Cowboy filmmakers

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EVERYONE knows of the notorious error in the cinema epic ‘El Cid’, in which, according to popular legend, a jeep appears in the background of one of the more romantic scenes.

I’ve watched the film a couple of times but never spotted the jeep. However, that doesn’t mean much, since my estimation of Charlton Heston as an actor leads me to lose interest the moment he appears on the screen.

Mind you, that’s only my personal opinion, and I’ve been told columnists are allowed a certain amount of lee-way.

I’m sure many other anachronisms have escaped my notice, but the films riddled with such errors are of course, the ‘Westerns’ – many of which were filmed in Almeria.

I don’t wish to spoil your future enjoyment of this genre, but for goodness; sake, why can’t the producers and directors get things right? Most Westerns are set in the late 19th century, or, now and then, the early 20th. The women are dressed in long, Victorian-style dresses, albeit without the ‘leg-of-mutton’ sleeves that were so popular at the time – visit the Victoria and Albert museum if you don’t believe me – but with modern hair-styles.

Worse still are the men. They have neat haircuts, often dating from the 1950s and 60s, and are almost always clean shaven. ‘Goodies’ or ‘Baddies’, they have perfect, gleaming white, teeth, and although now and then someone with less perfect dentition might be slipped in, usually as a Mexican bandit.

And another thing; next time you watch a Western, take a good look at the clothes the men are wearing. Nineteenth century, and yet they have ‘collar-attached’ shirts, sometimes even ‘button-down’. In the 1930s, when I was at school, shirts for both men and boys were almost invariably of the separate-collar variety, requiring back and front collar-studs, and certainly did not un-button all the way down the front. It was necessary to draw them over one’s head to get them on or off, but, apparently, not if you were a cowboy.

Another point: have you ever noticed how clean and tidy everything is? On a cattle drive ‘Cookie’ has beautifully clean utensils, the cowboys never do any laundry, and yet their clothes, even when the screen-play has them on the drive for weeks, are unstained and in perfect repair. Quite clearly, the Continuity people have never spent any time camping.

Next time you are watching a Western in which the actors, be they lawmen or bandits, are sitting around a camp-fire, have a good look at their coffee mugs. They gleam like advertisements for soap-pads, as do the metal plates upon which these tough Westerners are served their meals. What they are given to eat is always some kind of stew, and in such tiny portions that they probably have to creep off later to the nearest ‘Cantina’ to re-fuel!

Anachronisms aren’t only a cinematic phenomenon however; they crop up also on television. I remember a few years ago when, on a BBC children’s programme, a pirate captain was tipping a heap of doubloons from a treasure chest when, in the middle of the pile of coins, a quite ordinary cloakroom ticket appeared.

If the producer had assumed children wouldn’t notice, he must have been quickly disabused by the torrent of complaints that flooded in.

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