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Every person who is condemned to teach English fears a certain day in their lives: it is when a loving parent, usually a mother, asks them to teach their small boy how to read. The best way in my experience is to begin with magazines or books or short stories about what is wrongly called The Wild West.

Compared to the East of America, it wasn't wild at all. As they read what are called cowboy books and stories, they will add to their vocabulary. They will learn that a colt.45 is like a small cannon. And it requires both hands to manage it.

A colt.38 is much handier. A derringer is the handiest of all. You can keep it in your pocket. Most editors of newspapers in America usually kept a derringer handy in their front drawer. It was used to frighten away those who came with complaints.

Your young reader of cowboy books will find out that there were people in the Old West who were very real: Davy Crockett, the great huntsman, was known as the King of the Wild Frontier. Jim Bowie invented the bowie knife.

Both Davy and Jim died fighting at The Alamo. So did dozens of Irish men. It was a war over territory between the Americans and the Mexicans. The Americans came out very badly and yet the slogan "Remember the Alamo" became part of American life.

There was another catch-cry that most people didn't understand. It was "Powder River, a mile wide and a foot deep." This could refer to several experiences in your life. It began with the cowboys driving herds of cattle from Texas to Chicago. The pioneers came to what they thought was an inland sea, but when they explored it, they found it was very wide but very shallow. It wasn't a sea, it was only a river.

The original films about the Old West were simplistic and racist. They were fought between the American army and the Indians. They usually came to a climax when the Indians had surrounded the Americans and looked certain of victory. Then you heard the bugles of the American Fifth Cavalry who would come to the rescue. The Indians had to flee in many directions and the audience all cheered as an Indian was shot and fell from his horse.

Then came a new generation who wouldn't take such simplistic and racist fodder. The new films were now about white men fighting white men. In a typical story a corrupt sheriff and his deputies were holding a town to ransom by demanding protection money from the business people.

At last, the citizens held a meeting and sent for a new figure who is to become very important in the American film world. He is the gunman with a deadly aim and a heart of gold. He comes to the town and lives very quietly but he picks off the sheriff's deputies one by one until at last the corrupt sheriff is on his own. And in a scene that recurs again and again in the American film world, the sheriff and the gunman meet in the dustiest street you ever saw. There can be only one result: the gunman wins out and the sheriff hits the dirt.

Then came a new wave of American films. We meet the singing cowboy, especially Gene Autry and his horse Champion. They performed even in Dublin. The cowboy films were softening. When eventually a motor car appeared on the scene, it was their death.

A new attempt was made to revive the Western films with stories that had good plots and good acting and good direction.

John Ford's Stagecoach was an example. There were a few more, too, but the appeal of films about the Old West had gone forever. Then came a wave of films about the Wild East: they were concerned mostly with gangsters who were involved in smuggling whiskey from Canada and importing drugs from continental Europe.



Sentimental

In the older films, the good always triumphed over the bad. This wasn't so clear in the gangster films. Some of the bad men got away with their evil deeds.

They spoke a new language: a gun was now called "a gat" and when you murdered somebody you just "rubbed him out". This wave of films eventually ran its course and in its place we got sentimental love stories.

Many of them were well made and the acting was generally good. They were immensely popular and brought Bing Crosby into his own. They in turn became more realistic and the young lovers didn't always live happily ever after. Then came the world of the English cinema. Their films were generally good and their sense of humour was far ahead of the Americans. Any day that you meet an American person with a sense of humour, you should put a mark on the calendar at home.

In time, came films made in continental Europe. They were generally very good, especially the French films and the Italian. We met realistic plots and new actors and new directors. It was an education in itself: we saw that real life can be very dramatic and even romantic.

Fogra: Marathon running is all the talk now. Two people well known to me: Feidhlim Kelly is going for his first marathon in Dublin. Ian O'Riordan is preparing for the London Marathon. We wish them both great luck. Maria McCambridge is running in Dublin in an attempt to qualify for the Olympics. We wish her the best of luck


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