The Wild West was, to paraphrase one historian, a sexual nightmare. With the disproportionate ratio of men to women, prostitutes abounded and those few women who didn’t charge for their affections were hotly contested items among lonesome cowpokes. Portraying the sexual ballet onscreen has been a challenge for Western filmmakers, especially given that the genre came of age in the puritanical ’40s. While none of the ribaldry here will compete with 9 1/2 Weeks, sex does pop up in the Wild West — even if the plumbing for epic shower scenes was yet to be invented.
Brokeback Mountain (2005)
Of course the most prominent aspect of this genre-bending Western is the tragic romance between Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal. But their taboo liaison upstages the smoldering sexuality of the movie’s put upon, much-ignored female figures: Michelle Williams and Anne Hathaway. While Ledger and Gyllenhaal play out a Land’s End catalog on their “camping trips” to old Brokeback, Williams’ and Hathaway’s sexuality is played out in far more explicit fashion, in fully-lit sex scenes that show their ample, underutilized assets.
100 Rifles (1969)
Raquel Welch was the sexpot in residence of the ’60s, starting with her role as a curvaceous cave woman in One Million Years B.C. Moving forward 1,001,912 years to the time of the Mexican Revolution, we find her steaming up the Wild West alongside the era’s fellow sex symbols Burt Reynolds (believe it!) and football star Jim Brown. During the course of the movie, Welch engages in an impromptu wet T-shirt contest to distract the Mexican Army, and raises eyebrows with an intimate scene with Brown — one of the first interracial sex scenes in a Hollywood movie to date.
Ride a Wild Stud (1965)
John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart certainly never engaged in on-screen orgies, which makes this curiosity from the Swinging ’60s something of a cult oddity. Released to capitalize on the sexploitation market, Ride a Wild Stud follows an outlaw Confederate who kidnaps nubile young women for use on his frontier harem. All his prey get taken to the fabled Pleasure House of Quantrill — the closest thing the Wild West gets to a swinger’s club — where every lascivious desire is permitted. Just watch out for those cacti.
Ride the High Country (1962)
This early Sam Peckinpah flick feels like a run-of-the-mill oater, but quickly edges into forbidden sexual territory. An innocent young girl tags along with Joel McCrea, Randolph Scott and Ron Starr on their mission to a mining camp. The naive girl aims to marry a local miner, but his hillbilly brothers come straight out of Deliverance, and things turn dark after the wedding when it becomes clear that her new husband has some pretty liberal ideas about sharing the wealth with his kinfolk. As on-screen kink goes, the scenes found here are more terrorizing than titillating — but that’s par for the course with Peckinpah.
Calamity Jane (1953)
Deadwood was the Las Vegas of the Wild West, with Calamity Jane (played by Doris Day) as its star diva. She dressed like a cowboy, and romanced one (that’s Wild Bill Hickok), but the true secret of this movie is its lesbian undercurrent. Jane exchanges some sizzling words and smokey looks with maid Katie Brown (Allyn Ann McLerie), and even moves in with the girl by the end of the movie! Once more, the movie proves that understated desires are much sexier than ones shown out in the open.
Duel in the Sun (1946)
Dubbed “Lust in the Dust” by the more puritanical members of the general public, this Western features a sexual tug-of-war with Jennifer Jones’ Tex-Mex sexpot. So scandalous was the movie, the Hays Office ended up cutting a number of its steamy love scenes, though the sweltering atmosphere remains intact. As always, the conflict remains one that is often found in the West: One woman and too many men.
The Outlaw (1943)
One of the most notorious movies in any genre, The Outlaw was a brazen challenge to the Hays Code that ruled Hollywood at the time. Masterminded for controversy by Howard Hughes, the flick’s true star was the bulging bosom of star Jane Russell. Hughes even designed a bra for his star! Torn between the lethal passions of machos Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett, Russell’s character Rio has ample opportunity to bend over, twist, and quiver in their embraces. The movie was a massive success.
Klondike Annie (1936)
Mae West had a dirty mouth and a brassy attitude and she shows it off in this ribald travelogue into the Gold Country. Here her character is a tough-talking prostitute with a Chinese lover. Heady stuff for 1936! A master of the skillful double entendres, West was able to prowl mostly unscathed by the censoring scissors of the Production Code.