B-Movie Cowboy Hats

B-Movie Hats from the Last Best West.

Hoot Gibson started in silent films in 1910 and was a big star at the Saturday afternoon matinees during the 30s and 40s. In 1959 he made one of his few A list movies. He was a Sgt in John Ford’s Horse Soldiers.

B-Movie Cowboy Hats are characterized by exaggerated dimensions made possible by starting with an over sized hat body.

Sound and Silent B-Movie hats usually featured tall crowns and large brims, and often had massive kettle curls.

To understand the importance of the B-Movie western of both Silent{1890s-1920s} and talkies {1930s-1950s}, you need to look at them in the context of their times, the impact they had on the culture of those days, and the legacy they left later generations – one of which was to inspire the three founding members to form the Single Action Shooting Society {SASS} in 1981.

Silent westerns from 1903-1920s are important records of the last days of the Wild West, and in the case of movies like Hells Hinges {1916}, made by a Cowboy holdover from the Old West, William S. Hart, they are of almost documentary quality.

And here lies the real value of the Silent and B-Western – as a record of those days.

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Buck Jones in a B movie from the 1930s

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B movie The Painted Desert

In the 1930s the B-Western stars like Hoot Gibson, William Boyd, Buck Jones, and Yakima Canutt popularized denim and showcased the modern rodeo. Several B-Westerns featured a rodeo cowboy that’d get ripped off by a shady promoter, robbed of their winnings or framed for a crime/murder. Often authentic newsreel footage of rodeos was spliced into the story to add realism.

By 1930 the World had slipped into the Great Depression and to boost attendance theatres started offering Double Bills, or two movies for the price of one admission. Studios like Republic and Lone Star started churning out low budget serials and westerns to be shown before the “A” movie. These movies were tailored towards a younger audience, and followed simple themes that featured plenty of action.

Tom Mix

Tom Mix lived the cowboy way, serving as Town Marshal in Dewey, Oklahoma in 1912, and later performed in Wild West shows.

Stories generally involved a crooked banker, businessman or thug taking advantage of the honest hard-working townsfolk or ranchers. Then a stranger comes to town and sorts out the bad guys with iron fists and a quick draw, inevitably winning the girl and restoring the money, land or justice to the people. It is often revealed that the hero is a Government Agent or Marshal sent by Washington to fix all the problems, and during the Great Depression there were lots of them.

Serious westerns were mostly shunted to the side when the Tom Mix western formula became immensely popular in the Depression.

Mix developed a comic style that emphasized fast action and lots of chases, and was a favorite at the Saturday Matinee.

Yakima {Enos} Canutt {1895-1986} is an important figure in early movie history. A gifted athlete, and 4 time World Champion Rodeo rider, Canutt was an early silent film star. When sound came to motion pictures in 1927, his voice ended his career as a leading man so he focused his talent on stunt work.

Along the way Yak invented the movie punch, taught young western stars his famous walk and how to handle a six-gun. Yak was a pioneer in inventing safety equipment for stuntmen, and stunt-doubled for virtually every famous male actor of his day.

Through the 1930s Yak worked at Republic, Lone Star, and Mascot Pictures where he worked on many B-movies and Serials during this period, with Yak doubling the stars in the stunts, staging the action sequences, and quite often playing a henchman, or bad guy, in the film.

Yakima Canutt seldom got “on” a horse. He jumped into the stirrup, vaulted or leapt into the saddle. His athleticism is on display in every film he made in those days. He once rode a horse off a cliff into water, somersaulted into the saddle from 15 feet above, and rode a tree branch down an irrigation canal.

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Yakima Canutt a silent western star

In The Star Packer {1934} he not only doubles the star, but also the bad guys so in effect he’s chasing himself in the action sequences! In those days when the story needed an action scene, the script writer would simply pencil in: “Action by Yakima Canutt”, and Yak would deliver the footage needed. Yak got his break into A-list movies in John Fords’ brilliant western, Stagecoach. {1939}

John Ford made Yak his action director on Stagecoach, and it was Yak that staged that famous Stagecoach chase near the end of the movie. Watch the video above and you’ll appreciate it once again, or maybe for the first time.

Over his career Yak’s stunt work blazed new ground; often doing things never before attempted. For this Yakima paid a grave price, breaking most of the bones in his body. Even today Yak is a legend with the people who know and appreciate the history of Rodeo. He was the only man {83 went before him} to ride the legendary bucking horse Tipperary. This feat, and the invention of safety equipment for stuntmen, were among Yak’s most proud achievements.


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