|Posted by BigBlackHatMan on June 25, 2012 at 6:20 PM|
SYCW Presents: History and Hollywood Part 3
Today, I will be wrapping up my look back at the use of historical figures in Western film, and I wanted to wrap this up by talking about a handful of figures that have not had a movie or not much of one, but deserve one. These are people and events that are very noteworthy. They have been written about and appeared in documentaries. There are even a few dramatizations, but on these occasions, I find them inadequate. For parts one and two, here are the links:
Oddly enough, I am going to keep up my theme and start with another person from the Wyatt Earp mythos in his brother Virgil. I know many of you are saying that Virgil has appeared in almost every Wyatt Earp film, so why would we need another movie with this character. I counter that we have never really got much of his story though. He is just a side character. However, Virgil tried several jobs before the events at Tombstone and actually spent most of his time in law enforcement and private enforcement positions despite the use of one arm.
Though some background would be necessary, a dramatic film about Virgil’s life in law enforcement with one arm could be very interesting. He was even involved in a couple shoot outs during this period. His personal life also went through upheaval as his first wife popped back up shortly before his death. Sam Elliot could easily reprise the role from Tombstone since he is still identified with it, and he has had experience with this sort of film as he was great in the historically base You Know My Name as Bill Tilghman.
Moving on, John Wesley Hardin was a gun hand from Texas who killed at least eleven people, got out of jail by earning his own law degree and winning an appeal, and scared Wild Bill Hickok out of a confrontation. He has popped up here and there, but there is only one movie solely on him. The Lawless Breed starring Rock Hudson is just awful. It is sanitized to the point where Hardin is presented as someone who almost stumbled into getting into gunfights and felt really bad about. Oh, Raoul Walsh, your movies have aged terribly. (As a side note, The Shootist is loosely based on Hardin, but very loosely.)
Hardin seems like he would be so easy to do a great movie on. The material is all there already. I am surprised no individual actor took on the challenge of the part to play a character with such a bad ass mentality who was apparently very smart since he mastered Texas law as well. How has this not been made? Does anybody have a good idea for who could play Hardin?
For those not aware, Hardin was killed by a man named John Selman over a dispute. Selman is not all that interesting a character outside of killing Hardin, but the man who killed him, George Scarborough is. Scarborough waffled between being a lawman and an outlaw. He actually killed Selman not because of the Hardin killing, but because Selman had killed a friend of Scarborough named Bass Outlaw. Scarborough was infamous for his handiness with a gun, and it took two men to gun him down. He killed one of the men and was only wounded. It was the infection in his leg that killed him four days later. It would be geared toward his more violent side, but could be a good action film.
After talking about a man that was a sometimes a lawman and sometimes an outlaw with a friend named Bass, it seems like a nice transition to talk about an outlaw named Bass and a lawman named Bass. The first is the infamous Sam Bass. Sam Bass ripped off a Union Pacific train at Big Springs, NE for $60,000. He became the subject of a massive manhunt by the Union Pacific railroad and the Pinkerton Detective Agency. Of course, he was caught about a year after his most famous crime and gunned down at the age of twenty-seven. If a movie was done, the Big Springs robbery would be the highlight.
The lawman named Bass is the U.S. Marshal out of Fort Smith, Arkansas, Bass Reeves. Reeves was lawman in one of the most dangerous areas in the country and had an excellent reputation for always getting his man. He spoke several of the Native American languages of the reservation. He was a favorite of the famous hanging judge of Fort Smith, Isaac Parker, to the point where Parker ensured his acquittal when he was accused of excessive force. Reeves was also forced to arrest his own son on a bank robbery charge. He ended up serving thirty-two years in service of the law and had a reputation as a crack shot and superior detective. Just in case all that does not sell you on how interesting this guy was, Bass Reeves was black. He was born into slavery and would go on to become one of the great lawman of his day.
The possibilities for this film seem to be endless. The likes of Denzel Washington or one of the other great African-American actors in Hollywood could give the world a great portrayal of one of the finest lawmen in history. Reeves career was so long, it could even be turned into a mini-series for one of the cable channels. This one seems like an easy ace.
As long as I am discussing Fort Smith and the Indian Territory of Oklahoma, Zeke Proctor and Ned Christie are worth talking about. They were famous for being two of the last great warriors of the Cherokee nation. Larry McMurtry and Diana Osana wrote a great fictionalized version of the two men’s lives called Zeke and Ned. Zeke Proctor would eventually become one of the most trusted Native American lawman on the reservation and made an alliance with Isaac Parker who would often take Zeke’s word over that of white men. Ned Christie is a little more tragic as he could never find peace with the U.S. Marshals who patrolled the region. He basically declared war on them and dared them to attack them in his well-fortified home. He fended off several attacks before finally being defeated. The two men dealt with the pressures differently, but managed it in an interesting manner.
I could go on and on with great characters that need a movie, but I will keep this final article in the series short. I will briefly mention a handful of people that could make for good movie subjects. Quanah Parker was a Comanche leader who was the son of a chief and a white woman who influenced his people and would make a fortune. He was a warrior, a businessman, and a religious leader. There are several great books on him and his name has popped up in a few movies, but he has not had that signature film yet.
A couple of other things to keep in mind are Dick King and the Johnson County War. King built the biggest ranch in all of Texas and was the richest man in the state. It could be argued several big ranchers from films are based on him, but none are directly him. The Johnson County War was a battle in Wyoming between big ranchers and homesteaders. Movies like Shane and Open Range have links to it. The truth is though that the actual fight ended up being somewhat of a joke and might me a fun portrayal on screen as the big ranchers’ hired guns ran away when the shooting started and the small farmers easily won.
I am sure everyone has ideas for what Western themes and characters could be the subject of a movie. I look forward to everyone’s comments on it. So, thanks for reading. Happy trails and watch out for those rough patches.