The geographical West has always been a defining characteristic of the United States’national identity. The vastness of the western space naturally lends itself to huge panoramic opening scenes in Western films. But the West has always been symbolic as much as it has been visual. The earliest cinema Westerns looked back at a West that still existed but was fading fast. Westerns of the classic era, up until World War II, tended to view the western frontier in terms of the future, in terms of what might yet be ahead for America. After World War II, however, the West became less a symbol for a place than a symbol for a way of life, a life of rugged individualism. Ronald Reagan, a respectable Western actor in his own right (Cattle Queen of Montana [1954]), parlayed his cowboy image into a political career that led ultimately to the presidency of the United States. The image he cultivated was that of a tough, independent westerner who handled his problems without help from the paternal eastern government. The film image of the westerner thus became an image for political change and governance.

Historical Dictionary of Westerns in Cinema. . 2012.

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