The Fatal Wave
Movie time is not easy at our house. My husband and I have very different tastes in entertainment. I prefer a film in which the major characters live to see their happy ending. He likes Lonesome Dove. If you've never watched Lonesome Dove or read any of Larry McMurtry's other books, well, suffice to say that it's best not to get too attached to any particular character. The dead have tendency to outnumber the living by the time the credits roll, and Larry's not above killing off the star of the show. As you can imagine, this puts a real crimp in the whole happy ending thing. Somewhere in the midst of the fifteen hour marathon that is Lonesome Dove I discovered the secret of The Fatal Wave. The Wave or its variations are present in nearly every western, and most other movies that involve gunfire. Surely I’m not the first person to notice that pausing to wave good-bye is the kiss of death to a Larry McMurty character? When Jasper stops at the top of the hill and turns to give a jaunty, farewell salute, you know he's toast. And you might as well start digging the grave for the poor fool who yells, “See you in Dodge City!” as he rides away. He’ll be riddled with arrows before the turd his horse dropped on the way out of camp is done steaming. Nearly as life-threatening as The Wave is The Dream. On the eve before the cattle drive reaches Cheyenne, the cowhands gather around the campfire. Young Willy waxes poetic about the pretty neighbor girl he’s going to marry now that he has a few dollars in his pocket. Dirk is busting with plans for the patch of ground next to the river where he’s gonna build his cabin and start his own cow herd. Go ahead and measure up a pair of Willy- and Dirk-sized pine boxes. The bandits will be attacking at midnight, and you know who’s going down in that hail of bullets. Writers and movie directors do it on purpose, of course. With the number of bodies that bite the dust in the average western, the death of one more cowpoke doesn’t evoke much of response in the audience unless you get to know him first. The bad guys seem so much more evil when they cut down poor Willy before he can marry his lady love, and the hero's vengeance that much more satisfying. Emotional manipulation at its finest, if not its most refined. Oddly, my husband prefers that I not point out these behind-the-scenes machinations. He gets downright testy when I say, "Well, shoot, 'Ol Henderson just did The Wave. I think I'll go out and pick some weeds while they kill him off." As if that somehow diminishes his enjoyment of the movie. Must be a man thing. Well, lookee there. A Clint Eastwood marathon on TV tomorrow. That would be my cue to go for a nice long ride, maybe over to Fox Coulee to see how the chokecherries are coming. And don’t expect me to wave goodbye as I ride out of the yard.