1870’s with a 30’s Twist

I love early western movies—those made in the late 1920’s or early 1930’s. These movies were made close enough to the times they portrayed—the 1860s-1890’s—that the sets, the clothing, the horse gear, have a fighting chance of being fairly accurate. And if they’re not accurate, at least they’re interesting.

This weekend I watched Zane Grey’s To the Last Man, which was filmed in 1933. It wasn’t the most accurate western I’ve ever seen clothing-wise…but it was interesting.

The story was one of young love redeeming feuding families. The Colby and Hayden families have feuded in Kentucky for generations. After the Civil War, Jed Colby (Noah Beery Sr.) goes to prison for murdering a Hayden, and the Hayden family heads to Nevada, leaving Lynn Hayden (Randolph Scott) behind to take care of the homestead. When Jed gets out of prison, he goes to Nevada, to seek revenge against the Haydens. Lynn is hot on his heels, hoping to stop the violence. Matters are further complicated by the fact that Lynn’s in love with Ellen Colby (Esther Ralston) and the two hope to marry.  I loved the final shootout, where people were actually reloading weapons, and the reloading took some time, just like it does in real life. The women are shooting as much as the men.

So, back to the clothing… no matter how bad an old movie might be, I can entertain myself looking at the fashions. Men’s. Women’s. Horse’s.

In this movie Randolph Scott wore buckskin. So did the heroine—and she
showed a fair amount of leg, even though the movie took place after the Civil War, probably in the very late 1860’s or early 1870’s. Was this accurate? Probably not–the leg part anyway. Nor were her 1930’s pencil thin eyebrows and semi-marceled hairdo accurate. But, since I love the 1930s, it was fun to see the 30’s influence on the 1870s fashions.

As you can see in the photo, Shirley Temple is in the film, as is a very young John Carradine.

If you want to catch To the Last Man, it’s available on YouTube.


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Jeannie Watt raises cattle in Montana and loves all things western. When she's not writing, Jeannie enjoys sewing, making mosaic mirrors, riding her horses and buying hay. Lots and lots of hay.

10 thoughts on “1870’s with a 30’s Twist”

    • I learn a lot watching them and I really love watching them with my mom, because she has a different take on them, having been raised by people closer to those times. Thanks for stopping by, Debra.

  1. I’m a baby boomer so the first western stars I remember seeing on TV were Gene Autry, Roy Rogers and John Wayne. They all made movies in the ’30s too that I don’t recall seeing reruns of now, but as a little kid I remember a TV show with Roy Rogers and Dale Evans that ended each week with their singing “Happy Trails.” The first John Wayne western I recall is “3 Godfathers” from 1948 but my all-time favorite was “The Searchers” (1956). As a little girl I even had a cowgirl outfit! 🙂

    As for period clothes, I have pictures of family relatives in Oklahoma around 1900 or so that still had all the women in long dresses; all you can see are their shoes. And my great-grandfather had a leather vest on and a long mustache that made him look all cowboy–along with the no smiling they did back then for photos.

  2. Eliza–How wonderful to have photos from back in the day! I loved the Roy Rogers show. My goal was to be Dale Evans when I grew up. I wanted a vest and dress with fringe and a horse just like hers. Did you watch The Lone Ranger and Sky King perchance? More of my favorites.

  3. Western movies are great! The scenery, action, characters made the movies so unforgettable.

  4. I love watching old movies. Partly because they are often so inaccurate and politically incorrect by today’s standards. I have a set of Zane Grey books and will have to get this one out and read it. I had forgotten how many of the old movies you can find and watch online. I’ll have to give this one a try. Thanks for letting us know.

    • Hi Patricia–I’ve been thinking of diving into some Zane Grey myself. And amen to the political incorrectness. I find myself both shocked and amused at times.

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