Full of western promise

The manager of the safari camp tells me he can’t wait to see The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. I advise him not to set his expectations too high. In spite of being a fan of the western, I have my doubts about this film. To begin with, the title is too long. Suppose The Magnificent Seven had been renamed The Slaying of Innumerable Mexican Bandits by Seven Hired Guns? It wouldn’t have worked on any level. Furthermore, I’m not the sort of ape who likes having a picture’s moral stance rammed down his throat before he’s even bought the popcorn. Was this fellow Robert Ford really a coward and an assassin? Perhaps he was, but I want to see it demonstrated in solid plot and character development rather than brazenly asserted in the title.

When I say I’m a fan of the western, I include the memorable TV shows I watched in my circus days. A lot of people imagine that my life in the circus must have been pretty cushy. “GB,” they say, “you were a natural performer who didn’t need to rehearse, so you must have had loads of free time to get up people's noses and generally arse around.” They’re basically right, of course. However even arsing around gets boring if you’re doing it all the time. That’s when watching a TV programme featuring gunmen, gamblers, cowboys and Injuns can rescue you from a daily routine of putting itching powder in the ringmaster’s trousers (and deeds of similar frivolity).

So which TV westerns did I enjoy the most? A lot of people loved Bonanza, but it certainly wasn’t my favourite. I could never believe that the men were brothers, nor understand why the big fat one was called “Hoss”. Did he eat like a horse? Did he smell like a horse? Did someone ride him like a horse? That unexplained mystery nagged away at the back of my mind and stopped me getting into the stories. I generally preferred humorous, wisecracking shows like Alias Smith and Jones and Bret Maverick. Yet the one I relished most of all was a fairly serious cowboy drama called The High Chaparral. This was the name of a cattle ranch in Arizona owned by Big John Cannon, a tall grey-haired patriarch with a young emotional minx of a Mexican wife. Big John had the deepest, throatiest voice I can remember hearing on TV. It gave him so much gravitas that the cows held in their farts when he rode past them.

Especially commendable was the show’s sympathetic portrayal of the Native Americans. The local Apaches, it must be said, were not the friendliest types – prickly customers to a man, particularly when forcing their hapless foes to canoodle with a cactus plant. Yet when the Indians stole a cow from the ranch, the last thing on Big John’s mind was summoning the US Cavalry for dose of retribution. Instead, he’d ride off to the tepee park for a pow-wow with Cochise & Co, listening patiently to their grievances against the arrogant Palefaces. More often than not, it was all the fault of a corrupt federal agent, who’d typically end up as buzzard food in some dusty canyon after one double-cross too many.

Yet in all honesty, it was worth watching the show just for Big John’s wife Victoria, a raven-haired Hispanic beauty with a heart of gold laced with paprika. Most of the time she was sweet and girly, forever rushing to the bedroom to try on the latest dress from Tucson. But when she flew off the handle, she could make a man’s ears burn. The peppy little women among my readers (you know who you are) would be well advised to study her for lessons in advanced peppiness.

You have read this article Bonanza / High Chaparral / Jesse James with the title Full of western promise. You can bookmark this page URL http://celebrityapprenticey.blogspot.com/2008/03/full-of-western-promise.html. Thanks!