Probably the most popular genre of the early 20th century cinema, the American western, continues to entertain audiences with tales of good overcoming evil and justice being served to "black hats by the white hats".
The "western" was among the very first film genres, growing in status alongside the development of Hollywood's studio production system. There were only a few great silent westerns, although the best ones established some of the archetypes that are part of the genre even today. The earliest examples of westerns are gems of American history even though though you can't hear any galloping horses, piano players in saloons or ricocheting bullets. Two of the first western-like films (scenes actually) were silent shorts from Thomas Edison's Manufacturing Company. Cripple Creek Bar Room Scene and Poker at Dawson City were both less than a minute long. But they started a genre of film making that has truly endured the test of time.
Sometimes called horse operas, western films often portray good guys trying to maintain law and order on the frontier or rescuing a damsel in distress while trying to stop a runaway stagecoach before it reaches the edge of a cliff.
The Western was a vehicle to stardom for many actors. John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Glenn Ford, Sam Elliott and many others are what millions of film fans envision when they hear the words "it's time to saddle up". The American western was such a strong vehicle that many other "stars" jumped on the chuck wagon as well. Elvis Presley, Ricky Nelson, Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin were all bona fide pop music stars when they donned their holsters and chaps to appear in films like Rio Bravo, Flaming Star and Rough Night in Jericho.
The conquest of the wild frontier and the pursuit of justice by nomadic wanderers following an unwritten code of honor are themes that have resonated strongly since those early silent films first depicted the cowboy existence.
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