It’s been about two years since I’ve added to my favorite List, so I think that it’s about time. Western Movies have been around since the beginning of the movie industry, beginning with The Great Train Robbery in 1903 I wasn’t around back then so it’s not on my list. However it was a ground breaking film in it’s day. I love old movies as much as I love the contemporary ones, probably more; so the list that I’ve compiled covers decades. They are the movies that I have grown up with and grown old with and continue to watch every time I see them on television. These movies are not in any numerical order, so here it goes.
HEAVEN’S GATE 1980 Directed and written by Michael Cimino. The reason this is one of my favorites is that I’m a history buff. Even though there’s a disclaimer in the credits stating it is not based on actual event, it actually is. The Johnson county range war is the basis for countless Movies,novels and tv shows. Although most accounts of the era blamed them darn squatter, or them darn rustlers, contemporary history judges the cattle barons as the bad guys. I love this movie’s atmosphere, cinematography and costumes. It’s a long movie, but I never get tired of watching it. The cast is an all star line up including Kris Kristofferson, Jeff Bridges, Mickey Rourke, John Hurt, Joseph Cotton, Isabelle Huppert, Sam Waterston and many others. Great action, engaging story, excellent cast.
JOHNNY GUITAR 1954: Starring Joan Crawford Mercedes McCambridge and Sterling Hayden, Directed by Nicholas Ray,also known for Rebel without a cause. Quite possibly this is the first feminist western. Don’t be fooled by the name, Johnny Guitar might as well be called Johnny McGuffin. The real story is the epic battle between two great female characters;Vienna, played by Crawford and Emma played by McCambridge. These two women are the perfect storm converging on a small town, bringing destruction with them. There will be blood.
THE LONG RIDERS 1980: Directed by Walter hill and starring just about every set of working siblings in Hollywood at the time. You can’t beat this line up: David Carradine, Keith Carradine, Robert Carradine, James Keach, Stacy Keach, Dennis Quaid, Randy Quaid,Christopher Guest and Nicholas Guest. Only Sam and Timothy Bottoms are missing from this flick. They are supported by a cast of all time favorites. This is a cult classic far superior to the 2007 snooze fest (The assassination of Jesse James by the coward Robert ford). If you love westerns and shoot em ups, this is a must see film.
OPEN RANGE 2003: Directed by Kevin Costner, Starring Kevin Costner and Robert Duvall you Can’t miss with these two power hitters. This is a gritty, emotional, unflinching look at the old west, not your Granddad’s western. These are hard men but not hardened killers Their humanity unexpectedly shines through, relenting the death of their enemy.
THE OXBOW INCIDENT 1943: Directed by William Wellman, Starring Henry Fonda, Dana Andrews, Anthony Quinn. This is a morality play in western dress, not a hell bent for leather, six shooter horse opera. It is disturbing and quiet and portrays the lynching of three innocent men, for the dastardly and despicable crime that it is. Henry Fonda is the voice of reason that everyone ignores. The unlucky drifters come to a a sad and sobering end and justice is denied.
MY DARLING CLEMENTINE 1946: Directed by John Ford, Starring Henry Fonda, Walter Brennan, Ward Bond,Victor Mature and linda Darnell. When John Ford calls all the big names answer. This is one of my favorite narratives of the famous Clanton Earp feud, that sparked the infamous gunfight at the OK Corral. It is gritty grim and dark just like the men that it portrays. The atmosphere of anger pervades the entire movie and it’s easy to see why these men clashed. This is the western that is the benchmark for all the Wyatt Earp movies that came after it, and most other westerns as well.
PAT GARRET AND BILLY THE KID 1973: Directed by Sam Peckinpah Starring James Coburn and Kris Kristofferson. Sam Peckinpah has always been one of my favorite directors. He not only weaves a great story, he expertly integrates the action into the over all plot. Pat Garret and Billy the kid has some great character studies, that pull you into that world. Slim Pickens gives an extremely touching performance as an over the hill lawman, Who gives his last full measure of devotion to enforcing the law, even though he didn’t have to. Veteran western movie actress Katy Jurado, plays his wife who supports his decision, even though she knows that it might result in his death. The scene with Pickens and Jurado is one of the more memorable in western movies.
THE WILD BUNCH 1969: Directed by Sam Peckinpah Starring William Holden, Ernest Borgnine, Warren Oats and Robert Ryan. This is a stark character study of really really bad men, who go out in a blaze of glory, in retaliation over the death of a friend. This is one of the bloodiest onscreen gunfights ever. Peckinpah set the bar so high that no one has been able to duplicate it. If you haven’t seen this movie it’s worth a try.
THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN 1960:Directed by John Sturges, Starring Yul Brynner as the good guy and Eli Wallach as the bad guy. This was my first A-list western and it was a wonderful introduction to some of the best young stars of the day. just think Charles Bronson, Steve McQueen, Robert Vaughn, James Coburn and Horst Bucholz all in one movie. When I found out some years later in high school, that the Magnificent Seven was based on Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 classic, Seven Samurai, it made me aware of the fact that Hollywood wasn’t the center of the movie universe. I also became a lifelong fan of Kurosawa. I’m so glad that its rousing Oscar nominated theme by Elmer Bernstein is remembered, it still sounds awesome. This film is a solid classic and is scheduled for a 2017 remake.
HIGH NOON 1952: Directed by Fred Zinnemann, Starring Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly. This is the movie That Cooper is most remembered for, not the Fountain head or Sergeant York. This is the predecessor to the lone hero going against impossible odds trope, later exemplified by movies like Pale rider and high plains drifter.
TOMBSTONE 1993: Directed by George Cosmatos and Kevin Jarre (uncredited) Starring Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer with a strong supporting cast that includes Sam Elliot, Bill Paxton. Billy Zane, Powers Booth and Dana Delaney. This is another retelling of the famous gun fight in the empty lot next to that photo place, that is known as the gun fight at the O K Corral.
PALE RIDER 1985: Directed by Clint Eastwood, Starring Clint Eastwood, Carrie Snodgrass, Michael Moriarty and iconic television star John Russell. This is a classic lone hero yarn, where a gun toting, wandering preacher descends on a mining town and deals out death, like an avenging angel. Like most movies of this sort, the week kneed town folk turn their backs, as the local bully rides rough shod over everyone, doing whatever he pleases, because he’s rich, must be a conservative. I love this movie because revenge is a dish that’s best served cold.
MCCABE AND MRS MILLER 1971: Directed by Robert Altman, starring Warren Beatty, Julie Christie and Rene Auberjonois. More of a north western than a western, filmed in British Columbia,that’s right it was filmed in Canada and you can feel the chill. It kind of makes you wonder why people would leave civilization to move to this wet, dirty, cold, desolate place. The answer is money of course. the lure of gold or silver. The town of Presbyterian church is a mining boomtown. McCabe is a gambler and wannabe pimp and Mrs. Miller is an English whore. Between the two of them they plan to make money from the miners. It is an engaging and atmospheric, dark and brooding, one of the truly great westerns.
THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY:1966 Directed by Sergio Leone, Starring Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef and Eli Wallach. A sweeping epic of a western that starts during the war between the states, and moves across the dusty western landscape like a rattle snake. It’s about greed, friendship and betrayal and a clash of wills that can only end badly. This movie is dirty, gruff and like the old west unpolished. Sergio Leone sees the old west through the eyes of a foreigner stripped of its white hats and nickel plated six shooters, he brings a taste of ugly realism to the screen. After this move American westerns were never the same.
DESTRY RIDES AGAIN 1939: Directed by George Marshall, Starring James Stewart, Marlene Dietrich and Brian Donlevy. Jimmy Stewart plays a peace loving law man who doesn’t resort to gun play to solve all of his problems. The son of a famous lawman helps out an old family friend. Other than the title, the movie bears no resemblance to the Max Brand novel of the same name. It’s a light hearted romp in a frontier town with Stewart as the towns moral compass. This was always one of my childhood favorites on TV.
JEREMIAH JOHNSON 1972: Directed by Sydney Pollack, Starring Robert Redford Will Geer and Delle bolton. A greenhorn retreats to the isolation of the mountains and becomes a mountain man.Friends in the wilderness are few and far in-between, but he prefers it that way. The lessons are hard ones, as he first learns to fight Indians and then learns how to coexist with them. His relationship with nature is just as rough, but he survives and even gains a native wife. In the end he is at one with nature, reveling in it’s solitude and stark beauty.
HONERABLE MENTION GOES TO
SILVERADO 1985: Directed by Lawrence Kasdan, Starring Kevin Klein, Danny Glover, Scott Glenn and Kevin Costner.
THE QUICK AND THE DEAD 1995: Directed by Sam Raimi, Starring Sharon Stone, Gene Hackman, Russell Crowe, and Leo DiCaprio
QUIGLEY DOWN UNDER 1990: Directed by Simon Wincer, Starring Tom Selleck, Laura San Giacomo and Allen Rickman