The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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High noon for Hollywood cowboys

The western, killed off in the 1980s by expensive flops such as Heaven’s Gate, which bankrupted United Artists in 1980, is back. A decade after the cowboy film was briefly revived with Oscars for Unforgiven, Clint Eastwood’s revisionist version of the old west, it is high noon in Hollywood, with a rush of epic tales.

Some big guns in moviemaking think the western myth — morality tales of brave men cherishing honour in the vast empty spaces of a promised land — may be a necessary, and financially rewarding, antidote to the relentless news of terrorism and conflict.

Eastwood is returning with The Last Ride West. Brad Pitt is to play Jesse James in a film that tells of the outlaw’s life through the eyes of Robert Ford, the assassin who shot him in the back.

Pitt is putting some of his own money into the project through his B Plan Productions, which he runs with his wife, Jennifer Aniston.

Martin Scorsese, who made Taxi Driver and Gangs of New York, is directing St Agnes’ Stand, the Thomas Edison story of a reluctant hero who saves a nun and a group of children from the Apaches.

Disney, prompted by the post-September 11 surge of patriotism, has dusted off an old script that was languishing in development to make The Alamo, the story of the 1836 Texas siege in which, legend has it, Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie sacrificed their lives in the face of overwhelming odds.

In developing the first film made by Hollywood after the terrorist attack, Michael Eisner, Disney’s chief executive, felt that its theme of a small group of Americans defying a 5,000-strong army of Mexicans for 13 days until they were slaughtered would resonate with audiences.

British cinemagoers are currently flocking to see Kevin Costner’s Open Range and Ron Howard’s The Missing.

Significantly, HBO, always at the cutting edge of cable television, has just completed its first major western series, Deadwood. Ironically, it is the work of David Milch, who almost single-handedly, with NYPD Blue, Hill Street Blues and Murder One, introduced the modern gritty cop show that finally put paid to the television western.

The series, expected to come to Britain this year, is set in an outlaw gold-seeking community on Sioux Indian land in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

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