- Of all stock characters in B Westerns, the sidekick is perhaps the most common. The sidekick rides beside the cowboy hero and provides companionship and, often, comic distraction from the main action. Often the sidekick has one or two character traits that are exploited for comic effect. For example, in Tumbleweeds (1925), Carver (William S. Hart) rides with Kentucky Rose (Lucien Littlefield), who regularly stumbles into one bit of trouble or another as Carver attempts to make it on time for the Oklahoma Land Rush. Several actors developed sidekick personas with multiple cowboy stars. Smiley Burnette, usually playing Frog, the gravelly throated singer, rode with Gene Autry and Roy Rogers. Gabby Hayes, the rascally but loveable curmudgeon, rode with Roy Rogers and William Boyd. Other top sidekicks were Al St. John, Fuzzy Knight, Andy Clyde, and Martin Garralaga (Pancho in The Cisco Kidfilms). Sidekicks played an important role in balancing the quality of the acting. Typically, when a studio introduced a new cowboy star in a series, it would surround him with an experienced sidekick and an experienced villain. For example, Roy Rogers was signed by Republic primarily for his singing ability, apparently having little inherent sex appeal and a small physical frame. The studio then made sure to have a strong sidekick with him, Burnette first, then Raymond Hatton, and ultimately Hayes. Rogers went without a sidekick in his final films. More sophisticated sidekicks were used in full-budget Westerns. Walter Brennan’s role in Red River (1948) was certainly that of sidekick. Even in later alternative Westerns we see sidekicks. Clint Eastwood’s sidekick in Unforgiven (1992) was Morgan Freeman.
Historical Dictionary of Westerns in Cinema. Paul Varner. 2012.
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