Longview Morning Journal
By Joe Calvit
November 15, 1981
It really doesn’t matter an iota whether the communists get into the business of making western movies, but what hurts is when they start making us the bad guys. That’s what’s happening in Romania.
For years, the Romanians let Hollywood supply their westerns, and the U.S. films became immensely popular. As the Wall Street Journal reported last week, most Romanians can rattle off long lists of American western movies they’ve seen, along with the plots and stars. They idolized the straight-shooting John Wayne to such an extend that when he died there was a national outpouring of grief.
It bothered officials in Bucharest to see American movie actors becoming folk heroes behind the Iron Curtain. Why, they asked themselves, couldn’t Romania make its own westerns and get the Yankees out of their hair. Well, they have, but they’ve gone a step further. They’re turning Old West movies into propaganda pieces.
THE ROMANIAN WESTERNS, shot in Transylvania, remain rooted in U.S. plots, but invariably they characterize in a bad light. The present us as greedy, violent, shallow and unscrupulous. In short, we’ve become the guys in the black hats.
Fifteen million o Romania’s 22 million people have seen the first three home-produced westerns, and the majority gives them good ratings. And they’re apparently not upset about the propaganda that’s sprinkled rather liberally throughout their films. But to a true American western fan, the Romanian moviemakers have a few things to learn.
Flaws do them in. One scene shows cowboys drinking whiskey from bottles that still carry the original labels: Dry Sack Sherry and Biscuit Cognac. Mormon wives wear crucifixes, although the Mormon Church doesn’t use the symbol of the Cross. “Jeannie With The Light Brown Hair” is sung as a hymn. And their stagecoaches look like gypsy wagons, Triggers are pulled but guns don’t shoot.
ROMANIAN PRODUCERS, WHO work for the government, don’t miss opportunities to get in their digs. In one movie, a Confederate general loses in a poker game and pays his debt off by presenting the winner a slave. In another, a Romanian character who comes to America to work is scolded for not sending more money back home. The message is obviously aimed at the record number of Romanians seeking to immigrate to the U.S.
Propagandizing movies, of course, isn’t something that the Romanians thought up. It’s been done for years, in this country and elsewhere. Hollywood’s World War II movies depicting the Japanese as stupid may have convinced the homefolks, but they sure didn’t carry any weight with the GIs fighting in the Pacific Islands. (Now those “dumb” Japanese are whipping us in the technological world).
Occasionally you’ll see a rerun on late-night television. They called the B-movies but they really ought to be D-movies – D for dud. They were terrible. Today. We recognize the plots as ridiculous, and the propaganda that oozes is so obvious it’s sickening.
FORTUNATELY, HOLLYWOOD didn’t let Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Hoppy and their white-hat compadres go chasing Jap and Germans. They didn’t have to; there were plenty of bad characters in our own Wild West. And it’s still a rare occasion when an American western movie producer resorts to propaganda.
That, however, isn’t always true in the more serious movies or in television specials. Too frequently they’re simply avenues for the promotion of causes. The temptation to exploit will always be with us, but wouldn’t it be refreshing to sit down and enjoy a movie without feeling we’re being brainwashed.
With westerns, that’s less likely to be a problem – unless we start importing Romanian films.