I remember my lecturers advice during my foundation year when writing up what I see in exhibitions, talk about things you love and hate, because you are most passionate when it comes from the heart. A piece of advice that I have tried to stick to with all my writing. More so the film reviews these days which may inform my work that I produce. My exploration of the western genre which has been at the centre of my practice, something that without I would be lost to an extent. Understanding the genre more with each film, and each revisit to gain a better understanding of its evolution and current form today. When it comes to Dallas (1950) (years before the shoulder pads and divas) I can see a clear shift in tone going on. 1950 marking a departure from the classic genre to something far darker in tone. An A movie which sadly slips into a B movie at times, something that Randolph Scott found himself trapped in during his final decade on-screen.
That’s not to say that Dallas is a bad film, it’s not when you judge it by its merits. For one you have Gary Cooper who to be fair could do little wrong on-screen, an actor who had been around since the silent era, very much at home in the west, not really affected by this outing, in fact winning an Oscar a year later in High Noon (1951). What we have here is a film out from another decade, the 1940’s a time when the genre was indeed growing up, before becoming stuck in the clichés which we now know the classic form. It was becoming formulaic, the stranger enters into a town and leaves at the end. In the middle we have the posse, the shoot-out and the villain. All of that is still here today, just more sophisticated thanks to the likes of Ford, Mann and Boetticher who made it darker, complex and more interesting. That’s not to dash all the classics of the previous decade.
I can see that I change was needed when you look at Dallas which tried to balance the old and the new. A western take of the country and town mouse, as an outlaw Blayde Hollister (Cooper) and U.S. Marshal Martin Weatherby (Leif Erickson) join forces in arresting a band of brothers. The psychology is not yet in place which we found with Winchester 73 (1950). It’s still a game of wits and skill, to avenge past wrong. The relationships begins as more comedic, on opposite sides of the law. One an ex-confederate, very much a man of the South, whilst Weatherby is the epitome of the North, rich, sophisticated with airs and graces. They form an unlikely relationship to allow for the arrest of the Marlow brothers lead by Will (Raymond Massey) the brains of the gang who have built up a small fortune through underhand deals, fooling the young town of Dallas who know more law an order is needed as the join the Union which is touched upon. A state that did participate in the civil war, yet was not part of the United States. I wished they touched more on this, another symptom of its simplicity, such as the inclusion of Wild Bill Hickcock (Reed Hadley), cramming of much of the west history as you possibly can.
There are some good things besides Cooper who will always raise a film, the climatic gunfight’s use experimental lighting to hide the actors. I just wish there wasn’t a cat in there as well, softening a film. Theres no place for cats in the west, a masculine world with soft cats who just lie there, even getting Cooper to stroke it was completely out of character until he uses it to his tactical advantage. Dallas is a film out of its time that tried to do too much from comedy to revenge just not getting it right most of the time. There are entertaining sequences which remind me what is great about the genre which saves it from being forgotten.