The Noir Western

Darkness on the Range, 1943–1962


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About the Book

Beginning in the mid–1940s, the bleak, brooding mood of film noir began seeping into that most optimistic of film genres, the western. Story lines took on a darker tone and western films adopted classic noir elements of moral ambiguity, complex anti-heroes and explicit violence.
The noir western helped set the standard for the darker science fiction, action and superhero films of today, as well as for acclaimed TV series such as HBO’s Deadwood and AMC’s Breaking Bad. This book covers the stylistic shift in westerns in mid–20th century Hollywood, offering close readings of the first noir westerns, along with revealing portraits of the eccentric and talented directors who brought the films to life.

About the Author(s)

The author of multiple books on film history, David Meuel has also published two books of poems, more than two dozen short stories, and hundreds of articles on subjects ranging from U.S. national parks to high technology. He lives in Gig Harbor, Washington.

Bibliographic Details

David Meuel
Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 224
Bibliographic Info: 33 photos, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2015
pISBN: 978-0-7864-9452-1
eISBN: 978-1-4766-1974-3
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Preface  1
Introduction: The Dark Cowboy Rides into Town  5
1. The Darkening West: Conscience and Cruelty Collide in William Wellman’s The ­Ox-Bow Incident, Yellow Sky and Track of the Cat  21
2. The Tyranny of Troubled Pasts: Escape and the Futility of It in Raoul Walsh’s Pursued and Colorado Territory  38
3. Where Treachery Springs Eternal: Staying Human in the Harsh Worlds of André de Toth’s Ramrod and Day of the Outlaw  55
4. “The topography of menace”: Painting the Western Black in Robert Wise’s Blood on the Moon  70
5. Westerns Shaken and Stirred: Sam Fuller Upends Genre Conventions in I Shot Jesse James and Forty Guns  81
6. Delving Deeper into the Dark Side: Gregory Peck’s ­Noir-ish Heroes in Henry King’s The Gunfighter and The Bravados  97
7. Deliverance on a Down Note: The Tortured, Grimly Determined Heroes of Anthony Mann’s Devil’s Doorway, The Naked Spur and Man of the West  115
8. Nightmare in Broad Daylight: Evil Poses as the Law in Allan Dwan’s Silver Lode  140
9. Helping the Western to Grow Up: The Complex, Shaded Characters in Delmer Daves’ 3:10 to Yuma and The Hanging Tree  150
10. “They’re going to kill us, Mrs. Mims”: Horror and Absurdity Ride Together in Budd Boetticher’s The Tall T and Ride Lonesome  168
11. Darkness in Shinbone: Noir Is Busting Out All Over in John Ford’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance  185
Conclusion: Ride On, Dark Cowboy  197
Fifty Additional ­Noir-ish ­Postwar Westerns Worth Seeing  199
Chapter Notes  205
Bibliography  209
Index  211

Book Reviews & Awards

  • Jackie Jones Award for the Best Film Noir Book—Classic Images
  • “At last, a film noir book this year worth recommending. The territory Meuel covers has not been written about at any kind of length before, especially in book form, so we get a fresh perspective on these films…significant…his analyses are intelligent, thoughtful, and to the point. Meuel is an excellent writer…insightful…will enlighten even the most well-read noir fan Few books actually break new ground, but this one does…a sharp, concise discussion on the films and what makes them noir”—Classic Images
  • “The ‘best film noir book’ of the year.”—Examiner
  • “Recommended”—ARBA
  • “Excellent”—Western Clippings
  • “This book is both for scholars and film enthusiasts, especially fans of westerns and noirs. Meuel makes one want to discover or rediscover noir elements to add to their value in film culture”—Journal of American Culture