The Plainsman

Movie Information

In Brief: Yes, Wild Bill Hickok (Gary Cooper), Calamity Jane (Jean Arthur) and Buffalo Bill Cody (James Ellison) really existed. For that matter, so did a lot of the characters in Cecil B. DeMille's The Plainsman (1936), but nearly every connection to reality ends there — and the film is pretty upfront about it. Right after its impressively grand opening credits (just like a Star Wars "chapter" heading), we get a title informing us, “Among the men who thrust forward America’s frontier were Wild Bill Hickock and Buffalo Bill Cody. The story that follows compresses many years, many lives and widely separated events into one narrative — in an attempt to do justice to the courage of The Plainsman of our West.” In other words, they took some real people and made the rest up out of legend and dubious history, along with a large dose of Hollywoodization of the sort DeMille is so rightly praised and damned for. (And, no, it is very much not P.C. in its 1936 depiction of Native Americans.) It's also one of DeMille's best movies, occasionally (like the last shot) achieving the truly mythical. And both Gary Cooper and Jean Arthur are everything movie stars should be.
Genre: "Historical" Western
Director: Cecil B. DeMille
Starring: Gary Cooper, Jean Arthur, James Ellison, Charles Bickford, Helen Burgess, Porter Hall
Rated: NR

The Asheville Film Society will screen The Plainsman Tuesday, Jan. 12, at 8 p.m. in Theater Six at The Carolina Asheville, hosted by Xpress movie critic Ken Hanke.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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