10 Westerns for Skeptics
Many people claim to dislike, or not care for, Western movies. In their eyes, it is a dated, boring and cliché-ridden genre which should have been buried alongside John Wayne himself. OK perhaps most do not quite feel as strongly as that but there is an issue with the appeal of the genre today.
I thought I would put up a blog post to give some pointers as to why I think the following films could change minds.
10) The Wild Bunch (1969)
Peckinpah’s brutal western is notorious for the violent climax but the acting on display is what drives this movie. Holden, Borgnine, Oates and Johnson simmer with aging testerone in a tale which could have been set anywhere and in any century – it’s the story of over-the-hill men on their way out, and of a transition in time between the generations. Robert Ryan’s reluctant gun-for-hire is the most underestimated performance of the genre.
9) The Ox-Bow Incident (1943)
A Western with Fonda’s defence at a kangaroo court in the dust being the stand-out piece. Themes of vigilantism, mob-justice and prejudice in a Western setting – there’s little-to- no action in what is essentially a courtroom drama, rather than a typical cowboy film. Much like 12 Angry Men, a movie with a message which haunts your thoughts for weeks after.
8) A Fistful of Dynamite (1971)
A humorous, extravagant horse-opera from Segio Leone. This will remind you more of Tarantino and it feels like it could have been made last year. Coburn’s turn as the Irish pyromaniac caught up in the Mexican revolution is charming in a romp which comes across as a pseudo-pantomine. The best fun you will have with a Western.
7) Red River (1948)
A true classic and probably the most stereotypical film on this list. Saying that though Wayne and Clift are a perfect fit in the father-and-son relationship which breaks down on a lucrative cattle drive – it’s addictive cinema and more of an adventure movie than anything else on this list.
6) The Great Silence (1968)
A dark, brooding Western with a driven Klaus Kinski as a diabolical bountry hunter. The eerie score and snow-clad settings make this a thoroughly unique entry in the genre. There is no happy ending in a movie which often feels more like a film-noir than a Western. No Western has ever been as more about a villain as this piece.
5) Rio Bravo (1959)
Howard Hawks loved this story so much he re-made it twice with El Dorado (1967) and Rio Lobo (1970). This is about an unlikely trio in a siege situation, and a clear precursor to the action movies of the 1980s. The dynamic between the drunken Martin and valiant Wayne is special, and the comic relief from Walter Brennan will have anyone in tears. Perfect for a Sunday afternoon.
4) Unforgiven (1992)
Clint Eastwood’s modern Western is a cut above the rest. Hackman, Harris and Freeman’s presence elevates a gritty thriller to Oscar-winning status. Similar themes to The Wild Bunch but Eastwood’s character is far darker than Holden’s. An adult and sombre genre movie which merits a watch for the cast alone.
3) Stagecoach (1939)
Ah, John Ford’s classic – the film that made Wayne a star. Here we have a disparate group of individuals stuck on a Stagecoach trying to repel Indian attack. The film however is more about status and class in society and the characters we have in the stagecoach could have been picked from any era – a renegade hero, a drunk, a gambler, a snob, a prostitute, an executive and a crooked banker. The tinderbox created by throwing these characters together is so well-lit by Ford that you can barely believe your eyes.
2) The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (1966)
It’s become a bit of cliché over time but Leone’s trump card is a cinematic journey with a score to die for. A snarling Lee Van Cleef and scumbag Eli Wallach partner Eastwood’s Blondie in a bloody race toward Morricone’s symphonic ending amongst the headstones of a graveyard. A film artistic in its execution.
1)The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)
Another Ford movie but one which is so rich in the elements of film-making that it surely would convince even the most die-hard of skeptics. See my previous post on this film here.
It’s hard to explain why a film touches you so much on a personal level; perhaps it’s the dark shadows of the stage-sets, the guttural performances or indeed watching Wayne burn down the house of his dreams but I think it’s none and all of these. It’s simply Ford’s best Western.