Saludos amigos! I’m new on this forum, so I thought posting my first new topic would be a good start. As a huge history nerd, I’ve been trying to calculate the setting years of several SWs, and I thought I could share my speculations here. Feel free to make inputs or add new films!
Note: I’ve decided to overlook anachronisms in which firearms are used.
Django- most likely set in 1866 or early 1867, during the ending stage of the French-Mexican war.
Navajo Joe - Howard Hughes believes it to be set during the Navajo purges by the US government. Problem is, those purges occurred during the American Civil War, to which there are no references whatsoever in the film. Furthermore, the Sheriff of Peyote tells Duncan that scalp hunters are no longer considered helpful to society, indicating that it’s probably set around 1870s, in the aftermath of the purges.
Once Upon a Time in the West - a difficult one. The “end of the west” theme throughout the film initially made me assume it to be set in the 1890s, and Jills makeup (which wasn’t invented until the turn of the century) reinforces this. However, there are a few factors that point otherwise; Cheyenne’s captors tell him about the “modern prison in Yuma” (opened in 1876; in fact, the Wikipedia article cites 1876 as the setting year of the film due to this reference), and the boomtown atmosphere of Flagstone doesn’t feel like it fits into a turn-of-the-century setting. To make the whole thing even more complicated, harmonicas where broadly launched in the United States around the ACW. If we stretch it as much as possible and says Harmonica is in his mid-30s (years of riding in the sun can’t be good for your aging), his flashback during the climatic duel can be set to roughly 20 years before the main story, and due to the above facts about harmonicas in the US, it can’t be set earlier than around 1860 (perhaps Harmonicas brother was a spy for one war faction, and Frank a mercenary for the other?). Based on all this, I’ll make a compromise and estimate a mid-1880s setting.
The Big Gundown- Another difficult one and for similar reasons; the presence of ghost towns, the uniforms worn by the Mexican officers, references made to the modernization of the west and the fact that “classic” outlaws are drying up in Texas all indicate an 1890s setting. However, some elements of the film suggest it’s set much earlier. For example, Cuchillo can hardly be older than around 30 yet is old enough to have “stood with Juarez” - which becomes even more problematic when you come to think about the fact that he is still the same age in “Run man run”. Also, one of the outlaws killed by Corbett in the opening scene wears a union uniform, implying that he’s a veteran, and doesn’t seem older than like 40 at most. So one of the things I really love about this film - the way it depicts several parts of the Old West society - also means that it’s a hard one to place in a certain year.
What do you think?