommended”—Mythlore
  • “well written and gives very good introductions to the production histories, topics, and plots of the examined narrations”—Helden