Three Great Western Films and the Fiction that Inspired Them

Facilitator:     Michael Meringolo, 267-2991,                                       Dates:           Tuesdays, January 9– February 27, 2018 Time:              9:30 AM - 11:30 A M                         Text:             Paperback editions of: Alan Lemay’s The Searchers; Jack Schaefer’s Shane; and Joel Portis’ True Grit. Total cost should be under $25 for all three books Presentations: No presentations, just active participation in class discussion 

This course will look at three great Westerns, starting with John Ford’s The Searchers and continuing with Shane and True Grit (Coen Brothers, 2010). We will begin by reading the underlying novels, then move on to viewing and discussing the films. In the case of The Searchers, which was inspired by the capture of 10 year old Cynthia Ann Parker from her Texas family by a Comanche raiding party, we will look at Cynthia’s often sad and painful yet remarkable life. Her uncle James’s nine-year search for Cynthia was the focus of Alan Lemay’s novel and became the inspiration for the character of Ethan Edwards, played by John Wayne in The Searchers.

At the center of each of these films is a heroic (or anti-heroic) character who drives the action. We will look at how they are brought to life from page to screen. In addition we will look at the directors’ cinematic styles as well as some seminal scenes from the novels and how these scenes are visualized in the films. Since the west is famous for its natural beauty, we will consider how the natural world is treated in the films. We will listen to the soundtracks and discuss how music, gunfire, thunder, hoofbeats and other sounds are used in the films. We will look at how the language in the novels figures in the films - in particular True Grit, since Joel Portis’s prose strongly influenced the Coen brothers’ screenplay. And we will discuss the role of the community and family relations, for example between Ethan and Martha in The Searchers and Marian and Shane in Shane. We will also look at how humor is used in these films - True Grit in particular.