Cultural Revolutions

Donald Siegel, R.I.P.

Few people, apart from film buffs, recognize the name Donald Siegel, but since the 1940's Mr. Siegel had directed some of the best American films ever made. Critics either hated or despised him both for pandering to popular tastes and for refusing to pander to the political prejudices of the intellectuals. The original Invasion of the Bodysnatchers (1956) was widely interpreted as a McCarthyist film, which it was, but it was also much more: a film horrifying enough to make sleep itself an object of terror, it warned us (like Eugene Ionesco's Rhinocéros) that already in the 1950's Americans were losing that individualism which was our primary virtue. All of Siegel's best heroes were men who accepted responsibility and did what they had to do in an America run by bureaucrats and zombies: Kevin McCarthy, holding onto his humanity and screaming "They're Coming," Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry, sacrificing his career in order to protect the public, and John Wayne as the aging gunman John B. Book in The Shootist (1976), the last good Western and a film tribute to John Ford.

Almost a reprise of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Siegel's last major film cast Wayne as a rugged and honorable Westerner dying of cancer and Jimmy Stewart as the doctor who treats him. Something has happened to the West since men like Book had roamed free, and it is now dominated by cowardly...

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