Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Where the good guys always win

I often like to relax during a free winter evening by watching a good, old fashioned black-and-white western.

Oaters went out of style several years ago -- or so we keep being told. Funny, though, how virtually every time one airs on TV it garners huge ratings. But, anyway, that's another story for another day. I've never been too concerned with what's popular -- mainly because more often than not passing fads are a bunch of crap. I watch what I enjoy, and westerns tend to top the list.

Tonight I popped in an episode of the classic CBS TV series "Gunsmoke." During the early part of its run, "Gunsmoke" was a half-hour show. The drama played quickly; the script by necessity had to be lean and tight.

It's a little hokey, sure. But it's also an appealing fantasy.

Times weren't simpler back in the Old West. If anything, they were extremely violent, full of upheaval and uncertainty.

But the Hollywood version is the exact opposite. Good wears white. Bad dons black. Evil is always punished and the whole thing is usually wrapped up rather nicely in about 30 minutes or an hour. The black and white clarity -- literally and figuratively -- makes for a nice contrast to the blurred colors of the real world.

My good friend Doug Harned and I get together every now and again to screen one of our favorite classics. We're tough critics.

I liked "Comanche Moon," the recent CBS miniseries based on Larry McMurtry's last installment in the "Lonesome Dove" saga, better than Doug did. I know one thing. I'd love to find a woman like Linda Cardellini's Clara Forsythe. Sigh, sigh, sigh.

But I digress.

CBS has brought "Gunsmoke" to DVD in season sets. At the rate they're going ("Gunsmoke" ran for 20 years during its original run; they've chosen to release the episodes a half season at a time), I'll be in my 50s when every show is available.

Some nights I'll even surf over to and listen to an episode or two of the 1950s radio version of "Gunsmoke." (I'm a little sad I missed out on radio shows. It's fun, and you get to use your own imagination to visualize the characters.)

As someone who was trained to be a historian, I know I should prefer the actuality to the myth. But, in this case, I guess my heart will always be on the side of the legend -- that wonderful place where the crook is always punished, the girl always comes back and the good guys always win.

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