In one of the finest book ever to cover western cinema, Bob Herzeberg's "Hang 'Em High: Law and Disorder in Western Films and Literature" not only details the history of the genre, but offers interesting anecdotes to dress up his many facts.
The western genre is central to the development of narrative cinema, and Herzberg effectively starts at the beginning, his book discussing the films chronologically so as to allow the reader to appreciate the western movie's evolution. Correlating between different eras, Herzberg at one point compares Burt Lancaster's strict by-the-rules Marshall in "Lawman" (1971) to the manner of actor Randolph Scott's portrayals decades earlier. While Scott's by-the-book stance was effective in bringing peace and justice to an anarchic town, Lancaster's similar approach results in an already effectively run small town becoming riddled with tragedy and upheaval. Herzberg states that the eras in which the films were made is the key to their difference in approach.
While Randolph Scott left films in the early 1960s, the iconic John Wayne maintained his carefully honed image well into the 1970s. Nevertheless, the western film had been progressing since the post war era, with directors like Anthony Mann, Sergio Leone, Sam Peckinpah, and Clint Eastwood continuing to redefine the genre's perspective.
While incorporating the growth in western literature with his discussion of the films, the author traces the genre's history most effectively, offering detailed plot summaries, an assessment of the book or film, and pages of interesting background information. His book is not only informative and enlightening, but also entertaining and fulfilling.
"Hang 'Em High: Law and Disorder in Western Films and Literature" is most highly recommended for all libraries, research centers, and casual fans of the western.