This story, originally written by novelist Owen Wister is the granddaddy of the western genre. Western novels before that were usually about real life characters, Buffalo Bill, Wyatt Earp for example: that put them in these two dimensional heroic settings. Those things were nicknamed "Penny dreadfuls" and that they were.
Wister, who spent some time in the west, and was a good friend of cowboy president Theodore Roosevelt, developed his characters out of the people he met in the west. The strong silent hero, the demure schoolmarm, the cold hearted villain, all these appear in The Virginian and they're stock characters in westerns. But these are the original prototypes for thousands to follow. Owen Wister set the standard for folks like Zane Grey, Luke Short, Louis L'Amour,etc. to follow.
Joel McCrea was a fine actor, a combination of the best features of Gary Cooper(who did the role in an earlier version), Jimmy Stewart and a younger John Wayne. Nobody has done a better job in playing this character including Cooper. Brian Donlevy is the villainous Trampas and he never disappoints. Sonny Tufts probably has the best role in his career as Steve, The Virginian's friend who turns to rustling with Trampas. Barbara Britton is properly demure as the schoolmarm.
This novel, the play that Wister wrote based on it and all the versions to follow had the Presidential imprimatur. Teddy Roosevelt loved this book and recommended it to the youth of America. I remember a similar White House imprimatur for a western coming in my teen years. Back around 1965 the folks had CBS decided Gunsmoke had run its course and they were ready to pull the plug on the show. Well, up stepped Lady Bird Johnson to the plate and she declared that Gunsmoke was her favorite television show. That did it, the show ran almost another decade.
The crux of the story centers around the relationship with The Virginian and Steve. After warning him once, The Virginian catches Steve with stolen cattle and since there's no organized law in the territory, proceeds to hang him forthwith. The story then revolves on how The Virginian and others around him view the distasteful, but necessary duty he had to do.
I've often wondered how Theodore Roosevelt felt about that part of the plot and what he might have said to his good friend Wister. There is a famous story from his days in the Dakota Territory about how Roosevelt set out to trail some rustlers and caught up with them. There was no law within miles of where they were. But Roosevelt took them back to where there was a federal marshal and turned them over to the surprise of many including the marshal.
No doubt The Virginian was a great example of the manly virtues of the strenuous life that Roosevelt passionately advocated. But I often wonder what he and Wister might have talked about concerning this aspect of the story.
Remember folks if you see this and complain about clichés, remember the clichés started here.
47 out of 56 found this helpful