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Western films, from silent to today

The Virginian (1929)

The Virginian (1929) posterGary Cooper is The Virginia, foreman of the Box H Ranch. He takes his responsibilities more seriously than his good pal Steve (Richard Arlen), but he’s got an ornery side, like when he and Steve rearrange 11 babies waiting to be christened so some parents aren’t sure which child belongs to whom.

One thing he’s deadly serious about is fulfilling the duties of his job, and that includes tracking down rustlers. When Steve decides he’d rather make an easy buck working for the outlaw Trampas than honest money elsewhere, that puts the good friends at odds. Most Western fans know the result: The Virginian is forced to help hang his best friend.

Soon after, he’s seriously wounded from ambush. School teacher Molly Wood helps nurse him back to health; she’d already started falling for the tall and lanky Westerner.

Then she learns about the hanging of Steve and The Virginian’s role in his friend’s death. It won’t be the last time she has trouble reconciling his Western beliefs with the lessons learned back in her more civilized home in Vermont.

For instance, there’s the matter of Trampas and the impending showdown between the men.

Rating 3 out of 6Review:

A slow-moving film, this is best viewed in a historical context, establishing the cowboy as a somber, quiet man of action, one whose good name must be defended at all costs, one who must put duty above feelings and one who can’t afford to be considered a coward.

This marked Cooper’s first talkie and his first leading role in a Western. Many more were to come, of course, thanks largely to this film. His line “if you want to call me that, smile” became a part of film history.

Curiously, Cooper received voice coaching from another future Western star, Randolph Scott, who has a small, uncredited role in the film. Huston, meanwhile, turns in a solid performance as the dressed-in-black villain of the piece.

This was also the first sound version of Owen Wister’s novel of the same name. The novel was published in 1902; silent versions were made in 1914 and 1923.

Mary Brian as Molly Wood and Gary Cooper as The Virginian in" The Virginian" (1929)Directed by:
Victor Fleming

Gary Cooper … The Virginian
Walter Huston… Trampas
Mary Brian … Molly Stark Wood
Richard Arlen … Steve
Helen Ware … Mrs. Taylor
Chester Conklin … Uncle Hughey
Eugene Pallette … “Honey” Wiggin
Victor Potel … Nebrasky
E.H. Calvert … Judge Henry

Runtime: 91 min.

Memorable lines:

Trampas: “When I want to know anything from you, I’ll tell you, you long-legged son of a …”
The Virginian: “If you want to call me that, smile.”
Trampas: “With a gun against my belly, I always smile.”

Molly Stark Wood: “My goodness, this is terrible. I never saw so many wild cows in my life.”
Railroad employee: “Isn’t much like Vermont, is it?”
Molly: “I should say not.”

The Virginian: “Maybe I should compliment you, Trampas. You’ve got so many calves this year, your cows must have litters, like sows. Reckon it keeps you all wore out, branding ’em.”
Tampas: “You’re liable to talk yourself into a heap of trouble, friend.”
The Virginian: “Since when was I your friend, Trampas.”

Mrs. Taylor, to Molly: “This is a new country we’re building out here, and there ain’t any room in it for weaklings, men or women. Go on back East, and I for one will say good riddance.”

Trampas: “I got to believe you’re a lyin’, white-livered skunk. This country ain’t big enough to hold the two of us, so I’m givin’ you ’til sundown to get out of town.”
The Virginian: “It’s too bad you had to say that, Trampas.”

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