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The Western  
 
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Though the more sophisticated stories of the television series Maverick (1957-1962) were directed at adults, and its leading male characters had flirtatious encounters with women, the show managed--by making its various leads, Bret, Bart, Beau, and Brent Maverick (respectively played by James Garner, Jack Kelly, Roger Moore, and Robert Colbert) all related--to present male relationships that were full of teasing irony that sometimes almost seemed like flirtation. As in many other Westerns, the intensity of male relationships could be acceptable if the men were presented as being relatives.

The television series Bonanza (1959-1973), while less consciously sophisticated than Maverick, also presented what amounted to an all-male family, with the adventures of Ben Cartwright (Lorne Greene) and his sons Adam (Pernell Roberts), "Hoss" (Dan Blocker), and Little Joe (Michael Landon), each of whom was half-brother to the others.

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The Wild, Wild West, a television series (1965-1969) that was a cartoonish combination of the Western and the spy story, came closer to acknowledging the homoerotic aspects of homosociality in Westerns, providing the athletic hero, James West (Robert Conrad), a male companion of relatively equal stature, the specialist in weapons and disguises Artemus Gordon (Ross Martin).

Artemus was about his companion's age and was physically active and competent, but was presented in ways that would feminize him somewhat for American audiences, as an elegant dresser and a bit of an intellectual. Though there were plenty of glamorous female characters, rather intriguingly the series had West and Gordon traveling the country together on secret missions, sharing a private luxury railroad train, "The Wanderer," provided by President Grant.

Spaghetti Westerns

The rapid cultural changes of the mid- to late-1960s and the 1970s deeply affected the Western. The traditions shaping Hollywood Western movies were unsettled by the innovations of a series of so-called "Spaghetti Westerns," relatively inexpensive films made abroad, mostly by Italian directors and companies, with minor or unknown actors, which usually were released in the U.S. a year or two after their distribution in Europe.

To reduce the amount of dubbing necessary, these films tended to use little dialogue, but often had brilliant music and presented their stark, violent plots with startlingly innovative direction. The most significant are those of Sergio Leone, particularly A Fistful of Dollars (1964/1967 U.S.), For a Few Dollars More (1966/1967 U.S.), and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966), which made Clint Eastwood a major star.

Eastwood had long experience in low-budget movies and had had considerable success on television in the series Rawhide (1959-1966), a conventionally formulaic story of the weekly adventures of Texas cattle drivers. As in many such Western narratives, the central characters formed a sort of all-male fictive family, headed by Eric Fleming as the trail boss, Gil Favor, assisted by Eastwood as Rowdy Yates, the "ramrod" or overseer.

With his lanky body, square jaw, deep-set eyes, and splendid head of brown-blond hair, Eastwood was reminiscent of cowboy heroes of the past and gained a considerable following, but nothing prepared his television fans for his reincarnation as Leone's silent, sinister Man With No Name.

While some American Westerns of the early 1960s, such as Ride the High Country, presented the cowboy hero as aging, disillusioned, and perhaps tempted to abandon the moral code that made him a man, they ultimately endorsed the traditions of heroism that had made Western heroes so admired. In contrast, Leone's Dollars movies attacked this heroic national fantasy, constructing American Westerners as they seemed to many Europeans, so individualistic and aggressive that they cared for nothing but getting rich at any cost.

Not only did Italian Westerns emphasize the individualism and materialism inherent in the capitalist fable of the Western, but they often highlighted its representation of homosocial bonds between men, revealing its darker side. This is evident in one of the best of the type, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, which presents the rivalry of three men searching for a lost treasure of Confederate gold. Blondie ("the Good," Eastwood) forms a humorously ambivalent, periodically sadistic, and potentially murderous alliance with the comical but sly Tuco ("the Ugly," Eli Wallach) against the ruthless Angel Eyes ("the Bad," Lee Van Cleef).

A less dark representation of the bond between a Western hero and his comical sidekick became a recurrent theme in the Italian Westerns made by the intensely blue-eyed Italian-German actor Terence Hill with his enormous pal, Bud Spencer, another European actor. Some of the best-known of these are Ace High (Giuseppi Colizzi, 1968), Boot Hill (Giuseppi Colizzi, 1969), and They Call Me Trinity (Enzo Barboni, 1971).

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