- In these Westerns, the plot is driven by revenge, perhaps the most common Western storyline of all. These Westerns appeal to some of the basest desires of the human heart. Occasionally, as in Winchester ’73 (1950), the entire movie is built around a chase and pursuit of the villains. Other times, the revenge motive does not become obvious until the end. At the beginning of Once Upon a Time in the West (1968), for example, Harmonica (Charles Bronson) is simply a mystery character, appearing out of nowhere with the haunting melody of his harmonica preceding him. Yet he can competently throw a gun. We find out at the end that he seeks revenge on Frank (Henry Fonda), the villain who had killed Harmonica’s father when he was a little boy. This revenge plot is echoed deliberately in The Quick and the Dead(1995) when we find out at the end that Ellen (Sharon Stone) kills Herod (Gene Hackman) because years earlier Herod had killed her father in the same way. The question to ask is whether the revenge motive is justified by a sense of justice or by a sense of retribution—whether the necessity of seeking personal revenge is simply assumed. Acommon criticism of Westerns is that revenge is simply accepted as a code of behavior.See also RETRIBUTIVE JUSTICE.
Historical Dictionary of Westerns in Cinema. Paul Varner. 2012.
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