“You Know What You Are? Just A Dirty Son-of-a-Bitch”
If anyone in my generation has seen a western (aside from throwback pieces like The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, 3:10 to Yuma or Appaloosa) there are pretty good odds it has starred Clint Eastwood. The squinting green eyes, the reluctant gravel voice, the bursts of extreme and shocking violence; if John Wayne typified the western in the forties and fifties, Eastwood’s shadow lies long on the westerns of the sixties, seventies and eighties. Wayne’s heroes embodied the quintessential American virtues of independence, loyalty, toughness and fair play – Eastwood’s were morally ambiguous, vengeful, anti-social, and opaque. If westerns are, as I’ve been trying suggest, a barometer of American self-image, the movement from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance to the Man With No Name is telling.