Gunfighters are an essential part of the culture of the world of cinema Westerns, but their social role is always suspect, always ambiguous. In classic Westerns, gunfighters are always men. The code of the West justifies gun fighting if played according to the rules: (1) the gunfighter must never draw his gun first; (2) he must never shoot another without giving the person a fair, fighting chance; and (3) he always looks the other in the eye when he draws. The gunfighter is not an outlaw. However, all Westerns look to the future and to the steady encroachment of civilization—to the day when men and women cannot live by the code of the West. In the new order, the gunfighter is taking the law into his own hands. He is a man torn between the old order and the new.
   In film after film, the town, which one day will criminalize the gunfighter’s activities, needs him badly. The gunfighter himself often has an ambivalent attitude toward his role. Some like Shane regret that they used to live by the gun. Others such as Will Munny (Unforgiven) feel like they had no choice in their role. Whatever the case, the town’s reaction toward the gunfighter is always, first, repulsion, and then tentative acceptance. Usually, though, there is little gratitude for his services.

Historical Dictionary of Westerns in Cinema. . 2012.

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