Animals Can So Be Heroes, Too; or An Epic Cowboylands Top 10 Guest Post

“Quick! Get your horses! it’s time to rescue the bad guy and shoot the girl! I mean…”

Whoa, dude.

That’s how Flapjack42 began, as soon as I asked her to write about these animal hero movies she’d been watching. No, Flapjack42 isn’t a glutton for B-movie punishment–she is a connoisseur of all westerns, whether they be good, bad, or fugly.

B movies aren't so bad, pilgrim. Some of 'em had young John Wayne.

Flapjack42 has watched more bad westerns than anyone else on the planet and is one of the only people I know to have watched ALL episodes of the execrable Phantom Empire at once, and then converse intelligently and enthusiastically about its take on the epic hero journey.

What makes an epically awesome animal hero western, Flapjack42? And, of course, gimme a top-ten list.

And lo, the Flapjack42 emailed, and lo, damn it was good:

“Quick! Get your horses! it’s time to rescue the bad guy and shoot the girl! I mean…”

Most Western animal movies are just that confusing in plot. I watch animal hero movies, because I was bored with regular animal movies. The new ones are computer-generated hype. The old old ones have just a brief animal appearances as the mounted riders run, John Ford-style, past the camera. The hoofbeats sound like coconuts on a sounding board. (Hey, I like it that way!)

Rin Tin Tin was a bigger star than George Clooney ever will be.

I looked at bad movies and good movies. Long pointless serials and hour-long movies, TV half hour shorties. All had a trick dog, a trick horse, or both. (Get a rope, Lassie! Timmy’s in the well!) The dogs are the best actors and the finest of tricksters. The dog barks to show the clueless humans that he has found a vital piece of the treasure map. The dog can limp more convincingly than these underpaid and bored actors. When speed is called for in the tattered and worn script, the editors speed up the film until the men scurry, horses scramble, dogs are a flurry of paws, and the dialogue is high-pitched when it was low in the last scene. The humans look like rock-em sock-em robot cowboys. The dogs fight with enjoyment and convincing realism, the best actors by far.

What is going ON here?

When they trash a horse with a Flying W, making it fall and skid a few yards, isn’t what I meant by a trick horse. The hero horse is pretty, likes to do his tricks, and has a good relationship with his rider. He usually has a stunt double for the dangerous stuff.  The horse’s rider must do flying mounts and fast dismounts, jump off a building and land astride the horse. That even SOUNDS painful! The animal hero is always first in his class. The fastest horse in the world! Rin Tin Tin standing on a rock, looking off into the sunset! The smartest horse in the movies! That doesn’t take much…the human hero has nothing between his hat and his spurs…but can he ride!

Animal hero movies are liberally dusted with cliches. A whole bunch of people sneak around surprising other people and slugging them. The horse unties the bound hero’s hands. The authentic high-pitched nagging bark, as the dog tells the humans where the outlaw is hiding, while the little kid goes off to save whatever. They are shot in black and white or in Quasicolor, but the moral is the same. As Sergeant Preston said about his talented Husky, Yukon King, “This dog has given me love and loyalty, and remember, that goes both ways.”

Love ya, ya big lug.

“We only have to watch ONE MORE movie,” I say grimly, clutching the remote like Rin Tin Tin’s grip on the villain’s arm. It takes intestinal fortitude and stamina to watch that many repetitions of the same old story. Technology fails. Humans fail. Only the animal hero can save them now! They reuse, recycle, and rehash the same scenes over and over! Now that’s CHEAPNESS!

Tomorrow SOON!: The Top 10 Worst Animal as Silver-Screen Western Hero movies. Yesss!

And then there’s the personal question so many of Lassie’s fans want to ask: Is he allowed on the furniture? Of course he is — but, then, he’s the one who paid for it. –Julia Glass

2 comments to Animals Can So Be Heroes, Too; or An Epic Cowboylands Top 10 Guest Post

  • co

    I don’t think I have ever seen a rin tin tin movie. Know about him because in Bells Are Ringing he is mentioned in a great song and dance number.

  • bucko

    And he’s with such greats as these! Thanks for bringing up that gem.

    (Brigitte Bardot and Jean Pateau, Marilyn Monroe, Vincent Minelli)
    (Fred Astaire and René Clair, José Ferrer, the former Grace Kelly)
    (Lynn Fontanne and Danny Mann and Deborah Kerr)
    (Irving Berlin) ……….And Rin Tin Tin!

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