Wednesday, January 20, 2010

More on California Joe

from California Joe:

Urging his white horse to a still greater speed, which the splendid animal seemed readily capable of, he soon drew within close pistol range of the two red-skins.

"It don't seem exactly right to shoot 'em, when they won't shoot back, thinking I'm a spook; but they'll report mighty soon that I was coming from the pale-face camp, and then they won't believe I'm an evil spirit, so I guess I'd better kill 'em.."

With this, Joe threw his hand forward quickly, and it held a revolver, a weapon at that time almost unknown upon the plains.

Instantly followed two sharp reports, and the two riders fell from their saddles without a cry, for Joe's aim was deadly.


I was thinking about Clint Eastwood this morning, as usual.

More specifically, I was thinking about a story I'd heard about him and John Wayne.  Apparently (and I need a source for this!!), as a young actor, Eastwood idolized John Wayne and had always wanted to work in a film with him, but the love was not mutual and Wayne refused.  From what I understand, he objected to the characters Eastwood tended to play.  An Eastwood character would shoot a man in the back, whereas a Wayne character would not.

This scene in California Joe seems to conjure similar questions of morality in the west.  What particularly intrigues me is Joe's recognition that he's shooting unarmed men.  I'm guessing Wayne would hold his fire here, if there stories are true.  At least this early on, Joe is more the prototype of the Eastwood style cowboy... though I have to say, for a silent and mysterious figure, he talks a good deal more than the modern icons of mysterious cowboyness.  That part of the mythology seems to be evolving.

I wonder if Joe's moral ambiguity is also what makes him so promptly enlist women and children in the fight against Bad Blood's gang of Indians--a move that obviously gives the leader of the settlers some pause.  It made me so happy to see a dime novel that put rifles in the hands of women, as they surely were in the actual west.  If so, moral ambiguity has lead to a social good--a more equal treatment of female characters--than the traditional notions of chivalry would have allowed.  It's something to think about, at any rate.

Of course, the treatment of the Native American characters isn't nearly so forward-looking.  He scalps the two he kills here then steals from their corpses, and he has already robbed the tribe of the rest of its herd of horses.  What ever are we to make of this kid?  He is a strange hero indeed.

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