I posed a question on Facebook recently to help me define the unique features of the western genre. Here is the question I asked, and the answers I got.
QUESTION: Are civil war movies (Gone with the Wind, Shenandoah, Cold Mountain, etc.) considered westerns?
JOYCE: I vote no.
STANLEY: I really think that is kind of a loaded question three movies that I can think of that are in different time periods would be like Northwest passage or big sky or Jeremiah Johnson how do you classify them three movies so many of the movies have a little bit of everything in them depicting that time in era. I didn’t mean to say any of the three wouldn’t be classified a western I was trying to come across with all the differences like for trappers Cowboys Indians revolutionary war and they were basically all held all over the United States just like the Alamo battle of New Orleans and so on.
RANDY: From the perspective of the 21st century any movie shot outdoors, without a war, with lots of horses, and mostly men, is a western. Then there are war movies.
KELLI: I agree with Randy. It’s more of a lifestyle depiction than a location. Quigley Down Under which took place in Australia is still a western. That being said, I never thought of Gone with the Wind as a western. It’s a war movie to me.
JANA: That is a question for more research for the real understanding behind the movie. The fighting between states for freedom mainly. Or the fighting for protecting land/property and freedom from bandits.
LARRY: That is the very theme of “Shenandoah ” with Jimmy Stewart- fighting to protect your family and Property during the Civil War.
JEANETTE: I vote NO. Westerns are different than war movies. Westerns revolve around stories primarily set in the late 19th century in the American Old West. Most Westerns are set between the American Civil War (1865) and the early 1900s. Common themes within Western Film include: the conquest of the wild west, the cultural separation of the East and the West, the West’s resistance to modern change, the conflict between Cowboys and Indians, outlaws, and treasure/gold hunting. American Western Film usually revolves around a stoic hero and emphasizes the importance of honor and sacrifice.
Some of the most well-known elements that make up Westerns include cowboys, the conflict between settlers and Indians, and lawmen in a small, new town on the frontier. The men are usually cowboys and wear boots, spurs and Stetsons. Other prevalent imagery of the West includes wearing bandannas, denim and Colt 45s,
Common plots of westerns include:
-The construction of a railroad or a telegraph line on the wild frontier.
-Ranchers protecting their family ranch from rustlers or large landowners, or who build a ranch empire.
-Revenge stories, which hinge on the chase and pursuit by someone who has been wronged.
-Stories about cavalry fighting Native Americans.
-Outlaw gang plots.
-Stories about a lawman or bounty hunter tracking down his quarry.
DICK: It is more about the boundary between the frontier (untamed) and civilization (tamed). The western film genre often portrays the conquest of the wilderness and the subordination of nature, in the name of civilization. And they usually feature a lone hero, morally incorruptible, often facing danger alone. However, there is often a sidekick who acts as a bridge between the civilized and uncivilized helping the hero navigate both worlds. The sidekick has lived in both those words and is familiar with the ways of the uncivilized (ie: the side kick is a former mountain man or trapper, or has lived with Indians and knows their ways. You can make an argument that Star Wars is a Western as well as Firefly and Serenity and of course Star Trek is the ultimate Space Western.
LECIA: Westerns are just that! They do have horses, open range, saloons, cowboys, cattle, men in cowboy hats, no southern accents, depicted west of the Mississippi River.
LARRY: Ok. How about The Alamo? Would that be a western?
JEANETTE: Wikipedia calls that movie an “American historical epic and war film.”
WINELAND: IMDb internet movie data base calls Alamo a western.
JIM: No, it is a war movie. It has John Wayne in it so that probably weighed heavily in their opinion. The truth is so many people don’t know their history. They might even suggest that because it was west of the Mississippi River that makes it a western.
PAMELA: I say yes, the Alamo would be considered a Western.