In some ways, I have been delaying writing about western movies reflecting the cultural deterioration of the mid and latter 20th century. It just is not pleasant to think of, yet I think the changing western movies reflected the awful cultural deterioration with great precision.
Absolutely the single best movie that heralded the era of the 1960s, down even to its name, was The Misfits, released in January of 1961. I saw it first run, when I was 22 years old. I have never forgotten that movie because I detested it so much. I had grown up on western movies, mostly B westerns, radio, and some television westerns, and I had loved them. The Misfits revolted me because it tore at that which I loved, only it took me many years and a lot of philosophical growth to appreciate what my brain had summed up during one movie viewing.
I cannot fail to acknowledge that Rebel Without a Cause (1955) signaled that life and art were in serious decline in America, but neither it nor the overpraised and undertalented James Dean had the visceral impact of The Misfits on me.
When The Misfits was made, in 1960, B westerns had been gone from movie theaters about a half a decade. Even B western heroes who had made it to television were gone, people like Gene Autry and Hopalong Cassidy. We were left with the A westerns, and they were quite banal. B westerns had truly been fast-moving "morality plays," while A westerns were just long slice-of-life stories. As a result, most A westerns were "ho hum" at best.