Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Americans felt a loss – a loss of loved ones and the brave first responders, but also a loss of the sense of our vulnerability, a loss of our identity.
Americans have always identified themselves as the strongest, the best, the owners the high moral ground. When we face a loss of identity, to whom do we look to find our national persona? We seem to have rediscovered ourselves in the Western. If there is an American identity, it can be found sitting astride a leather saddle in films like “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly,” “Tombstone, Last of the Mohicans” and 2018’s “Hostiles,” as well as “Rage at Dawn,” featuring Randolph Scott.
Heroes on horseback are not new to national identities. The Bedouin warriors of the famous 1001 Nights, or Odysseus’ famous horse used to win the battle of Troy seem embedded in the human DNA. King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table provided a code for western civilization to follow. Where do we find our Knights in Shining Armor? American celluloid heroes on horseback hold a special place in our national identity.
We look to the model set by the Lone Ranger when we find a righteous member of an enemy tribe – accept and form a strong partnership toward share goals. We admire the cowboy who takes on the impossible task and succeeds – giving up is not an option. We borrowed “pistols at dawn” from our British ancestors and we made it a showdown in the dusty town square outside the saloon. Our cowboys hold a mystical quality, like Curly from the film “City Slickers,” who reminds us all to focus on the “one thing.” Mel Brooks irreverently celebrated our national identity as well as our love of baked beans in “Blazing Saddles.” Our Marlboro Man helped prop up the tobacco industry in the U.S. for decades as the ideal American Man.
“Rage at Dawn,” featuring Randolph Scott, highlights all the ideals of our national identity. There’s a tight family bond, but a belief in justice that trumps all. It’s a classic tale of the lone lawman versus the corrupt gang of outlaws. One lone cowboy, resolute in his righteousness, is able to infiltrate the gang that terrorizes this southern Indiana town soon after the Civil War.
When the chips are down we can be sure that our hero will appear, take care of the black-hatted villain and ride off into the sunset, leaving behind a strong sense of who we are. Who was that masked man? It was all of us, more interested in seeking justice than we are of seeking celebrity and fame.
While the hero on horseback may be in the DNA of people the world over, Americans find their heroes in jeans.
Watch Rage at Dawn now on Moviezoot.com here!