Friday, September 2, 2011

Into the West

It isn’t everyday that a movie/TV genre you previously thought was dull and boring eventually becomes a favorite.  I was never a fan of the Western genre for a number of reasons.  The whole “gunslinger” archetype made my eyes roll, someone always seemed to be feuding with someone else, and the landscape was noticeably lacking in greenery (guess I’m too used to seeing a carpet of grass around…).  I was convinced that nothing would ever change my mind.

Enter Simon Oakland.

Though, it did take a while for him to get me to change my mind.  I never counted his “Cowboy” role from Get Smart as a Western (the character had been on his way to a costume party), and my eyes were otherwise drawn to Tony Vincenzo and General Moore.  It was sometime afterwards that I found out about a character called Mel Barnes, from the Bonanza episode “Justice Deferred.”

Out of sheer curiosity, I took at look at “Justice Deferred.”  Surprising though it was to see Simon playing a character so cruel and malicious (and yet thrilling to see him break the fourth wall in the opening credits—in the most adorable way possible), it was even more surprising for me to realize that I liked the episode, despite its Western genre.  I quickly wrote this off as a one-time thing.  Sometime after that, I looked at another Bonanza episode: “Thunder Man.”  Once again, Simon played a character that was cruel and malicious… but, this time, the character (William Poole) was also a wonderful singer.  “Thunder Man” still remains the only time I’ve ever heard Simon sing, but that alone cemented this episode as a favorite for me.  Poole has intrigued me so much as a character, as well, from his mysterious backstory to whether or not he was once a decent man who was corrupted by madness.

I conceded that I was now a fan of Bonanza.  Even then, I considered it to be a fluke—the one Western that I would like.  And, once again, Simon would prove me wrong.  First The Virginian episode “Letter of the Law” and then “The Secret” episode of The Big Valley warmed me up to the genre slightly more.  I found that, thanks to Simon’s wonderful acting, I could look past the feuds and the lack of greenery and enjoy the story.

However, there was still one more hurdle to get me to get past my dismissal of the Western genre—the “gunslinger” archetype.  Looking back, it was a weird quirk of mine; I couldn’t stand watching an Old West gun duel, yet if people were dueling with tamed monsters or a card game, I was all for it.  But I stayed away from shows like Gunsmoke just to avoid the archetype.

And then came my first watching of the “Overland Express” episode of Gunsmoke, in which Simon’s character (Jim Nation) was, for once, not a cold and malicious character.  And I was enamored.  The archetype wasn’t as bad as I thought, and it was a thrill to see Simon play a good guy, for once (and it was also amusing to see him trying not to break character at one point; he was smiling in amusement when one of the other characters was talking about greasing a wagon wheel with cheese).  Seeing other episodes of Gunsmoke, even ones where Simon wasn’t even in, eventually followed.

Sometimes, all it takes is one person to get us to see things in a different light, with a more open mind.  And I am forever grateful to Simon for introducing me to a genre that was intriguing after all.

~Crystal Rose

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