What is the Corral about?

Well, simply, it is a place to round-up ideas, thoughts, comments and anything else you may like to hear about. My original intention was to have a forum but the time to manage such a gathering is really beyond me at this stage. But via email I can gather up your input and get it into the Corral.

So, would you like to make comment?

What is your favorite western story, either as a book or a movie?

Want to tell us why?

What are you currently reading, watching or listening to (regardless if it is a Western or not)?

What do you want to see in future Western stories (grit or romance, maybe both, gunplay or justice, grim reality or happy endings)?

Anything you would like to see in one of my stories?



March 2011

April 2011

May 2011

June 2011




















What am I currently reading?

Legends of the Fall by Jim Harrison.

What would I like to read?

I give up on The Lone Rider of Santa Fe by Buck Dexter, seems on one owns a copy.

I suppose I could have titled this month’s Corral as In Defence of the Villain, but that’s not what first triggered my thoughts when I sat down to compose the July entry. It only started when I became aware of an inflamed debate that seemed to have at its heart the madness of political correctness.

Benjamin Whitmer, guesting on the blog Spinetingier Mag at www.spinetinglermag.com/2011/05/25/the-conversion-of-carne-muerto-by-james-reasoner-from-on-dangerous-ground-stories-of-western-noir/ reviewed a story from a Western anthology On Dangerous Ground, that included a story by James Reasoner titled The Conversation of Carne Muerto. Whitmer’s lengthy critique saw the story as following in the long tradition of the Indian hater, which he also argues is the basis of the John Ford movie The Searchers (1956). As an author himself, he says that his own book Pike is not exactly brimming with politically correctness. He even says his favourite Western right now is Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, which is certainly a blood soaked saga of violence and bad behaviour. But his review is not just forthright but downright preachy with a waving finger of righteousness that even manages to draw a long bow to the KKK and the lynching of African Americans. In the end, I just thought that he “does protesteth too much” over a cowboy story, but hey, maybe he was just playing-up to the sensibilities of his audience, or positioning himself in the literary community as an author and reviewer of high moral standing. Who know?

So just how politically correct do we have be when telling a Western story?

First, I guess I need to define what is meant by political correctness, or at least what I understand it to mean. I have always interpreted the term to relate to that level of appropriateness in writing that ensures that offence is not given to the reader – or should that be, taken by the reader? I’ve never been clear about the distinction between the two.  

Now, I have no intention of entering into a debate of where that invisible line of offending the sensibilities is or should be – it is too individual and I leave you to judge that for yourself. But I guess where I do have trouble, is when a view is proposed that no offence, ever, should occur to anyone at anytime or place. My response is, hell! I reserve and deserve my right to be offended, and when it happens at the movies or between the pages of a book, well, you never know, it might just be the thing I need to test my own sensibilities – and I have a feeling that these sensitivities need to be tested every now and again, as it may just help to build up that thick skin needed to manage the rough and tumble of life. Well that’s what my mum and dad used to say, and they seemed to know a thing or two.

And speaking of that wonderful generation that came of age during World War II, I was idly reading a copy of the February 2011 edition of Vanity Fair in a doctor’s surgery when I stumbled across an interview with Ernest Borgnine, who, now at 94, said when asked what his motto had been throughout his long life, replied, “I don't want to set the world on fire, I just want to keep my nuts warm.”

Now, I hope that didn’t cause too much offence, but it's not a bad philosophy and it came from an actor I admire and who played some classic cowboy villains. Do you remember him in The Bounty Hunter (1954), a movie that influenced Sergio Leone’s, For a Few Dollars More (1965). Or maybe you saw him in The Wild Bunch (1969), the Sam Peckinpah movie that also starred William Holden and Robert Ryan. Ernie also turned up in one of my favourite urban westerns or should I say southern gothic westerns, as it is set just after World War II in desert country. It is the John Sturges’ film Bad Day at Black Rock (1955), which once again allows Robert Ryan and that other serious villain heavyweight Lee Marvin, to strut their stuff. It is a classic movie with that No Country For Old Men (2007) feel about it, or maybe I should say No Country has that Black Rock feel about it.

But to really see Ernest Borgnine the character actor at work, showing off his superb skills, go to From Here To Eternity (1953) to feel the menace he is able to portray as Staff Sergeant James R. ‘Fatso’ Judson. Without Fatso there is no story. Rolling in the surf and the bombing of Pearl Harbour are just backdrops; this is a journey of individuals in a poorly led, ill-disciplined, infantry company who are about to face the biggest test of their lives – the war in the Pacific. Fatso embodies the peril ahead – an uncompromising enemy, and these infantrymen of G Company need to toughen up quick to meet this challenge.

All of these great stories address sensitive issues. MGM had particular concerns about Black Rock, as it dealt with the treatment of US citizens of Japanese origin during World War II. And yes, the political correctness of such issues as vilification does raise a perplexing challenge, but if it is completely hands-off and non-discussable, then how do we fit the villain into the story without being offensive? If the bad guy or gal is from a specific ethnic group, could it be interpreted that their behavior is stereotypical of the entire group? I wouldn’t have thought so but some do take a different view and they can get pretty noisy about it. Maybe, they are just a little too sensitive or insecure, or desperately trying to be seen as politically correct should it affect their career or connections? Who knows, but I bet a bit of self-interest is mixed up in there somewhere.

Without doubt the Western, as either a novel or a movie, has had a field day with the American Indian, but I don’t know if audiences have concluded that all Indians scalped everyone they saw. The same goes for the US Cavalry because I’m sure they didn’t shoot every Indian they came across, or that every rich and powerful rancher wasn’t a money grabbing egomaniac who took the law into his own hands – because he could.

But I do tend to go with the Noah Cross (played by John Huston) view of humanity, when he says to Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson) in that wonderful noir movie Chinatown (1974), “Most people never have to face the fact that at the right place and the right time, they are capable of anything.” And Noah should know, he is evil, having raped his daughter and made her pregnant; committed a massive fraud against the landowners of LA; and has now brutally murdered his son-in-law – and that can’t be politically correct behavior, can it!

So, when Noah casts doubt on the good of all men (and maybe women too) regardless of colour, race or creed, he is saying that it just depends on the circumstances – not who you are but how you act under certain conditions – and Bill Shakespeare also seemed to know a thing or two about that. So, all I can say is amen to that or I wouldn’t have a villain to write about. But let’s hear it from Noah himself, at www.youtube.com/watch?v=IYMWkRrC7UY&feature=related because he is one hell of a villain, thank god.




July 2011

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