Not Always in Distress

Marlene Dietrich

Unlike the cowboy hero, who was always tough, resolute, and supremely masculine, the female lead in Westerns was presented in a variety of character patterns that differed according to the plot when the film was made. Throughout most of the 1920’s she was often portrayed as the strong pioneer heroine, fully capable of defending herself. A good example is Anita Stewart in The Fighting Shepherdess.

Later, she was softened into the stereotype of the frail, helpless woman, forever turning to her hero for protection (Mary Brian in 1929’s The Virginian.)

Then again she emerged as a self-reliant and increasingly robust figure—this time with overt sex appeal (Marlene Dietrich in 1939’s Destry Rides Again or Joan Crawford, Mercedes McCambridge in 1954’s Johnny Guitar.)

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