Cinema: Handling the Stock

"When in doubt," Director John Ford (Stagecoach) once dryly counseled an aspiring young moviemaker, "make a western." Since Hollywood has always been filled with doubt, the screen for half a century has been filled with skies that podnuhs reach fer, dust that another Indian bites, ranches that folks are meanwhile back at, and any number of 'ems that get cut off at the pass. In short, the West has produced almost as many clichés as cattle, and the quality of a western depends largely on how well the director handles the stock.

The Plainsman is a saddle-brained shoot-'em-up that borrows its...

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