Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Poster posture: Women with six-guns

The Bushwhackers (1951)
One style of poster repeatedly used for westerns featuring women shows the women illustrated, not photographed, standing head to toe, looking and pointing two 6-guns straight at us. A typical example is the artwork currently associated with a 1951 film called The Bushwhackers (at right), though it is unclear to me if this is original poster art or something affiliated only with the Synergy Entertainment DVD release of the film. In any case, several authentic examples follow, ordered by how well I think they meet the ideal form of the style, with the strongest examples first, followed by slight variations: photographic art, women with a single gun, and women not entirely shown. I couldn't help but conclude with a French poster for the film noir Gun Crazy (aka Deadly Is the Female), whose leading woman is first introduced wearing a western outfit, twin six-shooters in hand.

Some of these posters make a promise that isn't kept by the film — I don't recall Patricia Medina, for example, doing much shooting in The Buckskin Lady, nor Babrbara Stanwyck having as much gunplay as Ronald Reagan in Cattle Queen of Montana. Conversely, the poster for Johnny Guitar, while featuring Joan Crawford as the dominant element, does not depict her showdown with Mercedes McCambridge in a rare example of a western whose climactic gunfight is between two women.

Finally, note the taglines on some of these posters, which sexualize the women through innuendo despite their apparent mastery of a traditionally male (and Freudianly phallic) weapon. My favorites are from The Buckskin Lady ("She hid her past behind a pair of silver .45's!") and Cattle Queen of Montana ("She strips off her petticoats . . . and straps on her guns!"). The posters further fetishize these women through costume, with prominent gun belts offset by tight or low-cut clothing.

The Buckskin Lady (1957)

Montana Belle (1952)

Woman They Almost Lynched (1953)

Johnny Guitar (1954)

Rose of Cimarron (1952)

Cattle Queen of Montana (1954)

Dakota Lil (1950)

The Paleface (1948)

Belle Starr (1941)

Gunslinger (1956)

Gun Crazy (aka Deadly is the Female, 1950)

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Poster posture: The fantasy mound

There's a recurring motif in posters from fantasy movies of the late 1970's and continuing through the 80's: the (almost always) male hero posing on top of a mound, surrounded by images of the characters and landscapes of his adventure, weapon raised, with a woman placed next to him — sometimes seemingly submissive and dependent upon him for protection, at all times sexualized and occupying a lower space in the composition.

Below are examples of this motif from several movie posters. Some of the films were probably lower-budget attempts to cash in on the sword-and-sandal craze ostensibly set off by Conan the Barbarian (1982). Others were almost certainly sex-and-violence exploitation films (I admit there are a few on this list I have not seen). But this poster style was used by more successful mainstream films as well, as early as 1977's Star Wars. The style was used outside of the fantasy genre (though perhaps just barely) in the Clint Eastwood cop adventure The Gauntlet, parodied by two of National Lampoon's Vacation comedies, given a female hero variation for Barbarian Queen (1985) and Warrior Queen (1987), and echoed decades later in the poster for Tron Legacy (2010), the sequel to Tron (1982), which also used the style.

This motif reflects the concerns of a genre often aimed — accurately or not — at a young male audience: weapons (frequently phallic), life's challenges made physical and solvable by battle, and the role of women as the hero's reward.

Star Wars (1977)

The Gauntlet (1977)

The Norseman (1978)

Conan the Barbarian (1982)

Tron (1982)

The Beastmaster (1982)

National Lampoon's Vacation (1983)

Fire and Ice (1983)

Sword of the Barbarians (Sangraal, the Sword of Fire, 1983)

Warriors of the Wasteland (The New Barbarians, 1983)

The Blade Master (Ator 2 - L'invincibile Orion, 1984)

The Warrior and the Sorceress (1984)

National Lampoon's European Vacation (1985)

Barbarian Queen (1985)

Warrior Queen (1987)

Tron Legacy (2010)