French critics have consistently seemed more appreciative of American cinema Westerns as serious art than have American critics. The French were the first to “write about the Western hero as a frustrated man, who finds needed satisfaction, the ‘safety valve,’in releasing charges of his gun, atypical phallic symbol” (Fenin and Everson 1962, 21). They were also some of the first to study the Western as a genre—to identify its characteristics as an art form. Jean Louis Leutrat, in his study of Westerns of the 1920s, claims that the genre did not become pure, or strictly identifiable, as a Western until it broke away from the earlier modes of dramatic presentation—such as melodrama, burlesque, comedy, and so forth—in 1929 with Victor Fleming’s version of The Virginian (1929).

Historical Dictionary of Westerns in Cinema. . 2012.

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