Westerns lack the cultural cachet of film noir or even racy pre-Code movies, but the genre has shown surprising resiliency under the multiple assaults of camp, feminism, and spaghetti westerns, as demonstrated in Yerba Buena's well-titled "Strange on the Range." Raoul Walsh's 1947 film Pursued (July 9) not only started the trend toward noirish, Freudian westerns, it's also one of the best exemplars of this subgenre. Robert Mitchum has one of his finest roles as Jeb Rand, a man tormented by a vague childhood trauma until -- according to then-popular psychiatric theory -- he can relive it and move on.
A few years later, audiences were paying to see western stars replaced by women. Low-budget whiz Roger Corman made three such films, the rarest being Oklahoma Woman (1956; July 9). This amusingly threadbare effort pits a ruthless female saloon owner against her ex-con boyfriend and a whole town, and includes, as do many of Corman's films, a lengthy catfight. The marketers tried to dress it up with a hysterical ad campaign -- "Queen of the Outlaws! Queen of Sin!" screamed the poster -- but fans of women in men's clothes beating the hell out of each other didn't need encouragement.
Warhol's demented sendup Lonesome Cowboys (1967; July 16) offers more western drag. The plot is enchantingly mindless, with perpetually stoned queen Taylor Mead trying vaguely to protect "landowner" Viva from the lax attentions of a troupe of homo cowpokes, among them Joe Dallesandro. These aging "cowboys" seem less interested in Viva than in bed-hopping, practicing their ballet, and pinching each other's nipples.
Of the three spaghetti westerns in this program, Don't Touch the White Woman! (1974; July 22) sounds the most promising, with Catherine Deneuve, Marcello Mastroianni, and a sweatshop where Indian curios are made by "oppressed white women." Best not to miss the highly regarded The Big Gundown (1966; July 30) either, which is scored by the glorious Ennio Morricone and stars the iconically laconic Leone veteran Lee Van Cleef. The series opens at 8 p.m. Friday with Pursued at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Screening Room, 701 Mission (at Third Street), S.F. Admission is $3-6; call 978-ARTS.
-- Gary Morris