In 1959 when I was thirteen years old, my daddy decided unexpectedly to take my mama and me to a movie in Houston, Texas. This was HUGE for me because (1) my daddy never wanted to spend any money on entertainment other than what entertained him which was bird hunting, fly fishing and shooting hoops (2) we lived in a small rural town in Grimes County where the nearest movie theater was 20 miles away in Navasota so movies were not just around the block (3) an excursion to Houston was 90 miles from our home – not an easy trip on back country roads leading to the big city. But Daddy knew that Mama and I loved the movies which seemed to be the magnanimous reason the three of us got “dressed up” to go to one of the theaters in downtown Houston that I thought was really a palace with a gigantic movie screen.
Daddy parked our Chevy sedan a short walking distance from the theater district – Mama didn’t mind walking in her high heels; I was excited and did a fast trot to see the Loew’s marquee.
Wow, I thought. A Western. Totally unexpected but Daddy and I watched westerns together every Saturday on our 14-inch television set – Tom Mix, Gene Autry, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans. Those westerns were a staple in our weekend activities.
Mama, on the other hand, was not a western fan. When she clicked her high heels on the pavement to the theater, her expression seemed to change from smiling to frowning. I knew she thought Doris Day/ Rock Hudson in romcom was the surprise picture Daddy had for us. Instead here she was at Last Train from Gun Hill with Kirk Douglas and Anthony Quinn in what turned out to be not at all akin to Tom Mix trying to catch train robbers.
Anthony Quinn portrayed the wealthiest and most powerful man (Craig Belden) in the Wild West town of Gun Hill. Kirk Douglas was U.S. Marshall Matt Morgan from a nearby town on a mission to catch two men who raped and killed his Native American wife. Spoiler alert: Belden’s son was the villain. Belden thought he was above the law, wouldn’t allow Morgan to arrest his son. The key question in my teenage mind was how could anyone be above the law? Was that possible?
In the end, a woman of questionable occupation named Linda (Carolyn Jones) saved Marshall Morgan’s life by clandestine means including stealing a shotgun she hid under her scarlet red dress with wide hoops. She stood up to the most powerful man in Gun Hill which precipitated success for the Marshall in a tragic shootout when he was so close to the last train.
I was enthralled and stole occasional looks at Daddy’s face which seemed less enthusiastic in his movie selection. Must have been the rape scene – mild by today’s standards, but probably a bit grownup for his thirteen year old daughter. Oh, well. No retreat, no surrender for him to Mama’s pouting.
The Wild West images of America were exported and transported around the world via our movies in the Golden Age of Hollywood throughout the mid twentieth century. Guns were seen as necessary to preserve Good over Evil; maybe those images were partly responsible for the gun violence in real life six decades later that threatens American communities.
Last night I saw another version of our hero Marshall Morgan recreated in the person of the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy when he addressed a meeting of the joint houses of the US Congress to eloquently thank the American people and our Allies for our support of the Ukrainian defense against the tyranny of Vladimir Putin of Russia and to ask for additional aid from the United States to continue the fight to preserve democracy in his home country.
Vice President Kamala Harris and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi
(this image a symbol of the success of the women’s movement)
Historic meeting on many levels – prior to Zelenskyy’s speech I was immediately struck with this image of two women who in the past six years have been the “Lindas” of their respective offices, two women who have stood for upholding the laws as set forth in their constitutional oaths. No shotguns required – their words are enough to cut through the spinelessness of their male colleagues who refuse to stand against a treasonous former president hellbent to be the equivalent of a modern day Craig Belden who is disrespectful of the law and those who seek to uphold it.
During the past year I have had friends and family argue that Ukraine is a long way from our homes, that the billions of dollars we have used to help them in their resistance to Russia should be spent on the problems we have in America. I believe President Zelenskyy addressed this thinking in one of the most impressive manners in the first speech to Congress by a war time president since Winston Churchill on December 26, 1941.
The Russians’ tactic is primitive. They burn down and destroy everything they see. They sent thugs to the front lines. They sent convicts to the war. They threw everything against us, similar to the other tyranny, which is in the Battle of the Bulge. Threw everything it had against the free world, just like the brave American soldiers which held their lines and fought back Hitler’s forces during the Christmas of 1944. Brave Ukrainian soldiers are doing the same to Putin’s forces this Christmas…
Ukraine — Ukraine holds its lines and will never surrender. So, so, here the front line, the tyranny which has no lack of cruelty against the lives of free people — and your support is crucial, not just to stand in such fight but to get to the turning point to win on the battlefield…
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The lessons learned in Last Train from Gun Hill sixty-three years ago remain the same. Might does not, nor will it ever, make right. From Craig Belden to Donald Trump, from Marshall Matt Morgan to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, from Linda to Nancy Pelosi and Kamala Harris – these are the courageous stories that must be told, that must be heard. No one was above the law in the fictional Wild West in days of yore; no one is above the law in democracies today.
Slava Ukraini. For the children we want to see become adults in a free country.
This world is enriched by courageous, steely men like Zelensky and wise, outspoken women like Harris and Pelosi. What times we live in!
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What times, indeed!!! Amazing.