Rocky - Rough Riders of Durango

Western movies used to be referred to, usually dismissively, as horse operas. It’s not a bad term for them. Like classical operas, they might have silly plots or bad acting, but these things might be redeemed by beautiful music, or at least a few memorable arias.


Horse operas had their arias, too — passages showing superb horsemen riding superb mounts through handsome scenery, or in rousing action sequences. The quality of the horses and the horsemanship in Hollywood movies was almost always of the very highest order, even in the crappiest B-Westerns, so if you love watching images of fine horses ridden by fine horsemen, there is almost always great pleasure to be had from any kind of Western.


If you’re “tone deaf” to these visual “arias” in Westerns, to the kinetic melody of the movement of men and horses through space, you may find the appeal of Westerns baffling, just as a musically tone-deaf patron will find the appeal of many operas baffling.

This is your problem, not the problem of the operatic works before you.

4 thoughts on “ARIAS

  1. I am not surprised that two out of the three pictures illustrating your praise of horsemanship in Westerns feature Ben Johnson. 😉 (P.S. Also an opera fan…)

    • No one performed a Western horse aria like Ben! Do you mean he was an opera fan, or you are?

  2. Oh, I’m the opera fan, ever since I was 17 years old and I saw a TV broadcast of The Great Caruso, followed by my mother pulling out her old album (it was the days of LPs) of La Boheme (Licia Albanese, Jan Peerce) and playing it. I was an instant goner and literally saved up my baby-sitting money so my parents and I could see La Boheme at the New York City Opera. That production happened to star a very young Jose Carreras. 🙂

    Ben Johnson’s musical tastes from what I’ve read ran not too surprisingly towards country-western. Supposedly his favorite song was “Oklahoma Hills” — again not too surprisingly. 🙂 And my favorite version of that song is performed by Jack Guthrie, (Woody’s cousin). If you don’t know Jack Guthrie’s music, head over to youtube and put his name in a search engine. Jack Guthrie will make you happy. 🙂

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