Saturday, August 22, 2009

References/Homages to Great Western Films in Shanghai Noon

Well just for a bit of background information on the Western genre:

The Western depicts a society organized around codes of honor and personal, direct or private justice (such as the feud) ... The popular perception of the Western is a story that centers on the life of a semi-nomadic wanderer, usually a cowboy or a gunfighter.

In some ways, such protagonists may be considered the literary descendants of the knight errant which stood at the center of an earlier extensive genre. Like the cowboy or gunfighter of the Western, the knight errant of the earlier European tales and poetry was wandering from place to place on his horse, fighting villains of various kinds and bound to no fixed social structures but only to his own innate code of honor. And like knights errant, the heroes of Westerns frequently rescue damsels in distress.

The Western typically takes these elements and uses them to tell simple morality tales, usually set against the spectacular scenery of the American West . . . Westerns often stress the harshness of the wilderness and frequently set the action in a desert-like landscape. Specific settings include isolated forts, ranches and homesteads; the Native American village; or the small frontier town with its saloon, general store, livery stable and jailhouse. Apart from the wilderness, it is usually the saloon that emphasizes that this is the "Wild West": it is the place to go for music (raucous piano playing), girls (often prostitutes), gambling (draw poker or five card stud), drinking (beer or whiskey), brawling and shooting.


Western films were enormously popular in the silent era although, in common with all films of this period, relatively few of the thousands of silent Westerns made have survived to the present. However, with the advent of sound in 1927-28 the major Hollywood studios rapidly abandoned Westerns, leaving the genre to smaller studios and producers, who churned out countless low-budget features and serials in the 1930s. By the late 1930s the Western film was widely regarded as a 'pulp' genre in Hollywood, but its popularity was dramatically revived in 1939 by the release of John Ford's landmark Western adventure Stagecoach, which became one of the biggest hits of the year and made John Wayne a major screen star.


1. The train robbery in which Roy O Bannon meets Chon Wang for the first time follows the plot of a silent movie great - The Great Train Robbery fairly closely.

The hanging scene with the rope being severed as Roy and Chon fall through the trap door, with the "daring rescue" as do the scenes with Chon's horse drinking whisky and getting drunk reference a Western Comedy, Cat Ballou.

Of course there is the Chon Wang/John Wayne reference and staying with names at the end of the film Roy reveals his real name is Wyatt Earp, who is of course most known for the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.  The real Wyatt Earp appeared in a Western The Half Breed (1919)'The Shanghai Kid' could reference John Wayne's character in Stagecoach - 'The Ringo Kid'.

Staying with names - the Marshall is 'Nathan Van Cleef' which is a reference to the actor Lee Van Cleef who appeared in many Westerns.

Of the course the title of the film itself is a play on High Noon starring Gary Cooper and Grace Kelley.

In the bar-room Roy says 'you bounce back fast kemosabe' to Chon. This is a reference to The Lone Ranger

(This is the first episode of The Lone Ranger which aired in 1949)

Roy's old gang steal a wagon which has 'Wild Bill' painted on the side, which could reference  Wild Bill Hickock.  It could also be a reference to Buffalo Bill Cody and his Wild West Show. Buffalo Bill also made an onscreen appearance in The Adventures of Buffalo Bill (1917)

One more linguistic reference may be Roy's use of 'sayonara'. Not many people may know that a Japanese classic Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai,  was remade as The Magnificent Seven. And many of the Westerns of the 1950'2 were influenced by his Japanese Samurai films. 

The bar room fight and Roy's crooked card game is a reference to another silent era classic Western - Poker at Dawson City (1899) set during the Alaska Gold Rush, about a crooked poker game with flagrant cheating that led to a fight.

There are so many conventions of Western movies in this film that it is almost impossible to distinguish any particular film in which they appear. Examples of this are the line of Indians against the skyline, the saloon, the jailhouse, the gallows, the mission on the hill the brothel scenes, the posse and leaving Roy to die in the desert, from which he miraculously escapes death. 

Another Western convention is that of white hats and black hats. You will notice in the movie that Chon and Roy have white hats while the Marshall and Lo Fang have black hats. This dates right back to the earliest days of Westerns where people liked the hero and villain to be clearly identified thus leading to the use of the black hat (bad guy) vs white hat (good guy). It is interesting to note that two of the most notable characters/actors to utilize this convention in Westerns were Lee Van Cleef and The Lone Ranger. 


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