The Space-Time Continuum in John Wayne's Early Westerns

Horse-riding bandits rob the stage, er, inter-city passenger bus, in Overland Stage Raiders.

John Wayne’s Lone Star Westerns produced by Monogram Pictures (and later, some of the Republic horse operas) often are “sort of” set in the 1800s, yet many of the set trappings and costumes are straight out of the 1930s, evidenced by bobbed hair, sharp suits, cars, telephones, and contemporary Depression-era dress. The culture clash of the settings in these early movies continues to astound, with cowboys on cattle drives going into towns where people dress in their modern-day finest and newsreel crews film desperado shoot-outs.

Consider Overland Stage Raiders (1938), one of Wayne’s Three Mesquiteers films for Republic, in which passenger buses are being robbed by horse-riding outlaw gangs. City men wearing three-piece suits and snap-brim fedoras waltz into old-school ranches like something that stumbled out of a time machine.

In a handful of these films, there are only oblique images of motorized vehicles, as if from a parallel universe, where crime and evil-doing and jazz music have corrupted the citizens, while in the Wayne Utopia of the nostalgic West, farmers and ranchers and even the kids get around by horseback or buggy, and the good folks dress in the duds of an honest telegraph operator or schoolmarm or general-store clerk, and turn giddy when the weekly stage arrives from the territorial capital. The people of, let’s say, New Hope Valley live under a bell jar, which, as it must, develops a crack through which the dystopian world seeps like a miasma. You don’t need white hats to tell the good guys. Honest ranchwear trumps double-breasted suits. Gingham is good and glimmering gowns are ungodly.

So what year is it, anyway?!

Answer: It doesn't matter. Just as those of us today often long for "the good old days" over current times, so did people back in the 1930s. The difference is that, in Hollywood, you could have some of both.

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