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The Westerner (1940 film)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Westerner
Cinema poster
Directed byWilliam Wyler
Screenplay byNiven Busch
Jo Swerling
W.R. Burnett (uncredited)
Lillian Hellman (uncredited)
Oliver La Farge (uncredited)
Dudley Nichols (uncredited)
Story byStuart N. Lake
Produced bySamuel Goldwyn
StarringGary Cooper
Walter Brennan
Fred Stone
Doris Davenport
CinematographyGregg Toland
Rudolph Maté (additional footage) (uncredited)
Edited byDaniel Mandell
Music byAlfred Newman
Dimitri Tiomkin
Distributed byUnited Artists
Release date
  • September 20, 1940 (1940-09-20)
Running time
100 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$1 million[1]

The Westerner is a 1940 American Western film directed by William Wyler and starring Gary Cooper, Walter Brennan and Doris Davenport. Written by Niven Busch and Jo Swerling (from a story by Stuart N. Lake), the film concerns a self-appointed hanging judge in Vinegaroon, Texas, who befriends a saddle tramp who opposes the judge's policy against homesteaders. The film is remembered for Walter Brennan's performance as Judge Roy Bean, for which he won his record-setting third Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. James Basevi and Stuart N. Lake also received Academy Award nominations for Best Art Direction, Black and White and Best Story, respectively.[2][3] The supporting cast features Dana Andrews, Chill Wills and Forrest Tucker.

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In 1882, the town of Vinegaroon, Texas is run by Judge Roy Bean, who calls himself "the only law west of the Pecos." Conducting trials from his saloon, Bean makes a corrupt living collecting fines and seizing property unlawfully. Those who stand up to him are usually hanged, receiving what Bean calls "suspended sentences."

Cole Harden is a drifter accused of stealing a horse belonging to Chickenfoot, Bean's main sidekick. Harden's conviction by a jury composed of Bean's acolytes seems certain, and the undertaker waits eagerly for the verdict and hanging. Bean dismisses Harden's contention that he had bought the horse legally from another man. Noticing the judge's obsession with the English actress Lily Langtry, Harden claims to have known her intimately. He cons the judge into delaying the death sentence until Harden can send for a lock of the Langtry's hair, which he claims to have in El Paso. The delay is long enough for the real horse thief to appear and be killed.

Despite his warped sense of justice and his corrupt nature, Bean likes Harden, considering him a kindred spirit because Harden is as bold and daring as Bean was in his youth. However, Bean tries to shoot him when Harden lends his support to the homesteaders, a group led by Jane-Ellen Mathews and her father Caliphet. The struggling homesteaders have been at odds with Bean and his cattle-rancher allies for a long time. Harden tries to appeal to the judge's better nature, and he even saves Bean from an attempted lynching. When that fails, and a corn crop is burned and Mr. Mathews killed, Harden sees no choice but to take action. He is deputized by the county sheriff and procures an arrest warrant for Bean.

Arresting Bean in Vinegaroon, now renamed Langtry by the judge in honor of the actress, is impossible with all of Bean's men around. When Bean learns that Langtry will be appearing in a nearby town, a long day's ride from Vinegaroon, he has one of his men buy all of the tickets. Bean dons his full Confederate Civil War regalia and rides to see the performance with his men. He enters the theater alone to await the performance, leaving his henchmen outside.

Unknown to Bean, Harden has been waiting in the theater to arrest him. A standoff and shootout occur and Bean is fatally wounded during the gunfight. Harden carries Bean backstage to meet the woman whom he has adored for so long. As Bean stares at her, he dies.

Two years later, Harden and Jane, now married and having rebuilt the burned farm, watch as new settlers arrive in the territory.[2][4][5]



According to Niven Busch, Sam Goldwyn bought a ten-page treatment about Judge Roy Bean and hired Jo Swerling to turn it into a script. Busch says that Swerling struggled to plot the script and Busch had just been nominated for In Old Chicago so he was hired to work with Sweling. Busch:

Swerling and I had a very productive collaboration. He really didn’t like me, but we worked together great. Walter Brennan came along with some good ideas; if I was stuck I ran down to Cooper’s dressing room, and he would put me right. Cooper was such a fund of information about the West.[6]

When Gary Cooper learned that Walter Brennan would be playing the part of Judge Roy Bean, he tried to withdraw from the film, believing that his character would be reduced to a minor role. Although Goldwyn assured Cooper that his role would be expanded, Cooper remained unconvinced, writing to Samuel Goldwyn: "I couldn't see that it needed Gary Cooper for the part." Goldwyn remained adamant about Cooper's contractual obligations and insisted that he star in the film. In a formal letter to Goldwyn indicating his intention to sever their future working relationship, Cooper agreed to fulfill his contract and to "perform my the fullest of my ability, with the express understanding that I am doing so under protest."[7]

Cooper and Brennan appeared in eight films together: Watch Your Wife (1926), The Wedding Night (1935), The Cowboy and the Lady (1938), The Westerner (1940), Meet John Doe (1941), Sergeant York (1941), Pride of the Yankees (1942) and Task Force (1949).[8]


The Westerner was nominated by the American Film Institute for inclusion in the Western category of its 2008 list AFI's 10 Top 10. Walter Brennan received his third Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor (within the five years since the category's inception), which prompted the academy to rescind the extras' union from voting moving forward.[9][10]


  1. ^ Balio, Tino (2009). United Artists: The Company Built by the Stars. University of Wisconsin Press. p. 158. ISBN 978-0-299-23004-3.
  2. ^ a b The Westerner at IMDb Edit this at Wikidata
  3. ^ "The Westerner (1940)". Movies & TV Dept. The New York Times. Baseline & All Movie Guide. 2012. Archived from the original on October 17, 2012. Retrieved December 13, 2008.
  4. ^ Eder, Bruce (2012). "The Westerner (1940) Overview". Movies & TV Dept. The New York Times. Baseline & All Movie Guide. Archived from the original on November 10, 2012. Retrieved November 16, 2011.
  5. ^ "The Westerner (1940) Review". The New York Times. Retrieved November 16, 2011.
  6. ^ Thomson, David (1986). "Niven Busch: A Doer of Things". In McGilligan, Patrick (ed.). Backstory Interviews with Screenwriters of Hollywood's Golden Age. p. 98.
  7. ^ Meyers, Jeffrey. Gary Cooper: American Hero. New York: William Morrow and Company, 1998, pp. 138–141.
  8. ^ Bayme, Ari. "The Westerner". Archived from the original on September 19, 2011. Retrieved November 16, 2011.
  9. ^ Levy, Emanuel (January 10, 2015). "Oscar Actors: Brennan, Walter–Winning Champion (3 Supporting Oscars)". Retrieved September 10, 2023. In the early years of the Academy Awards, extras were given the right to vote. Brennan was extremely popular with the Union of Film Extras, and since their numbers were overwhelming, he won each time he was nominated. Some say that his third win led to the disenfranchisement of the Extras Union from Oscar voting.
  10. ^ Patrick, Peter J. (May 29, 2014). "Oscar Profile #188: Walter Brennan". Cinema Sight. Retrieved September 10, 2023. ...both wins said to be due to the high level of support he received from the extras union whose members were allowed to vote in the Academy Awards from 1936 to1940. His third win on his third nomination for 1940's The Westerner caused such a scandal that the extras' voting rights were taken away.

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This page was last edited on 14 May 2024, at 03:14
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