Now that’s a proper movie trailer ! You can’t beat a good western. 40 years ago every Bank Holiday you could be sure one of the three tv stations would show The Magnificent 7 or High Noon. Alias Smith and Jones was the most popular tv show in our house (mainly cos my mum fancied Pete Duel) and The High Chaparral was high in the ratings, even though my dad reckoned it was a poor man’s Bonanza . “Saturday Morning Pictures” at the local cinema always showed Champion the Wonder Horse. It was fantastic.
As a spotty herbert growing up in south east London, me and my equally spotty mates would mosey on down to the Ponderosa, armed to the teeth with cap guns and plastic bowie knives, pretending to be Gary Cooper, Clint Eastwood or even Alan Ladd (the cowboy of choice for the shorter 6 yr old). Cum Christmas time everyone asked for a cowboy outfit, long before that phrase became synonymous with Virgin Media or the FA.
But few parents shied away in buying their offspring fake Smith & Wessons, dads happily made their sons bows n arrows and no one thought for one minute that they were nurturing little Johnny into the next mass murderer or serial killer. At the time of writing I have never shot, stabbed or scalped a single person who didn’t deserve it, even though as a kid I had every weapon the local toy shop could offer, (I regularly watched Tom & Jerry too).
Kids played in the streets for hours and hours, filling the air with “piow, piow” sounds and “woo woo woo woo” noises as the cowboys chased the injuns around the houses, up the avenues and down the alleyways until our mums called us all in for our tea. If you walked down my road during any school holiday you couldn’t escape the smell of sulphur from the hundreds of cap gun shots fired that day. You’d probably find the the odd sucker-tipped arrow in your garden, next to the empty Jubbly cartons and Jamboree Bags (cowboys and injuns ate on the go).
I remember one afternoon me and my mate Alan Martin were hiding behind Mrs Baker’s garden wall, waiting to ambush some redskins who were creeping up the road, baying for white man’s blood, using the Unigate Dairies’ milk float as cover. These braves lived in the block of flats at the top of the road and we knew they’d soon be off home to watch Pinky n Perky and Mrs Baker’s garden was the perfect spot to cut them off at the pass. I checked my holster string was tight around my thigh, I pulled my neckerchief (my mum’s paisley scarf) up over my nose and mouth and checked I had a full reel of caps in my gun.
As I did so a warm feeling overcame me. Alan must have had one Jubbly too many that day cos in the excitement he decided to relieve himself down the back of my leg. The unmistakable sensation of someone else’s tepid urine saturating my jeans caused me to leap out of my hidey-hole and my cover was blown. I turned to remonstrate with my once partner, probably should have pistol-whipped him, but chose to burst into tears instead. As the woo woo woos started up and the arrows rained down on on us, Alan ran away and I stood there in a puddle of piss, not caring if the injuns scalped me, skinned me or strung me up by my nipples. I squelched home, ignoring the cries of “you’re dead, Bealing, you’re dead !”. I was steaming. Literally.
Things were never the same after that. I went off being a cowboy and took up cricket instead, though I always refused to go into bat if Alan was wicket keeping. When I eventually got to see True Grit a couple of years later I absolutely loved it. Never having been a huge fan of “Da Duke”, this was the best thing I’d ever seen him in. He was funny, he was horrible and for once wasn’t taking himself too seriously. I wanted to go out and buy myself an eye-patch, and if it wasn’t for the spector of my mate’s weak bladder I probably would have.
Westerns were changing. The old white hat/black hat world of Gary Cooper was over. Even Clint, who was slick and sleek in Rawhide, was still the goody but was now unshaven, mean and moody. I wasn’t allowed to watch most of these nasty, bloodthirsty movies, and I had to wait some time before I could find out for myself if there was indeed any spaghetti in them.
Then for years the genre (yes, I used it) went missing. They went out of favour, certainly in Hollywood, with just the odd European oddity making it to cult status. The late 70’s and 80’s were littered with cheesey cobblers like The Long Riders or Young Guns. But when Lonesome Dove came along in 1989 there was some hope that somewhere, someone was thinking along the right lines. Dances with Wolves quickly followed, then came The Unforgiven, many people’s favourite “cowboy” of all time. Things were really warming up. Wyatt Earp, Tombstone, and Ned Kelly were all thoroughly enjoyable romps and Brokeback Mountain evoked memories of the time when men were men and other men were glad of their company.
But when No Country for Old Men was released in 2007, closely followed by The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford I could have happily have died with my boots on there and then. Surely it couldn’t get any better than this ? They looked beautiful and felt good. These were adult movies like they started making in the 60’s and the 70’s before they forgot how to. We were back to Little Big Man, The Wild Bunch and A Man Called Horse. That’s worth a Yee-Harr in anyone’s language.
Now, just when I was thinking it couldn’t get any better, look what they’ve gone and done. Jeff Bridges as Rooster Cogburn and Matt Damon as, er, Glen Campbell. I’m in heaven ! I don’t need my old mate any more – I’m nearly wetting myself with excitement, waiting for the movie to open early next year. As I should have said to Alan on that fateful, moist afternoon: “Fill Your Hands, You Son of a Bitch”.