Examine the opening five minutes of ‘High Noon’, ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’, and ‘Unforgiven’

Examine the opening five minutes of ‘High Noon’, ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’, and ‘Unforgiven’. Discuss what each of the directors seek to achieve in these sequences and how they locate their film within the genre. The three films ‘High Noon’, ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’, and ‘Unforgiven’ are all classic films that are located in the Western genre. Principally these Westerns are set between the period 1860 to 1900 and often located to the west of the Missouri and the Mississippi.

The production of these three films p through a period of 40 years from 1952 to 1992 showing a change and progression in the style of filming. From examining the opening five minutes of each of the three films and with great reference to the key concepts I shall be able to establish what notions build a Western and analyse how effectively they are used within each of the three films. High Noon directed by Fred Zinnemann was produced in 1952 and tells the story of Miller, a renowned villain who was sentenced in the town of Hadleyville to a lifetime imprisonment in Texas.

Much to the town’s distress Miller is released and back with a vengeance and together with a group of other villains they return to Hadleyville to seek revenge on the town’s sheriff. This is a story about the final triumph of good over evil yet also touches upon other subjects like testing friendships and the rise of women in power. This was the first film to use real time, by 1957 it was being parodied. High Noon begins with a non-diagetic soundtrack, ‘Don’t forsake me, oh my darling,’ which tells the story that is to follow.

The film opens with a wide shot of the great grassy plains with a lone rider in the distance, showing great iconography of a typical Western scene. Its narrative clues are very strong in the first five minutes where the essentially ‘bad’ characters are here shown with the stereotypical look of being roughly shaven and wearing ragged clothes and a Stetson hat. This is further backed up when they ride into the town, where people shocked and scared by their appearance stop immediately what they are doing and some even run to hide.

One Spanish woman crosses herself when she sees them showing their bad reputation and is obvious here, that they are not often at that town and it is not a welcomed sight. There is a great contrast here between the ‘good’ and the ‘bad,’ mainly between Will Kane and Miller. In almost everyway they are opposite relating to Claud Levi-Strauss idea on binary oppositions. The connotation of colour is very noticeable here, where the bad guys are all wearing dark colours and ride on black horses in contrast to Will Kane who is about to wed Amy who is wearing white which reflects their innocence.

This film uses conventions effectively to locate itself in the Western genre. It is located in a small town with one high street that is lined with tall wooden buildings. It also includes the familiar saloon and sheriff’s office. These all link together to provide a representation of the stereotypical image of a western town. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid directed by George Roy Hill (1969) is based on a true story that follows the lives of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid who are famous for great bank and train robberies.

After many successful takes they encounter resistance and in a bid for freedom flee the country. This film takes the idea away from the evil cowboy and by the end of the film you feel less anger for them as in most Westerns but like them and feel a sense of sorrow and pity for them. This film opens with a short film reel shot in sepia. It tells of one of their many great train robberies as ‘the hole in the wall gang. ‘ The sepia is a good reflection of the period of which this film is located, it also highlights and emphasises iconography of Westerns straight away.

It then cuts out of sepia to the next scene in which Butch is examining the security of the town’s bank in preparation for the robbery. There is a lot of exposure to the heavy bars and strong locks, obviously new, and unforeseen, Butch asks the bank teller “What happened to the old bank, it was beautiful”, the bank teller replies, “People kept robbing it! ” Like High Noon the way Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid are dressed reflects their personality and means that they can be more easily recognised. As well the bad guy is well renowned and scares a lot of people.

Here, the Sundance Kid is well known for his precise firing aim, shown in the scene where the Sundance Kid is playing cards and his opponent accuses him of cheating not knowing who he is, “I didn’t know you were the Sundance Kid when I accused you of cheating… If I draw on you, you’ll kill me. ” He then asks him how good of a shooter he actually is, the Sundance Kid then demonstrates this and shows to the audience his character whereas Butch Cassidy appears to be a lot more rational and ‘the brains’ behind the operations. The Sundance Kid is very sombre and does not show much facial expression.

Male pride is very dominant in this film, especially among the Sundance Kid, where his reputation is very important and must be maintained to uphold the ‘bad guy’ image. Unforgiven is the most recently produced film of the three, made in 1992 and directed by Clint Eastwood who also stars and won 4 Oscars. It follows the story of William Munny, a notorious killer who is offered the chance to earn a large sum of money by reverting to his old ways and killing two cowboys. The story line develops to show a more in depth side of the stereotypical villain of the West and the corruptness of people who are supposed to be on the ‘good’ side.

This film demonstrates 3 themes common to the Western genre: Love, honour, and loyalty. The opening shot of the film has a simple scene of William Munny tending to his wife’s grave in a silhouette cast by a glowing sunset. This is further explained by the use of a short paragraph that tells of Munny’s past. The first few minutes shows how William Munny has become much more of a settled family man since his wife died and so his gangster days are long gone and now owns and runs a ranch with his two children, whom can further accentuate his now much more innocent personality.

Due to his presence as a family man we do not initially see him as a villain, and due to the different nature of the story, whereby Munny is asked to kill the villains who cut up the young girl’s face, which is well deserved, it makes the audience portray Munny more as a hero, who was only looking out for the best interests of his family. This first scene of tranquillity is contrasted by a stormy second scene as it makes the change from the country to a small Western town, and gives a narrative clue that something that could upset the equilibrium is about to take place.

There is a shot emphasising the sign saying billiards upstairs and then we see women being paid for sex. Screaming then breaks the silence and the pace is speeded up using fast editing which portrays the commotion that’s taking place. This is stopped abruptly with the pointing of a gun. As in many Western films women are used to demonstrate the issue of male power and pride at this time in history. Within Unforgiven Little Bill, the town sheriff, talks to the head prostitute with little respect and does not listen to her opinion.

Within the three films I have examined all three directors use similar iconography to portray the familiar Western scene and the villains always wearing dark clothes, with roughly cut hair and stubble around the mouth. The hero of a Western will always contrast the bad guy. The main themes that are covered are; male pride, loyalty and honour. Women are used repeatedly to show male power in society and are used as mere objects. High Noon is a base that most Western films use and its ideas are often revised. Tying together narrative theories, iconography and typical themes makes these film fit into the Western genre.

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