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Title: Melancholy in Hollywood westerns, 1939-1962
Author: Falconer, Peter
ISNI:       0000 0004 2705 9774
Awarding Body: University of Warwick
Current Institution: University of Warwick
Date of Award: 2010
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This thesis uses the concept of melancholy to extend and develop the critical understanding of the Western genre. It focuses on the various ways in which Westerns made in Hollywood between 1939 and 1962 can be said to express melancholy. It proposes that, during the period in which Western movies were an important and popular part of mainstream film production, the conventions of the genre were familiar and well-developed enough to permit a wide range of sophisticated expressive possibilities. The complex and ambiguous associations attached to the notion of melancholy make it particularly suitable for demonstrating this. The Review of Literature addresses the major perspectives through which Westerns have been conceived and understood within Film Studies, and assesses their relevance to the methodology employed in this thesis. It also considers some of the wider contexts that will be employed in the discussion of the genre and its conventions that will follow. The Introduction to Melancholy establishes a fuller cultural, historical and intellectual context for the particular focus of the thesis, and suggests some of its specific applications in relation to Westerns. The main section of the thesis is divided into four chapters. Each of these examines a particular feature of the Western genre that can be used to express melancholy. Chapter 1 discusses the conventions that are employed to frame our understanding of violence in the genre. The melancholy implications of these conventions, and the problems that arise out of them, are considered in relation to a number of films from the period. Chapters 2 and 3 deal with more specific and localised tropes which function as melancholy reflections of other aspects of the genre. Chapter 2 looks at the night-time town as an alternative melancholy space within the generic world of the West. Aspects of the previous chapter’s discussion of violence are developed in this context, through the detailed analysis of the use of the night-time town in Pursued, Rio Bravo, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and Stagecoach. Chapter 3 examines the figure of the old man as a melancholy counterpart to the Western hero. It demonstrates a long-standing connection between the two character types within the genre, and investigates how this connection is used to portray the hero in a melancholy light. The first half of the chapter examines the melancholy relationship between the hero and old men as supporting characters in Blood on the Moon and Yellow Sky. The second half develops some of the same issues further in relation to old men in more prominent roles in Man of the West and Ride the High Country. Chapter 4 considers the use of music to express melancholy in Westerns. Its particular focus is the Western title song, and the period of the early 1950s when it came to prominence. More broadly, the chapter looks at the effects of combining styles and conventions from Western movies and popular music, and the ways in which this combination can produce melancholy. The films whose title songs are examined in detail are High Noon, Rancho Notorious, Johnny Guitar and River of No Return.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: University of Warwick
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: PN1993 Motion Pictures