Western RoundUp: Western Film Book Library – Part 3
A silver lining to spending this spring at home has been time to watch more Westerns – and also more time to read about them!
I previously shared recommendations of titles from my “Western Film Book Library” last summer and fall. This seemed like an opportune time to write about some additional favorites, especially as anything of interest can be ordered without leaving home.
Below is a rundown of more books I’ve enjoyed, along with mentions of a couple of newly arrived titles I’ll be reading soon.
The Noir Western: Darkness on the Range, 1943-1962 by David Meuel is a terrific overview of what I referred to in my December column as “Noir-Tinged Westerns.”
Meuel’s book, published by McFarland in 2015, covers most of the key films of this subgenre, which often feature conflicted or morally ambiguous heroes. The excellent titles discussed include Ramrod (1947), Pursued (1947), Blood on the Moon (1948), I Shot Jesse James (1948), and more. The author provides both critical analysis and information on the filmmakers behind the movies, including directors such as Andre de Toth, Raoul Walsh, Samuel Fuller, and Robert Wise.
One of the real treasures of my collection is a signed first edition of The Years of George Montgomery.
This book is much more than a memoir, it’s an amazingly detailed 288-page record of Montgomery’s life as a film star, artist, and family man. Cowritten with Jeffrey Millet, it’s an oversized volume with glossy pages, packed with movie stills, photographs of fan magazine pages, and personal photos of Montgomery’s family and artistic creations, including furniture, sculptures, and paintings.
The book begins with marvelous old photos chronicling Montgomery’s life growing up in a big family on a Montana ranch. His riding ability led to him landing a job on his second day in Hollywood, riding a horse in Conquest (1937); that in turn led to his long acting career, which included many Westerns.
Cowboy star “Wild Bill” Elliott has become quite a favorite of mine in the last few years, and I’m fortunate to have two books on him on my shelves.
The first book, Bill Elliott: The Peaceable Man, was written by Bobby Copeland and published in 2000. It includes a detailed overview of the actor’s career and filmography, along with quotes from those who knew Elliott and an introduction by one of Elliott’s costars, Peggy Stewart.
Wild Bill Elliott: A Complete Filmography by Gene Blottner, published in 2007, is an even bigger book in terms of both the number of pages and physical size. I just received this title, purchased in a sale by publisher McFarland & Company, and I can’t wait to read it. The alphabetical filmography includes listings for movies from Elliott’s earliest career days as an extra and bit player of the ’30s, telling the reader where to spot him in those films. Elliott’s starring Westerns are gone into with considerable detail. This looks like both a fun read and an excellent reference; Blottner also wrote the book on Universal-International Westerns which I recommended last summer.
Hollywood Hoofbeats: The Fascinating Story of Horses in Movies and Television has terrific photos dating from the earliest days of movie Westerns.
Author Petrine Day Mitchum is the daughter of Robert Mitchum, whose own experiences in Westerns ranged from small parts in Hopalong Cassidy films to starring roles in a number of Westerns. I loved learning more from the author about Buck Jones and Silver, Ken Maynard and Tarzan, and all the rest. Mitchum’s chronicle of horses throughout movie and TV history also includes a look at horse stunt work and how the humane treatment of horses progressed in the film industry over time.
Cowpokes ‘n’ Cowbelles and Cowboy Cliffhangers are a pair of oversized paperbacks by Donn Moyer which I discovered in the gift shop at the Museum of Western Film History in Lone Pine.
These are amply illustrated books which are also great references. Cowpokes ‘n’ Cowbelles focuses mainly on supporting Western players, with photos and brief biographies of actors such as Morris Ankrum, Myron Healey, Fay McKenzie, Joan Woodbury, and many more. It’s a great book to page through when you spot a familiar face in a Western but can’t quite place the name!
Cowboy Cliffhangers is subtitled A Listing of All Sound B-Western Chapter Plays From A to Z, and it’s been an enormously informative reference for an aspect of Westerns I have only just begun to learn about and enjoy. It seems like there’s always more fun stuff to discover when it comes to movies in general and Westerns in particular!
Radio on the Range, edited by Jack French and David S. Siegel, is subtitled A Reference Guide to Western Drama on the Air, 1929-1967. Like my new Wild Bill Elliott acquisition, this book just arrived thanks to a McFarland sale, so I’ve only just begun to delve into it.
Various authors, including the editors, contributed essays describing the history of a wide variety of radio Westerns, and they also include information on surviving recordings and scripts. Although the book’s focus is on “old-time radio,” I believe it will be of great interest to movie Western fans because the radio shows feature so many well-known film actors; Tales of the Texas Rangers (1950-52) starring Joel McCrea and Hopalong Cassidy (1949-52) starring William Boyd are just two examples.
Believe it or not, I have several additional book recommendations which may well form the basis for a Part 4 at some point down the road. Westerns are a rich topic for film histories, and I love the extra levels of enjoyment reading about them adds to my viewing. I hope my fellow Western fans will enjoy checking out some of these titles along with the films they discuss.
Favorite Western film book recommendations from readers are always welcome in the comments!
– Laura Grieve for Classic Movie Hub
Laura can be found at her blog, Laura’s Miscellaneous Musings, where she’s been writing about movies since 2005, and on Twitter at @LaurasMiscMovie. A lifelong film fan, Laura loves the classics including Disney, Film Noir, Musicals, and Westerns. She regularly covers Southern California classic film festivals. Laura will scribe on all things western at the ‘Western RoundUp’ for CMH.