The world-shaking power of a Western

Gary Cooper in High Noon 1952

In an Autry Libraries blog posted July 5, 2011, the role of one of the greatest western movies ever made, HIGH NOON, starring Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly, is highlighted as helping in the fall of Poland, a fall that precipitated the end of the communist bloc.

It’s a remarkable story that clearly points out the power of a well-told western tale even in Poland, a land far removed from New Mexico Territory and the town of Hadleyville. The human values that appealed to an American audience in the 50s could still touch the heart of Poles who sought a better life for themselves and their families in 1989. The bravery of Will Kane, in the face of overwhelming odds, rang a deep note to those who faced an oppressive, ruthless rule in their own country.

“Cowboys over Communists” reminded me that the Westerns I loved so much as a youth often dealt with the harsh, cold realities of right and wrong and good and evil, and taught young impressionable kids like me virtues we have been unable to shake even in these troubled times, when those same virtues are often called into question if not under fire.

The values of most people in the world haven’t changed, but today they are often hard to find. If you love Westerns stand up for them, and for the values that made good Westerns great, just like Will Kane and Lech Walesa stood up for what they believed.



  1. Right on, John! You are so right about the values portrayed in Westerns: honesty, courage to do the right thing, and standing up for principle. Not only are they often derided these days, people who hold to them are attacked and villified. We writers of Westerns, whether traditional Westerns or historical Westerns are fighting a holding action for those values.


  2. Now you’re talking my language! These old and timeless traditional values may be mocked by some, but those of us who truly love Westerns insist on characters heavily steeped in these wholesome personality traits. I’ve even been blessed having known some and introduce them as heroes and heroines on my web sight. Sadly, though, modern literature of today isn’t commercially viable unless protagonists are morally bankrupt by some bad habit or addiction to drugs, sex, and/or alcohol. We’ve been lead to believe that everyone has an evil side, or at the very least, a flaw in our makeup. This is false. While evil does exist, I know some good folks worthy of the time and ink it takes to portray them on the pages of my Westerns. Thanks, John and Carol, for highlighting this point and as for all of us writing in the Western genre we should make room for at least one person of moral character.

  3. Randall, I’m sorry I didn’t see this before! Thank you so much for your kind comment. I recently read a scholarly collection of essays on Montana literature that defined historical fiction especially about the West as “conservative,” so perhaps that explains why the Western is generally ignored among the literary elite. Or those who like to think themselves elite. I differ with you in one respect, in that we humans are not without some tendency toward wickedness in our own natures. But I like to think of the heroic struggle some people — men and women — put up against temptations toward the tendencies you mention. And they conquer the temptations, too.

  4. We need more of this today.

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