Saturday, August 8, 2015

WESTWARD THE WOMEN--a Groundbreaking Movie

Please excuse the re-run, but this was first posted four years ago, and either I didn't know many of you, or maybe you've forgotten about the 1951 movie Westward the Women. I've watched it numerous times over the years, and would probably watch it again if TCM featured it. While it might be a little hokey and simplistic compared to today's movies, this one was a real groundbreaker.

The idea for Westward the Women came from Frank Capra, who in the 1940s read a magazine article about South American women crossing the Isthmus to become brides for a colony of male settlers. What if he moved this event to the American West, the director wondered. Capra had always wanted to make a western, but Columbia wasn't making them at the time and so he put the idea aside.
Then one day he and a friend took the idea to MGM. The company gave it the green light. Venerable MGM leading man Robert Taylor was cast as the scout. He escorts a wagon train of 150 women from Chicago to John McIntire's ranch in California, where there are no women for the male workers in a valley McIntire wants populated with familes. Along the way, the women must fend off Indian attacks, rough weather, forbidding landscapes, and men hired to accompany the group who are unable to control their lust.
Before production started on Westward the Women, all the actresses were gathered together to learn what they were getting themselves into—much like Taylor does in the movie. They were told there would be no room for prima donnas, for the 11-week schedule in the Utah Mountains and California desert would prove to be long, dirty, and tiring. He offered everyone a last chance to back out, but no one did. The women began a three-week period of basic training which involved calisthenics, rope skipping, softball, bullwhip cracking, horseback riding, mule team handling, firing frontier firearms, blacksmithing, and assembling (and disassembling) covered wagons.

While "feminizing" the male western was nothing new, Westward the Women went a step deeper than most, one of the few films to present positive, overt Sisterhood.

It is almost a casebook study of traditional attitudes toward women to be refuted. In other words, while the female characters may be spoken to or treated derisively, the audience sees them in a positive light, and even heroically.

For instance, there are images of the women growing comfortable facing tough tasks, working together to fix a wagon and fight off Indians. Their bravery could not be clearer, as the audience sees dramatic images of individual women against an open and stark landscape and sky—a deliberate filming technique.

When a woman's version of a male genre is created, the woman's world—primarily love and romance, marriage, sex, rape, and childbirth—must be reconciled in some manner with the male movie.

By the end of this film, the women "have been told they can't cope, can't shoot, can't rope, can't ride, can't fight, and can't endure," and they have proved this to be wrong every time. These 'masculine' things are now absorbed into them.

This movie touched me because it was a female-driven tale—that of women banding together to form a sisterhood against harsh odds.

Have you seen this movie?
It's one I've watched several times, just as I have High Noon, Red River, The Searchers, The Wild Bunch, and Gunfight at the OK Corral--in different versions.

Thanks for visiting Sweethearts of the West.

Celia Yeary-Romance...and a little bit 'o Texas
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21 comments:

  1. Great blog, Celia. I love learning about our foremothers--a sadly neglected subject in schools! And anything that supports strong women of the past. And I loathe some common modern-movie themes of unhappy marriages and women being prostitutes. Really?

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  2. Great blog, Celia. I love learning about our foremothers--a sadly neglected subject in schools! And anything that supports strong women of the past. And I loathe some common modern-movie themes of unhappy marriages and women being prostitutes. Really?

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    1. Tanya--thanks for the comment--twice! Ha ha. I didn't delete one because it only makes readers think there was something bad in the post. And I agree--it seems as though everything is about the men in the past. Anything that gives us good insight to the women is helpful. Glad you liked it.

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  3. Nice blog. I haven't seen the movie but do like the premise of strong women banding together to overcome difficulties.

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    1. K.--the term Sisterhood is modern, so I'm glad someone recently notice that this movie portrayed a "sisterhood." Thank you for visiting.

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  4. OK, I've added this to my list. Thanks, Celia.

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    1. Enjoy! The last time I watched it--five years ago--I paid more attention to the beginning of the movie. That scene is important.

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  5. I have and remember it well. Women can do about everything and I was glad to see it in this film. Thanks for reminding me of it. I have done this same thing in some of my own stories.

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    1. I'm happy you've seen it and remembered it. I love old movies!

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  6. Celia,
    Oh yes, I've watched and enjoyed it. To me, perhaps because of the way I was raised, there was no difference in what men and women could do. Each has so many possiblities if given the chance. This movie proved that point. Thanks for the reminder.
    Doris McCraw/Angela Raines

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    1. I think if more of us had been raised like you were, our world would be a better place. I was raised with the motion--there's men's work, and there's women's work, and a woman has no need to rise very far because her place is in the home with the children. Very 50ish. My mother did not like it one bit that I hired a baby sitter for our two small children in the mid 60s so I could get a college degree. She stayed mad at me forever over that. My husband didn't get mad, though--he encouraged me and worked two jobs to pay for it.
      Thanks for your nice comment.

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  7. I remember seeing that years and years ago. Now I want to watch it again. I hope it's on Netflix. Thanks for reminding me of this movie.

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    1. Isn't everything on Netflix? I have no idea! But I do hope you find it.
      Thanks for your comment!

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  8. I never saw this movie or even heard of it, but I'm certainly glad to know it does exist and has the potential to change attitudes about women. My sister and I were raised to be independent and self-reliant. There were no girly jobs vs. guy jobs--there were just jobs. Because of the way we were brought up, we had confidence in our abilities and weren't afraid to take care of ourselves.
    All the best to you, Ashley...

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    1. Hey, Sarah...I'm amazed to hear so many of you were raised to be as good as a man and do the same job. Wow. I sure wasn't...I had to fight to do so.
      (I think you got mine and Ashley's posts mixed up--but not to worry!)

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  9. Celia, You may get this twice, just as you did with Tanya. I wrote my comment and it didn't go through. So here it is again, shortened. Enjoyed this post as I love reading about strong women of the past, especially those who toughed it out going west. We owe a lot to those ladies and can't wait to see Westward the Women. I don't believe I've seen it. I also wrote the others down,, though I know I've seen Red River and Gunfight @ OK Corral, I may have to re-watch a them too.

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  10. Beverly--it only came through once--so, very good. I have no idea why these things happen. I enjoy seeing old movies again...maybe 3-4 times, then I think I have it memorized. In each repeat of a movie, I look and wait for certain scenes. In Red River--when John Wayne's son--played by Montgomery Cliff--takes over a the trail boss of the cattle drive and makes JW leave. This is not a usual thing for JW--to be defeated in his own movie. So, that one ranks, high, too, as an unusual tale. Thanks for trying more than once. I thank you.

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  11. Thanks for this! I've put it on my amazon wish list! Looks great!

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  12. Celia, I have never gotten to see this movie. Looks wonderful.

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    1. I liked it, although I still say the acting is overdone in places. But such is the case with many old movies, from the 30s, 40s, and 50s. Still, they have such endearing qualities.

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  13. Charlotte--I hope you like it. These older movies sometimes look overdone, overacted, if you know that I mean. I just loved watching these women take on a man's world.

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