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Riding The Dusty Trail: An Introduction by Jack Miller

This volume of essays originated as my small way of celebrating a body of work that I find particularly rich and inexhaustible. As the great critic Blake Lucas once wrote, “The Western at its peak is a genre without equal – as an artistic form, as entertainment that any audience can warm up to, as sophisticated reflection of history reimagined as myth.” As the selection of films here indicates, many of the greatest artists in the history of cinema (Lang, Ray, Tourneur) worked in the genre – and never more often, or with more artistically adroit results, than in the Hollywood studio system of the 1950s.

I’m especially excited about the variety of films that the contributors chose to discuss. Though its subject matter was narrowly defined, the project arrived at a pleasing mixture of new perspectives on established classics (Johnny Guitar, The Searchers), studies of exceptional one-offs and oddities (Track of the Cat, Terror in a Texas Town), auteurist selections (Wichita, The Naked Dawn) and recommendations for relative obscurities that might be regarded as underseen by all but a few hardcore genre aficionados (Tension at Table Rock, Singing Guns). Certain through lines have emerged between the essays as well; no less than five contributors chose to discuss the role of music and the traditions of song in the classical American western film. Despite these harmonious reverberations, the perspectives on display here remain nicely disparate, with some essayists focusing on direction, others on performance, and still others on ideological matters at hand.

I’d like to thank all the bright essayists included here for their contributions to the volume, as well as Keaton Modleski of Modleski Web Design for his help in designing the WordPress site. I hope that we as a group have accomplished what I intended: to shed some new light on a group of films that will remain eternal. 

A New Face in the American West: Vincent Price, Sam Fuller and The Baron of Arizona (1950) by Bryce Allen Patton

Singing Guns: An Underrated and Underseen Gem by Michaela Owens

Paradoxes of Time: Rancho Notorious (1952) by Jack Miller

Winter in the Blood: Track of the Cat (1954) by Marek Alozie

Vienna’s Is Burning: Nicholas Ray’s Johnny Guitar by Laura Ivins

Notes on Death and Jurisprudence in Tourneur’s Wichita (1955) by D. Taylor

Lost Time: Edgar G. Ulmer’s The Naked Dawn (1955) by Daniel Witkin

Forever Between the Winds: Ghosts and Pastiche in John Ford’s The Searchers (1956) by Claire Piazza

Live To Change The Tale: Tension at Table Rock (1956) by Grant Bromley

The Uncanny West: Terror in a Texas Town and the Joseph H. Lewis Western by Ruairí McCann