The “adult” Western – as it would come to be called – was a long time coming. A Hollywood staple since the days of The Great Train Robbery
(1903), the Western offered spectacle and action set against the uniquely American milieu of the Old West – a historical period which, at the dawn of the motion picture industry, was still fresh in the nation’s memory. What the genre rarely offered was dramatic substance.
Early Westerns often adopted the same traditions of the popular Wild West literature and dime novels of the 19th and early 20th centuries producing, as a consequence, highly romantic, almost purely mythic portraits the Old West. Through the early decades of the motion picture industry, the genre went through several creative cycles, alternately tilting from fanciful to realistic and back again. By the early sound era, and despite such serious efforts as The Big Trail
(1930) and The Virginian
(1929), Hollywood Westerns were,