NOIR WESTERNS

   Noir literally means “black cinema” and derives from the “film noirs” of post–World War II—dark, moody films, usually black and white, with strong protagonists involved in intense psychological struggle. The Maltese Falcon (1941) is often considered typical. Westerns of the period often partook of the noir mood. Noir Western heroes such as Jimmy Stewart, Henry Fonda, Randolph Scott, and Gary Cooperoften played the strong cowboy hero torn between his inherent rugged individualism and the needs of oncoming civilization. His dissociation from any social group becomes the story conflict. Raoul Walsh’s Dark Command (1940), William Wellman’s The Ox-Bow Incident (1943), Henry King’s The Gunfighter (1950), Anthony Mann’s Winchester ’73 (1950), and The Naked Spur(1953), Fred Zinnemann’s High Noon(1952), and Budd Boetticher’s Seven Men from Now (1956) are often cited as the Western genre’s contribution to noir. One element that sets noir Westerns apart from other Westerns is the nature of the violence in these films. For heroes of noir Westerns such as Gary Cooper’s Will Kane in High Noon and Jimmy Stewart’s Lin McAdam in Winchester ’73, violence is not merely a means of purging evil and anarchy as in earlier Westerns. Instead, violence becomes a means of asserting, through brute strength of character, the hero’s moral determination, setting him apart from the society he has ostensibly been a part of.
   Strictly speaking, noir is a mood, not a genre, and the limits of noir are difficult to place. Some would not consider any Western as noir. Some would not limit noir to black-and-white films of the postwar period but identify noir elements in any period.

Historical Dictionary of Westerns in Cinema. . 2012.

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