The Western genre for many years was the most popular for cinema-goers. Today it is not watched by nearly as many people. However, Westerns continue to be produced regardless. They are set in a specific time in American history. Often they echo the political and cultural climate of the time the film is set.
The Searchers is one of the biggest Westerns ever made. It stars genre favourite John Wayne as a man who must rescue his niece from natives. The movie focuses on the racism of the lead character and the violence he creates around him. It marks the end of the traditional era of the genre as we knew it.
Perhaps the best film of the traditional era is Shane. It too focuses on the repercussions of the violence of the lead character. Alan Ladd stars as the eponymous character who tries to save ranchers from a cruel land baron.
In later decades the genre began to change. Before it had looked back on history with rose-tinted glasses. The earlier Westerns sought to portray America in the past as one of white heroism. Revisionist films started to focus on the points of view of black slaves and native Americans. Unforgiven stars Clint Eastwood as a retired gunslinger who decides to do one more job. It takes an unromantic look at the harsh way of life that existed at this time.
The genre has been parodied numerous times. Mel Brooks did a great job of doing this with his 1974 spoof Blazing Saddles. It portrays a black man who is appointed as the sheriff of an all-white town. He must survive the racism that was part of everyday life at this point in history. The film helped to make filmmakers rethink using the same tired tropes of the genre.