The pleasure of a good ole Western like “The Sacketts” is the type-casting in stereotyped roles and the entirely predictable plot. Then, of course, the land. The only problem in this version is that Tom Selleck is so big and beautiful — dimples, carefully ironed shirt — that it puts all the rest to shame. But the best thing about this show is the actor/elder Glenn Ford , a little frail now, is turning in a job of real acting. (You can tell because he’s sweating. Jokes.) Ben Johnson, of course, is himself as usual and what more could you want? We sure did used to enjoy playing “guns,” but there’s no use pretending we could equal Jack Elam for evil visage.
Mixing actors like this is a little problematic when they represent quite different times. The Ward Bond/Montgomery Clift/John Wayne type-casting is a generation quite different from the Sam Eliott/Tom Selleck kind. I can’t even imagine Selleck and Clint Walker on the screen at the same time. It would take a mighty big screen.
Another good thing about this show is the sound track. When the wild mountain brother (Sam Elliott) is prowling around, the “music” goes to being a sound track of clicks and sproings, the whirl of spur rowels and the jingling squeak of horse harness, the little shriek of a sharpening knife. A’course, the creaky drawl of Slim Pickens is a music of itself. In this iteration he’s got a “tache” worthy of a president’s lawyer.
We got two stories goin’ here, weavin’ in and out. Sam Elliott, the wild one, and Ben Johnson, grizzled old tough, are still workin’ on a mine marked “1477” with Spaniard armor, the cavern inhabited by a feral girl. ‘Course the girl don’t say much. All the females in this show should contact their agents about the number of lines they get. The exceptions are Ruth Roman (Rosie) and Mercedes McCambridge (Ma Clampett). Just standing there they amount to a statement. In this case it’s about age: McCambridge’s earliest movies were in the Forties. Roman is ten years younger, but her sexiness is meant to be an anomaly, almost a joke.
This kind of story is always full of the “held moment,” teetering in potential and not quite yet to the moment of expression. The pause for ambiguity and irony. They do both sex and death that way — it’s the times. In early days the lives are parallel enough that cowboy actors could compete in rodeos as extras or even as serious competitors. Now rodeo competitors are quite different, not making glamour out of raising dirt in a scuffle, but claiming the sex appeal of the professional athlete arriving with fireworks.
It’s the sex that is the constant, but the source and nature of the sex are widely different. Originally the idea was confrontations and endurances of men in a group managing livestock. There was no reason for women to be there, so men found the sailors’ remedy. But the men themselves were the embodiment (pun) of rough and tough, strong to the point of being strong-smelling, sometimes uneducated but usually wily, often runaways or leftovers from the Civil War. Today’s well-showered and expensively horsed man would not fit in. Nor would a street delinquent.
These days the “West” is a merchandize category about leather sofas and picturesque boots. No longer the one-story “ranch house” with porch, but a pretentious stone and iron castle only occupied at some times of the year, they are places to dress-up and drink.
But now I want to take a completely different and personal tack on this subject. I’d been thinking about stages of life and what aspects of men’s lives are epitomized in books/movies. I was puzzling over same sex and threesomes, esp. the mixed sets. Then I came face to face with sexy cowboys. As men they are about as physical and dependent on each other as it’s possible to get. Not all of them are woman-haters; many take a humorous, friendly and protective point of view towards females. (I still don’t get trans-sexual in the binary sense, though I understand fluid sex as simply realistic.)
Possibly because my first and definitive sexual encounter and marriage was with a man twice my age, I have a tendency to appreciate the role of sidekick, a backup person not so potent but capable of seeing what the alpha/older/richer/more important side has come to take for granted. (It’s where my writing really began.) The model is not “Gunsmoke,” but “Rawhide” in the days when Clint Eastwood was a problem kid and Mr. Favor (Eric Fleming) was the one with the power to protect and solve. I’ve always wondered how Fleming would have fared if he had survived. I liked him best. (He fell out of a canoe on a shoot in the Amazon and the piranas ate him.) This May/December arrangement is not unusual for gays, esp. in the art world where one is the creator and the other is the entrepreneur.
I’d like to see a movie with an aging star cowboy and a young sprout of a hustling entrepreneur. Usually it’s the other way around, but so much depends upon the larger culture, what it values and permits. Sex that is “sexy” is, of course, usually full of tension and even confrontation. This aspect is built-in for an age difference. It could be a pretty good rodeo movie, though the older man would have be dependent on skill, like roping, rather than endurance, like bull-riding. Or maybe he could be a stock provider.
It’s the physical being of a competent working man that I appreciate, just in the ordinary course of a day. Sunburn, a little damage from ropes and big animals, sweat and hair (of course), and the networks of muscle and vasculature — the long curves of back and the short curves of ligaments attached behind the ear and extending down the neck to under a tight pearl-snapped shirt and a creased silk scarf. Maybe there’s something that illuminates “threesomes,” meaning 2-to-1 genders but maybe a man and a horse and then another person who shares the horse.
Anyway, it’s at this point that I appreciate a certain category of gay men, not least because they love each other. How could I criticize that? Cue the music.