If there was a genre that can be imagined vividly with just one word, that would have to be Westerns. We hear the word and automatically think of cowboys and Indians, the wild wild west, horse treks and the open frontier, gun fights and brawls at the local saloon, and so much more. The American West certainly was iconic! In fact, IMDb defines their “Western” category as films that “contain numerous scenes and/or a narrative where the portrayal is similar to that of frontier life in the American West during 1600s to contemporary times.
Aiding into the genre’s ambience are many great classics of early cinema. The films that our grandparents grew up watching before everything became the big modern spectacle. John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Robert Duvall, and many other attractive hunks are known for their starring roles in Westerns; many even helped define the genre during the Golden Years of Hollywood.
But can a western be queer? We know that homosexuality existed back in the days of the American Frontier, though it wasn’t something people often drew attention too. People were still homophobic, some were oblivious, and many simply didn’t care. However Hollywood had clear boundaries to adhere to during the heyday of Westerns, due to the infamous Hays Code.
In my search for five queer western films, I was pleasantly surprised to find more than a handful. Nowhere near the amount of Romances, Dramas, or other genres; but enough that I could pick five good queer western films to highlight. All of these films date from the 70’s to recent, yet still evoke the essence of a Western. Two are set more recently, yet surprisingly still adhere to the iconic elements that define the Western. We have the iconic sword fighting and pistol shootouts, horse ranchers, Native Americans, outlaws, and more.
Read on to discover which five queer Western films I’ve chosen to highlight!
[Note: Not all of these films have full reviews yet – but they’re added to the quickly growing list of films I plan to tackle soon!]
In 1840’s Mexico, wealthy landowner Don Diego Vega (George Hamilton) learns of his late father’s secret as Zorro, the masked folk hero, and Vega adopts his new persona. But when Vega is incapacitated by an injury, he asks Ramon (also George Hamilton!), his very gay, long-lost twin brother (now calling himself ‘Bunny’), to replace him as the caped hero, who makes some drastic changes to his Zorro persona.
Sword-fighting, cross-dressing, mistaken identities, and a twist on the legend of Zorro? Oh yeah! These and so much more are what makes “Zorro: The Gay Blade” such a great queer western film. Even despite a few issues, I really do enjoy this campy spoofs! And with a great blend of quirky zany quips, an incredible score, and plenty of homage to classic Western films of ‘old, there is no doubt that this twist on the legend of Zorro is very queer and gay. But don’t take my word for it! Go find yourself a copy of this slightly dated, yet hysterical queer western film today. You can thank me later!
Read my full review HERE.
Texas Ranger Samantha Payne (Luciana Pedraza) reopens a 15-year-old missing person case, and uncovers evidence that suggests that the boy was likely murdered on a ranch belonging to wealthy family man, Scott Briggs (Robert Duvall). When Scott’s estranged son (James Franco) unexpectedly returns home during the investigation, Samantha becomes even more convinced that the Briggs family was involved, and will stop at nothing to discover the truth about the boy’s death – even putting her own life in jeopardy.
Everything about “Wild Horses” points to a great queer western film. Unfortunately, I was utterly disappointed – and even James Franco couldn’t save this train wreck. For one, the script needs work. The film’s synopsis portrays a detective murder investigation; one that would involve exciting action scenes, perhaps gun fights, and solving a potential murder cover-up. Yet that storyline gets lost amid the story of an old man trying to repair a broken family – except he was the one who broke it all up. To top it off, “Wild Horses” is not only stars Robert Duvall as this old coot, but the film is directed AND written by Duvall as well. That almost never works out, and by the end of the film he tries to make us feel sorry for his character in hopes that everyone will be happy as a family now that all the secrets are revealed. Yeah, I hate Scott Briggs even more simply because even in the end it was only about him.
Cinematically, the film is surprisingly good. But a decent films core and beautiful scenery cannot overlook the horrible acting of Luciana Pedraza as Samantha Payne – or should I use her married name, Luciana Duvall. Yup, Robert Duvall cast his wife opposite himself. In the film that he wrote and directed. Unfortunately, she cannot act if her life depended on it – which ironically is shown because at one point in the film, her life is endangered. Personally, I would skip this queer western film. It’s a waste of your time – unless you’re an avid fan of Franco; but even then, you’re better off watching his other films!
Charm, intelligence and success in criminal career doesn’t prevent Paris Pitman Jr. (Kirk Douglas) to start doing ten years in prison, in the middle of the Arizona desert. However, those years should pass quickly because of a $500,000 loot previously stashed away. New idealistic warden, Woodward W. Lopeman (Henry Fonda), would only make Pitman think of getting his fortune even sooner. He starts to manipulate everyone to achieve his goal.
I was a bit disappointed after watching “There Was A Crooked Man.” Despite many positive reviews, I was rather bored. Yes, the acting was on par and the cinematographic elements were quite on point for a period film. The main storyline was rather solid – but then it was drawn out WAY too long. I don’t mind a slow build, but the problem with this queer action film is that even the climax at the end is slow & drawn out. Another issue is that the film is suffering an identity crisis. Are we supposed to feel sorry for Paris, despite showing us from the start he’s a ruthless con man? And I detested the twist with the Warden at the end. For the entire film, he’s the “good guy” trying to bring reform to a bunch of prisoners. So I don’t buy that this righteous law-abiding warden would suddenly skip town with Paris’ stolen money!
Lastly, while “There Was A Crooked Man” is most certainly a Western film, is it a queer western film? I’m mixed on this, and the only reason why I’m leaving it in this list is because with the ensemble cast are a “probable” gay couple. Dudley (Hume Cronyn) and Cyrus (John Randolph) are arrested after being revealed as religious con-men. Throughout the entire film they are quibbling just like an old married couple. At the end when they realise they have been conned, Dudley decides to create a home just for the two of them when they get out. However, their sexuality and relationship are used more as comedic relief. At one point, Paris remarks negatively about the “two daisies”. Unless you’ve got a huge fascination for classic Western films, I’d probably skip this queer western film.
Taking place in the American West of the 1870s, a young man named Ephiram (Morgan Royce) is in the wilderness fleeing a vicious male lover. He runs into Indians and the hunky Cyrus Wheelwright (John Iverson). Ephraim begins to realize he’s gay, but has trouble coming to grips with it because of his ex. Can Cyrus and some Indian mystics help Ephiram realize that being gay is not bad?
This 1970’s film in an adaption of Richard Amory’s 1966 novel Song of the Loon. While I have not yet read the novel, many list it as one of the most important books of the 20th century, and this film adapation is equally one of queer cinema’s classics. Some even consider it one of the first true coming out stories shown on film! While there are some major issues with the film, such as the very obvious casting of white Europeans to portray Native Americans, questionable seventies art film techniques, and low budget, “Song of the Loon” takes a rather innocent approach to regards to accepting one’s homosexuality. The Loon and the Native Americans in the film have no qualms about loving men, or even loving more than one man. With a few soft-core sex scenes and gratuitous frontal nudity, I found this queer western film enjoying to watch. The pacing might be slow, and a few critics remark that you should read the novel first, I highly encourage you to find yourself a copy and enjoy “Song of the Loon”.
Headstrong Earlene (Ashleigh Sumner) makes a discovery that she is totally unprepared for. Acting on impulses, she leaves everything behind and heads to LA. The perfect distraction comes along in the shape of the mysterious Bruno (Miles Szanto), a wandering intersex teenager she meets at Venice Beach. The two loners become fast friends, but when Earlene becomes embroiled in one of Bruno’s home rental scams, whilst simultaneously discovering just what lengths he will go to to score some cash, she takes the youth under her wing and drives off into the desert. Along the way they meet a sexually confused carjacker (Barrett Crake), a pair of Scottish ex-strippers (Ross William Wild & Antony Cherrie), a tap-dancing drag queen and many more like-minded runaways – who are all looking for a way out in the world.
“Bruno and Earlene Go To Vegas” is a modernised retelling of “Priscilla: Queen Of The Desert”, mixed in with a dash of “Thelma & Louise”. But hidden within the adventure are some darker secrets that are slowly teased before unspilling and nearly ruining everything for both Bruno and Earlene. There’s also no question – this is a queer film! And perhaps more exciting is that Bruno identifies as intersex, and gives a pretty good description of why he (based of how Bruno identifies in the film) is who he is. The best part, Earlene doesn’t care. Nor does anyone else they run into along their adventure. Oh, and let’s not forget the sexy questioning eye-candy of Billy who finds his own sexual identity with one of the sexy ex-strippers! Yup – this is definitely a queer film!
But is it actually a queer western film? I’m honestly not sure.. While IMDb has accepted the Western tag despite their rather rigid criteria, the film is modern; it doesn’t feel like the classic wild west you would expect from a Western. It’s almost more an Adventure film (which is is also listed as). Underneath there is certainly the vibe of a Western film. You have guns, running from the police, getting lost in the desert, etc. I can see how it’s a Western, yet I also can question if it really is a Western. What are your thoughts? Either way – don’t overlook “Bruno and Earlene Go To Vegas!”