When we were watching the film yesterday, I was surprised by a number of things. One, that I liked it. Second, that it was set around World War I. For whatever reason, when I think of Westerns, in my mind they are always set around the 1880's and the huge westward migration following the civil war. Third, and most important was that the film is set up in such a way that you feel more sympathy for the outlaws than you do for the recognized form of government and law.
I wonder if this was a particular trend during the 1960's. I remember as a child, and I swear this rambling does have a point, the episode of "The Brady Bunch" where Bobby has a case of hero-worship for Jessie James, and it has to be pointed out to him all the horrible things he actually did. Was this the era when we were looking back at the push westward and realized that it wasn't as cut and dried as previous generations had liked to portray it? Not all the Indians were bad, not all the cowboys were good, and not all lawmen were like Will Kane in High Noon. Many, in fact, were ruthless killers just like the people they hunted down. They just had a badge that allowed them to justify their actions. I felt like this was more of a statement of the corruption of governments and capitalism than a commentary on the lawlessness of the west.
I do know that regardless of whether this was a trend, we are made to identify with the outlaws. They are clean, put together, and think before they kill. The bounty hunters (excepting Deke Thornton) are filthy, ignorant, and would kill something as soon as look at it. Pike and Thornton (who incidentally I thought looked alike) are highly intelligent and compassionate, Angel is trying to free his people from corrupt government. They had a code of honor, while the army looks like idiots who make up claims to cover their own butts. I find myself hoping that Thornton and Pike end up teaming up and make off with the money in the end. I don't care what happens to the train executives, the army, or the governments.