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The Western Moves West

The Cowboy MillionaireThe Great Train Robbery is a hit and leads to imitations, such as The Bold Bank Robbery and The Hold-up of the Rocky Mountain Express.  Film companies like Essanay, Selig, Biograph, Edison, Lubin, Vitagraph and Kalem fight to build upon the rich vein that they are opening up.  Western movie productions continue filming in the East.

About 1907, there is a spectacular growth of theaters.  Theatre owners cry out for product.  In addition, Thomas Edison attempts to monopolize film production, which results in patent wars.  Unfortunately, the young American film industry cannot supply the demand.  This forces the theatre owners to import foreign films.  Movie experts argue that the Western genre results because American film producers, to fight foreign imports, besides a need to improve organization, also needs to produce a distinctive product that Europeans cannot imitate.

In January 1907 the Selig-Polyscope Company of Chicago sends a film crew to a western location.  The Girl from Montana, one of the films the crew shot, emphasizes both local atmosphere, particularly scenery, and action.  Selig success leads to sending other film crews to the west during the summer of 1907.  One of these summer films is Western Justice.  The trade press praises it for the stunning backgrounds and its "marvelously stirring and sensational chase".

In 1908, both Selig and Essanay film their movies using Colorado locations.  The popularity of authentically Western locations leads to a number of imitations made in the east.  The trade press scorns these Eastern Westerns.  They editorialize that "cowboys, Indians and Mexicans must be seen in proper scenic backgrounds to convey any impression of reality."

In late 1909, the Bison Company arrives in California.  This marks a consolidation of the authentic location.  Bison soon becomes the major Western production company.

By 1910, the Western becomes the first truly film genre and the first uniquely American input to this new art form.  Moving Picture World writes that the Western is the "foundation" of American dramatic story.  In 1910, 21 per cent of all American pictures made (213 out of 1001) are Westerns.  That is how popular the Western has become in seven years.  

However, importantly the percentage remains consistent for about 75 years.  In 1911, only eight years since The Great Train Robbery a writer in the trade journal Nickelodeon protests those Westerns are "a gold mine that had been worked to the limit."  It is a forecast repeated frequently about the pending end of the Western.  

The New York Times in a 1918 review of William S. Hart's new Western complains, "that kind of photoplay has been done almost to death."  In 1929, Photoplay magazine pronounced, after Charles A. Lindbergh flew the Atlantic writes, "Lindbergh has put the cowboy into the discard as a type of national hero.  The Western novel and motion picture her have slunk away into the brush, never to return."

More History

History of Western Films & TV
Western Stars
TV Westerns

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