Every western worth its salt needs its salty old dog: the resident codger, the coot, the geezer, Pops. The Grizzled Old-Timer may sometimes appear as a mere comic-relief utility player, but he actually fulfills multiple family roles—mother hen, kvetching Gramps, avuncular voice of reason—out on forbidding frontier terrain, where domestic comforts run scarce.
G.O.T. axiom Walter Brennan exhibited the most range in the category: from Vicious G.O.T., as nasty Old Man Clanton in My Darling Clementine, to (more typically) the Dotty and Adorable G.O.T. In Rio Bravo, his toothless and perpetually riled Stumpy is cook, maid, nurse, and babysitter (of the sole local prisoner), yet still finds time to save the day with a few expertly tossed bundles of dynamite. If Brennan was G.O.T. as hero, then Hank Worden (much later the ancient bellhop on Twin Peaks) embodied the holy fool, aiding the obsessive quest in The Searchers in return for the homely promise of “just a rockin’ chair by the fire.” In The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, cackling, jig-dancing G.O.T. Walter Huston is a veritable loom of homespun wisdom, from gold extraction (“Gotta know how to tickle her so she’ll come out laughin’ “) to workplace relations (“Got somethin’ up yer nose? Blow it out, it’ll do ya good”). When trouble gallops onto the horizon and lesser men grab their pistols, Huston reaches instead for his cookware, and gets some beans on the fire—his boys can’t fight bandits on an empty stomach.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on February 22, 2005