The A Westerns and the B...

Perhaps because it is the most quintessentially American of Hollywood genres, the Western is proving to be surprisingly durable both on the screen and on the page. And while current films leave a certain amount to be desired, two new books on the subject couldn’t be bettered.

At the top of the Western food chain were the dozens made by the great John Ford, films like “She Wore A Yellow Ribbon,” “Wagonmaster,” “Rio Grande,” “The Searchers,” “Two Rode Together” and “Cheyenne Autumn.” Harry Carey Jr., whose father was one of the preeminent Western stars of the Silent Era, was in each of those Ford movies, and his splendid memoir of working with the master is an indispensable book on this most accomplished filmmaker.

For the record:

12:00 AM, Jul. 31, 1994 FOR THE RECORD
Los Angeles Times Sunday July 31, 1994 Home Edition Book Review Page 11 Book Review Desk 1 inches; 33 words Type of Material: Correction
In the photo that ran with “The A Westerns and the B Westerns” (July 10), captioned “3 Godfathers,” the middle fellow is not John Ford, but Harry Carey, Jr., author of “Company of Heroes: My Life as an Actor in the John Ford Stock Company.”

Gifted with close to total recall, Carey does not allow his great love and respect for Ford to cloud his memory or his judgment of the man he’s always called Uncle Jack. He shows us the humor, the sentiment and the sadism of a director who could personally break an actor’s ribs (Carey’s) when the spirit moved him. “You’re going to hate me when this picture is over, but you’re going to give a great performance,” Ford told Carey before their first film together, and this graceful book is the next best thing to being there and watching it all happen.

At the other end of the cowboy spectrum were the B Westerns, the 2,000 or so low-budget “oaters” made from the 1930s through the 1950s. They may not have been artistic, but they sure could be fun. The key book on the subject, 1976’s “Hollywood Corral” by Don Miller, has long been out of print. This new volume reprints it in its entirety and does a whole lot more.


First of all, the new edition is illustrated with more than 400 carefully chosen photographs, including such playful oddities as Joan Crawford coyly posing with Tim McCoy in a scene from 1928’s “Law of the Range.” It has added an extensive annotated bibliography, comments by Gene Autry and Roy Rodgers and, most impressive, 16 newly commissioned essays on aspects of the field that Miller’s book didn’t quite get around to.

Among the most interesting of the new essays are Robert S. Birchard’s examination of what a movie cowboy’s day-to-day life in Hollywood was like Karl Thiede’s careful dissection of B Western finances and Dave Holland’s Baedeker, complete with directions, to the key sites where the Bs were filmed, so fans can saddle up and check them out for themselves.