Saturday, May 9, 2009

"A Cowboy's Trail Guide to Westerns"

"A Cowboy's Trail Guide to Westerns" by David Matuszak is an excellent addition to any western film buff’s bookshelf. Matuszak has taken his love of the western film and shared his experience, opinion and wisdom on these remarkable, truly American, works of art.

The art of the Western Film is obviously a life long passion of Matuszak’s. He catalogues and rates every movie made for the first one hundred years of western film. Besides developing a scoring guide for different aspects of the movies, he also has included, intriguing, well-written, interesting essays covering a range of topics:

  • Spaghetti Westerns

  • The Myth of the West

  • The Spirit of the West

  • Authenticity

  • The Story

  • Acting

  • Directors

These appear in the beginning of the 550 plus page book; in addition there is an excellent index and appendix at the end.

Good Western Movies

Matuszak awards each movie an overall score based on a five star rating. In addition, however he scores the movie also for authenticity, story and acting. Movie viewers, particularly viewers of western movies, are extremely discerning about the technicalities and veracity of a western movie, and Matuszak takes some of these concerns into account. While one may not always agree with Matuszak, it would take a very knowledgeable person to find fault with his meticulous, careful analysis.

True American Art Form

The author makes an excellent argument that the history of the Western is really the history of the motion picture industry. “The story of the West defines the Western film as America’s only true art form. Because the Old West became a worldwide experience, America’s art form gained universal appeal” (p. 51). There can be no denying that the movie going population of the world largely loves American Westerns! This brings Matuszak to another issue: a true Western must be filmed in America. This notion eliminates Clint Eastwood’s Spaghetti Westerns and films like Quigley Down Under as true Westerns.

Cowboy Values

Part of the appeal of the Western is the moral stance of so many of the memorable Western characters, those men who did what a man had to do because, simply put, a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do! Folk heroes and legends have arisen because of the Western. No one will forget John Wayne, a man’s man, who did what was right. Jimmy Stewart, Lee Marvin, Yul Brynner, wonderful actors all, who brought moral certitude and courage to the screen immortalizing characters like Wyatt Earp, Shane and so many others who might otherwise have been long forgotten.

Riding for the Brand, helping the weak, righting the wrong, doing what’s right no matter how difficult – these are qualities that the American Western glorifies. Men were tough back in the day when it was not politically incorrect to be so.

Tom Selleck to the Rescue

Ultimately, Matuszak fears the demise of the Western and expresses that Tom Selleck may be the one actor who can revive this genre. Unfortunately, Matuszak's book does not cover some of the more recent releases, such as Open Range, Appaloosa, Hidalgo, or others that came out after the book's publication.The Cowboy's Trail Guide to Westerns is available only from Pacific Sunset Publishing at

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