INTRODUCTION

Perhaps no genre of film is more inherently American, nor more enduringly mythologized, than the Western. One of the original genres, beginning in the silent era, the Western has been revived and reinvented numerous times, including by foreign directors. Perhaps still the most recognized figure of American cinema is "The Duke", John Wayne and to this pantheon of cinematic icons must be added James Stewart, Clint Eastwood, Gary Cooper, Henry Fonda, Rory Calhoun, Randolph Scott, as well as the heroes of less serious, but equally significant, Saturday matinee serial features such as the late Roy Rogers, Gene Autrey, Johnny Mack Brown, Tom Mix and others. The villains were icons too, Robert Armstrong, Lee Van Cleef, Skip Homeier, and none more recognizable and popular than Jack Elam. An almost ubiquitous stalwart who must be mentioned is Walter Brennan. Ward Bond, found to be the individual most often cast in the American Film Institute's Top 100 Films of All Time, was also a familiar face in countless Westerns, on both sides of the law.

We all know the way of the West, or think we do. Hollywood has created a mythos whose seductions, even among knowledgeable filmmakers, are difficult to resist: the tall stranger, the fiery-spirited woman from back East, the grundgy weak-minded villain, the iron-willed cattle baron, the ambush from the rooftop, the shootout in the street, the old frightened sherriff, the saucy saloon girl, the outlaw gang riding through town, the bank holdup, the prairie settler widow, the noble savage, or his counterpart the ruthless murdering "Injun", the steeley-eyed gambler with a draw fast as lightning, the stampede across the settlers farms, the rustlers' hidden box canyon, the cavalry riding to the rescue. These things are but caricatures (often biased or out and out distortions) of the way the West actually was, but they have become more real in the American imagination than the true history. They are the elements of an American mythology in the truest sense.

And that mythology has evolved along with the genre. In the early films, native Americans were depicted as marauding warriors, boardwalk drunks and renegades. Then in the 1950s, there was an acknowledgment by some films that the true history had become subverted, notably in Cheyenne Autumn, which dealt powerfully with US Government treachery in the resettlement of the vanquished plains tribes. But this was at the eve of the era of the Western in American cinema. The form was losing its popularity. Perhaps it was becoming too gritty, the lines dividing the good guys from the bad guys becoming blurred. Certainly some of the best classics emerge from this time. But it was dead by the late sixties, when an Italian filmmaker named Sergio Leone hired a young American TV star from the popular series Rawhide to take the lead in a new kind of Western. These few Italian films by Leone were dubbed "Spaghetti Westerns", but they did more than make Clint Eastwood a permanent saint in Western iconography, they also precipitated a renaissance in the American cinema. Eastwood formed the Malpaso production company and continued to make films, largely carrying the torch for many years. But there were others, such as Sam Peckinpah's Ride the High Country and The Wild Bunch, which reflected the new style of the Western. While still mythologic in character at times, these films were more psychological, morally ambivalent, unflinchingly violent and encrusted with the grit and dust of the frontier - no one was ever clean for long. In the 1980s, Eastwood's perseverance finally paid off and with films such as Pale Rider, the Western was once more recognized as a genre form worthy of artistic effort by serious filmmakers. At the same time a new generation of Americans wanted to see the kind of tall stories that their parents enjoyed, and flocked to such films as Silverado. Now the latest evolution of the mythology reflects the popular contemporary sensibilities about violence and social justice, but it still distorts the realities of the historical era. Cavalry atrocities are depicted now with brutal accuracy, yet native American raids ands torturous cruelties are rarely seen; the whole truth is a composite of both, indeed the sensibilities of our age would have seemed strange to most on the frontier, especially in the years 1840 to 1880.

Some of the films highlighted here are historically accurate, such as Kevin Costner's Wyatt Earp, while most are merely part of that imagined West. Being a fan of fantasy films, I confess that I enjoy both art forms for their merits, even such bizarre fantasies as Sam Raimi's The Quick and the Dead, an homage to traditions of both the Hollywood Western and the "Spaghetti Western". I will further confess that I have not seen a great many of the older films regarded as classics of my parent's generation, though I think I've seen most of the best ones. I am more enamoured of the somewhat grittier variety and am biased toward authentic portrayals of frontier life, having been an avid reader of Louis L'Amour, who melded traditional heroic expectations with authentic detail.

THE .44 BULLET RATING SYSTEM

There are no culls in this herd, so a mediocre film rates no bullet holes.
Bodacious: A True Classic!
Downright Good
Better `n Bad, Its Pert Near Good!
Fair t' Middlin'

INDEX TO THE BEST WESTERN FILMS

These films are presented in chronological order to give a sense of the evolution of the genre, so here is an alphabetical linked index to help locate particular films of interest.
The Big Country
Bend of the River
The Bravados
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Conagher
Crossfire Trail
Dances with Wolves
Dawn at Socorro
Duel in the Sun
The Far Country
A Fistful of Dollars
For a Few Dollars More
Fort Apache
Four Guns to the Border
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Gunfight at the OK Corral
The Gunfighter
Hang `Em High
High Noon
Hombre
Hondo
Hour of the Gun
Legends of the Fall
The Magnificent Seven
The Man from Laramie
The Man from Snowy River
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
My Darling Clementine
Once Upon a Time in the West
Open Range
The Outlaw Josey Wales
Pale Rider
Quigley Down Under
Red River
Ride the High Country
Rio Bravo
The Sacketts
The Searchers
Shalako
Shane
The Shootist
Silverado
Stagecoach
Tombstone
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
True Grit
Unforgiven
The Violent Men
The Virginian
Warlock
The Westerner
The Wild Bunch
Winchester `73
Wyatt Earp
Young Guns
STAGECOACH
Rating
Film Production Credits
Release Date: 1939
Produced by: Walter Wanger
Directed by: John Ford
Other:
Cast of Characters
John Wayne The Ringo Kid
Claire Trevor Dallas
John Carradine Hatfield
Thomas Mitchell Doc Boone
George Bancroft Marshal "Curly" Wilcox
Tom Tyler Luke Plummer
Louise Platt Lucy Mallory
Tim Holt Lieut. Blanchard
Andy Devine Buck
Synopsis and Commentary

Passengers on a stagecoach riding through Apache Indian country must overcome their personal differences and private difficulties to survive. This is a theme that was revisited successfully many years later in the film noirish Hombre, starring Paul Newman. Though laden with stereotypes that would become cliche in later films such as the aging and crusty marshal, the whiskey drummer and the saloon floozy with heart of gold, John Ford's first post-sound venture into the genre that would define him, Stagecoach, is charming when viewed from the perspective of period audiences, unfamiliar as yet with these figures and with a very young John Wayne, whose final confrontation with the man who betrayed him (Tom Tyler) is well conceived and enacted. Thomas Mitchell won the Academy Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role. The film also won for Best Music and Scoring and was nominated for Best Picture, Best Director and other technical categories. Stagecoach is a true classic.


THE WESTERNER
Rating
Film Production Credits
Release Date: 1940
Produced by: Samuel Goldwyn
Directed by: William Wyler
Other:
Cast of Characters
Gary Cooper Cole Hardin
Walter Brennan "Judge" Roy Bean
Doris Davenport Jane Ellen Mathews
Dana Andrews Hod Johnson
Synopsis and Commentary

A tough but mild mannered drifter finds himself embroiled in a bitter war between sodbusters and cattle men inspired by an egomaniacal and arguably psychotic leader, the notorious "Judge" Roy Bean. Probably not very historically faithful and oftentimes maddeningly consistent with the Hollywood conventions, this film has one attribute which (apart from its general reputation) earns it a place in this page and that is Walter Brennan's performance as Roy Bean. Usually a kindly, if salty, codger in his later films, Brennan is actually quite menacing here, particularly when his face becomes expressionless and his voice takes on a kind of deceptive calm. He gives the impression of a man who has no sense of the value of human life whatever, elevating his puerile obsession with the actress Lily Langtry (depicted by Lilian Bond) above any consideration of justice and indeed using his pretence of a court to exercise tyranny. The jocularly indifferent lynching of a man for shooting a steer at the beginning sets the stage for all that follows, although one wishes that Gary Cooper's character could have felt some more sincere rage at such atrocity sooner in the story. Indeed the whole film at times seems obscenely light-hearted considering the visciousness of the action. Had this been made 25 years later, it would have been a much darker and more consistent film.


THE VIRGINIAN
Rating
Film Production Credits
Release Date: 1945
Produced by: Paramount Pictures (Paul Jones)
Directed by: Stuart Gilmore
Other:
Cast of Characters
Joel McCrae The Virginian
Brian Donlevy Trampas
Sonny Tufts Steve Andrews
Barbara Britton Molly Wood
Synopsis and Commentary

A young woman of Vermont upper society comes to Wyoming as a schoolteacher and finds herself between a ranch foreman and his old range pal who has become a rustler for a ruthless cattleman. This was the fourth film version of Owen Wister's classic saga of the West, the most famous version previously being the 1929 film starring Gary Cooper, one of the earliest "talkie" westerns. Although classic Hollywood in some respects, the moral complexities of the lynching and the realism of the final gunfight distinguish this film.


DUEL IN THE SUN
Rating
Film Production Credits
Release Date: 1946
Produced by: David O. Selznick
Directed by: King Vidor
Other: Written by Niven Busch
and David O. Selznick
Cast of Characters
Jennifer Jones Pearl Chavez
Gregory Peck Lewt McCanles
Joseph Cotten Jesse McCanles
Lionel Barrymore Old Man McCanles
Lillian Gish Laura Belle McCanles
Walter Huston Preacher
Synopsis and Commentary

The tale of a half-breed woman and the conflict she created between two brothers. Nicknamed "Lust in the Dust" and likened to a western version of Gone with the Wind, this was one of the earliest epic westerns and one of the strangest. Peck plays the worthless outlaw son of a cattle baron, the darling of his ruthless father, while Cotten plays his upright steady son, a man clearly destined to rule the old man's empire but despised by him as a weak sister. Jennifer Jones is the half-Indian orphan adopted by the family, who loves an oblivious and distant Cotten but is desired and manipulated by Peck. Inevitably she becomes the focal point of the conflict between the two brothers. I won't reveal more, but the final confrontation is surely the most singular in the western genre.


MY DARLING CLEMENTINE
Rating
Film Production Credits
Release Date: 1946
Produced by: 20th Century Fox
Directed by: John Ford
Other:
Cast of Characters
Henry Fonda Wyatt Earp
Victor Mature Doc Holliday
Cathy Downs Clementine Carter
Walter Brennan Old Man Clanton
Ward Bond Morgan Earp
Tim Holt Virgil Earp
Synopsis and Commentary

Wyatt Earp comes to Tombstone and finds himself slowly drawn into a showdown with local ranchers. Allegedly the "most authentic" version of the gunfight at the OK Corral because Wyatt Earp himself told the details to director John Ford, this film is perhaps the least historically accurate of any version, at least as regards the story which culminates in the mythic gunfight, involving a cast of characters taken wholly from fiction (notably the titular role) and neglecting many real ones. The circumstances of the actual shootout also differ from Earp's published account. But what the heck, this is a classic western.


FORT APACHE
Rating
Film Production Credits
Release Date: 1948
Produced by: Argosy Pictures / RKO Radio Pictures
Directed by: John Ford
Other:
Cast of Characters
Henry Fonda Lt Col Owen Thursday
John Wayne Capt. York
John Agar Lt. Michael O'Rourke
Ward Bond Sgt Maj O'Rourke
Victor McLaglen Sgt Mulcahy
Ben Johnson Tyree
Synopsis and Commentary

An arrogant commander, contemptuous of his assignment and nettled by what he perceives to be a slight to his career, arrives to assume command of Ft. Apache in the Arizona Territory, a spartan post of hardened fighters in a state of uneasy coexistence with the cunning and fierce people they guard. Lt Colonel Owen Thursday (Fonda) is an egotistical fool to the last, but owing to Fonda's sterling performance, one who is both believable and understandable, if detestable. John Wayne, as Capt. York, plays an officer whose years of fighting with the Apache have taught him respect for their courage and understanding of their ruthlessness as well as bitter contempt for his own government's policies toward the Nations. Although still a "my country right or wrong" sort of film (this was, after all, just 3 years following World War II), John Ford manages to imbue this film with moral depth and complexity. At no time are the Apaches contemptuously derided, except by Lt Col Thurday, and their portrayal by what appear to be be genuine Apaches is singular; in point of fact if the film has any fault it may be that it is a little too romantically respectful to be historically faithful. But its a great film. Of particular interest is the presence of an adult Shirley Temple in the role of Fonda's daughter, Philadelphia; one of her few adult roles. This is the first of John Ford's "trilogy" of cavalry films (others being She Wore a Yellow Ribbon and Rio Grande) and by far the best. Rio Grande in particular is a bizarre "sequel" which involves some of the same characters, but the story is poor and the situations are inconsistent with this film (notably Tyree's arrival).


RED RIVER
Rating
Film Production Credits
Release Date: 1948
Produced by: Monterey Films
Directed by: Howard Hawks
Other:
Cast of Characters
John Wayne Tom Dunson
Montgomery Clift Matthew Garth
Walter Brennan Nadine Groot
Joanne Dru Tess Millay
Harry Carey Mr. Melville
Synopsis and Commentary

A grueling cattle drive becomes a trail of fear when the trail boss becomes increasingly dangerous, unswervingly driving his men as ruthlessly as the cattle. Acclaimed as the finest western of all time by many pundits, this is a high point for Howard Hawks and also for John Wayne, who plays one of the darkest characters of his career. Montgomery Clift is better than any other role I can think of, in this his first film. Although lightened at the end (which I feel is a mistake by Hawks), this is a pretty gritty tale. This film features both Harry Carey Sr. and Jr.


THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE
Rating
Film Production Credits
Release Date: 1948
Produced by: Warner Bros.
Directed by: John Huston
Other:
Cast of Characters
Humphrey Bogart Fred C. Dobbs
Walter Huston Howard
Tim Holt Bob Curtin
Barton MacLane McCormick
Synopsis and Commentary

A duo of down and out drifters in Mexico decide to head into the mountians to seek gold, led by a crusty old tin panner, and undergo an evolution of character as a result of their strike. Perhaps not a traditional western, this is certainly a tale of an important part of the western experience. Son John Huston convinced his father to part with his dentures for this film and he is absolutely magnificent as the venerable miner cum philosopher. One of Humphrey Bogart's all time best performances, this film has some famous moments. It has been mimicked by Bugs Bunny, by Mel Brooks in Blazing Saddles, and by Weird Al Yankovic. A true classic and one of the all-time greatest films.

"Badges? We don' need no stinking badges!"


THE GUNFIGHTER
Rating
Film Production Credits
Release Date: 1950
Produced by: Nunnally Johnson
Directed by: Henry King
Other:
Cast of Characters
Gregory Peck Jimmy Ringo
Millard Mitchell Sheriff Mark Strett
Helen Westcott Peggy Walsh
Jean Parker Molly
Skip Homeier Hunt Bromley
Karl Malden Mac
Synopsis and Commentary

A gunfighter whose notoreity has become a curse longs to leave his past behind and find a place where he and his estranged wife and child can live in peace. Unlike countless westerns of similar theme, this film manages to seem original and believable. It is also quite historically accurate in physical detail (if not in story). I especially like the ending of this film with its brutal twist. Strangely, Peck's mustache was initially regarded as a detriment by producers and public, but it adds to the historicity since nearly all western men sported beards and mustaches (in contrast with Hollywood's long insistence on clean shaven faces).


WINCHESTER `73
Rating
Film Production Credits
Release Date: 1950
Produced by: Aaron Rosenberg
Directed by: Anthony Mann
Other:
Cast of Characters
James Stewart Lin McAdam
Millard Mitchell High Spade
Shelley Winters Lola Manners
Stephen McNally Dutch Henry Brown
Dan Duryea Waco Johnnie Dean
John McIntire Joe Lamont
Will Geer Wyatt Earp
Synopsis and Commentary

An expert rifleshot pursues the man who murdered his father through the tale of a stolen prize "One-of-a-Thousand" Winchester Model 1873 Repeating Rifle as it changes hands. At times a little conventional, this first collaboration between Mann and Stewart is redeemed by its intensity and the darkly psychological performance of Stewart. Unknowns Tony Curtis and Rock Hudson have bit parts. Trivia: this is the first film in which the top star received a percentage of the film's gross and it's success made Jimmy Stewart wealthy.


BEND OF THE RIVER
Rating
Film Production Credits
Release Date: 1952
Produced by: Aaron Rosenberg
Directed by: Anthony Mann
Other:
Cast of Characters
James Stewart Glyn McLyntock
Arthur Kennedy Emerson Cole
Julia Adams Laura Baile
Rock Hudson Trey Wilson
Lori Nelson Marjie Baile
Jay C. Flippen Jeremy Baile
Chubby Johnson Captain Mello
Henry Morgan Shorty
Synopsis and Commentary

A trail freighter with a mysterious past and a dangerous ally falls prey to treachery and shifting alliances when his load of goods intended for a mining camp is hijacked for another destination. The second great western by Anthony Mann, Bend of the River teams James Stewart with Arthur Kennedy for the first time (they appear together again in The Man from Laramie). By this time, Mann is really finding the method that he would work with Stewart in three more films, all unrelated, but all consistent in their focus on the conflict within Stewart's character between his principles, his past and a steadily building threat. No western actors have captured that tenuous restraint or slowly seething rage better than Stewart. And few (if any) antagonists have better entwined a winning manner and the steel cold ruthlessness of a killer than Arthur Kennedy. Rock Hudson gets a prominent part in this film as a gambler of doubtful character.

Pardon my rant... My only real complaint with this film is the presence of Stepin Fetchit, whose shuffling, dim-witted portrayal of a flunkie Negro sidekick was a frequent feature of films in this era. Giving Stepin Fetchit billing on the posters was Hollywood's perverse idea of promoting black actors in film. It satisfied the majority view of the apprpriate place of African-Americans in society, and if anyone in this country thinks that it was a viewpoint confined to or even predominately found in the Deep South then they are fearfully naive. Blessedly, the usual Stepin Fetchit routine is downplayed here.


HIGH NOON
Rating
Film Production Credits
Release Date: 1952
Produced by: Carl Foreman and Stanley Kramer
Directed by: Fred Zinneman
Other: Written by Carl Foreman
Cast of Characters
Gary Cooper Will Kane
Grace Kelly Amy Kane
Katy Jurado Helen Ramirez
Lloyd Bridges Harvey Pell
Lon Chaney, Jr Martin Howe
Ian MacDonald Frank Miller
Lee Van Cleef Jack Colby
Synopsis and Commentary

A quiet sheriff on the verge of putting aside the badge and gun receives word that an outlaw he apprehended has been released from prison and is returning to his town on the noon train for a showdown with his band, then discovers that no one in town is willing to stand beside him. Based on John W. Cunningham's story "The Tin Star", High Noon has a timeless, universal quality. Producer Kramer remarked in an interview: "I never thought this was a western". The theme of a man standing alone because his principles won't allow him to run away from the conflict was considered subversive by many. The House Committee on Un-American Activities was convening and Gary Cooper was one of its most eager witnesses; nevertheless he took the role for a script written by an alleged communist who had fled the country to escape persecution and oppression at the hands of our supposed freedom loving government. One of the reasons why I dislike John Wayne is demonstrated by the fact that he rejected the role on the grounds that it was subversive and un-American. The irony of this is staggering, because the film has become an icon of Americana and has been symbolic of struggles for freedom, including the Solidarity movement against the communist rule in Poland. The filmmakers went to great effort to create the washed out, black and white cinematography rather than film in color in order to produce a "newsreel-like" appearance and to strip away the trappings of the Hollywood big production western.


HONDO
Rating
Film Production Credits
Release Date: 1953
Produced by: Robert Fellows and John Wayne
Directed by: John Farrow
Other: Story by Louis L'Amour
Cast of Characters
John Wayne Hondo Lane
Geraldine Page Angie Lowe
Ward Bond Buffalo Baker
Michael Pate Chief Vittorio
James Arness Lennie
Rodolfo Acosta Silva
Synopsis and Commentary

A former Army scout is called on to intrecede and prevent an Apache uprising and rampage. Out of circulation for decades, Hondo was considered on of Wayne's best performances, and it is. Hondo was one of the first films to be made in 3-D, so the Apache arrows seem to come right at the audience. Originally based on ashort story by Louis L'Amour entitled The Gift of Coshise, the success of the film apparently inspired L'Amour to expand the short story into a novel (as he did with many of his short stories) called simply Hondo.


SHANE
Rating
Film Production Credits
Release Date: 1953
Produced by: George Stevens
Directed by: George Stevens
Other:
Cast of Characters
Alan Ladd Shane
Van Heflin Joe Starrett
Jean Arthur Marian Starrett
Jack Palance Jack Wilson
Elisha Cook, Jr. Frank Torrey
Emile Meyer Rufus Ryker
Synopsis and Commentary

A drifting gunfighter is drawn into the lives and troubles of a group of settlers being terrorized by a big rancher. An absolutely fantastic novel by Jack Schaefer, the screen treatment of Shane, though sometimes tainted by Hollywood gimmickry (chiefly Jean Arthur's perm hairdo!), is perhaps the most historically authentic of all Hollywood westerns in setting and has become one of the all-time classics. While Alan Ladd may not fulfill expectations of the heroic gunfighter by contemporary standards, in many respects this works to the film's advantage because it is an iconoclastic tale. One of the film's hallmarks is its subtle depiction of the undercurrents of action through the innocent questions and observations of a young boy who idolizes the mysterious gunfighter. The final gunfight at the sutler's and the boy's plaintive cries at the very end are among the most famous scenes in film. Clint Eastwood paid homage to this film (and one scene in particular) in his Pale Rider. Author Joseph McBride, who interviewed the director, reveals that Stevens saw the film as a sort of allegory of his own experience of the Second World War, and has described the film as not merely the pinion upon which the western turned from its classic antecedents into its anti-heroic form but also as a metaphor of America's post-war loss of innocence.


DAWN AT SOCORRO
Rating
Film Production Credits
Release Date: 1954
Produced by: William Alland
Directed by: George Sherman
Other:
Cast of Characters
Rory Calhoun Brett Wade
Piper Laurie Rannah Hayes
David Brian Dick Braden
Alex Nicol Jimmy Rapp
Synopsis and Commentary

A gambler notorious as a gunslinger becomes embroiled in a feud which follows him as he decides to put aside the gun and seek convalescence in the mountains for an old wound troubling his health. This is one of the best westerns I have ever seen. Although traditional in many respects, it has none of the cliched staleness of the standard Hollywood western, owing to an excellent script, tight performances and excellent direction. Rory Calhoun is a favorite of mine and his Doc Holliday-like character is my choice for his best performance. The cast includes familiar faces such as Edgar Buchanan as the nervous Sherriff Couthen of Socorro, and veteran badmen Lee Van Cleef and Skip Homeier as two of Old Man Ferris's no account sons. A lovely face more familiar in 1950s Sci-Fi is Mara Corday as Letty Diamond, a dance hall girl friend of Brett Wade.


THE FAR COUNTRY
Rating
Film Production Credits
Release Date: 1954
Produced by: Aaron Rosenberg
Directed by: Anthony Mann
Other: Musical scoring by Henry Mancini
Cast of Characters
James Stewart Jeff Webster
Ruth Roman Ronda Castle
Walter Brennan Ben Tatum
John McIntire Sheriff Gannon
Jay C. Flippen Marshal Rube Morris
Corinne Calvet Renee Vallon
Synopsis and Commentary

Entrepreneurial cowpuncher Jeff Webster drives a herd of prime beef to an Alaskan mining town with a vengeful and psychotic rogue sheriff on his trail. The fourth collaboration between director Anthony Mann and James Stewart, The Far Country features an uncommonly unlikelable portrayal by Stewart. Jeff Webster's self-reliance and independence borders on heartlessness and one is left to wonder in the end whether it is a sense of decency or a challenge to his ego that spurs him to act. As always, Mann delivers a complex tale. John McIntire, usually a supporting actor in westerns, sinks his teeth into the role of a smiling, psychotic sheriff cast in the mold of a Judge Roy Bean. Ruth Roman's Ronda Castle, proprietor of the Castle Saloon, is an ambiguous counterpart to James' Webster.


FOUR GUNS TO THE BORDER
Rating
Film Production Credits
Release Date: 1954
Produced by: Universal Pictures (William Alland)
Directed by: Richard Carlson
Other:
Cast of Characters
Rory Calhoun Cully
Colleen Muller Lolly Bhumer
George Nader Bronco
Walter Brennan Simon Bhumer
John McIntire Dutch
Jay Silverheels Yaqui
Nestor Paiva Greasy
Synopsis and Commentary

An outlaw band conducts a perfect bank robbery and escape but crosses the trail of an old man and his daughter pursued by an Indian war party and must choose between escape and rescue. Although the original story by Louis L'Amour, In Victorio's Country is a lot grittier, this translation to film is not bad. William Alland, Richard Carlson and Nestor Paiva worked together this same year on The Creature from the Black Lagoon.


THE MAN FROM LARAMIE
Rating
Film Production Credits
Release Date: 1955
Produced by: Columbia Pictures
Directed by: Anthony Mann
Other:
Cast of Characters
James Stewart Will Lockhart
Arthur Kennedy Vic Hansbro
Cathy O'Donnell Barbara Waggoman
Donald Crisp Alec Waggoman
Alex Nicol Dave Waggoman
Jack Elam Chris Boldt
Synopsis and Commentary

A mysterious stranger begins asking questions concerning the massacre of a wagon train and stolen repeating rifles and finds himself in a conflict with the big cattle outfit in the region. The final collaboration between director Anthony Mann and Stewart, this film again has a dark aspect and is something of a western intrigue or mystery film. Stewart's character is not to be deterred from finding the truth, despite being dragged through a fire by a lariat and attempts on his life. The relationships between the ruthless aging cattle baron, now going blind, (played by Crisp), his spoiled and apparently psychotic son, the ranch foreman who sees him as a father (played by Kennedy), Stewart, and the woman suddenly torn between the foreman and Stewart, are well written and acted. Some have called this Arthur Kennedy's finest performance.


THE VIOLENT MEN
Rating
Film Production Credits
Release Date: 1955
Produced by: Lewis J. Rachmil
Directed by: Rudolph Mate'
Other: Music by Max Steiner
Cast of Characters
Glenn Ford John Parrish
Edward G. Robinson Lee Wilkison
Barbara Stanwyck Martha Wilkison
Brian Keith Cole Wilkison
Richard Jaeckel Wade Matlock
Synopsis and Commentary

A non-confrontational, former Union guerrilla fighter shows a ruthless cattle baron how to wage a land war. An obscure film, this film noir of the west is one of the very best I have ever seen. As he often did in westerns, Ford plays a quiet, reserved man who becomes an engine of retribution when he is finally aroused. Ford's confrontation with Richard Jaeckel's character is among the most dramatic and original in western film. The intrigues between crippled patriarch of the Anchor Ranch, Lee Wilkinson (Edward G. Robinson), his younger and ambitious brother Cole (Brian Keith) and Lee's wife Martha (Barbara Stanwyck, in one of her most evil roles) make for a gripping and unconventional plot.


THE SEARCHERS
Rating
Film Production Credits
Release Date: 1956
Produced by: Warner Bros. (Merian C. Cooper)
Directed by: John Ford
Other:
Cast of Characters
John Wayne Ethan Edwards
Jeffery Hunter Martin Pawley
Natalie Wood Deborah Edwards
Vera Miles Laurie Jorgensen
Ward Bond Rev. (Capt) Samuel Johnson Clayton
Harry Carey, Jr. Brad Jorgensen
Henry Brandon Chief Cicatrice (Scar)
Ken Curtis Charlie McCorry
Synopsis and Commentary

An embittered Confederate soldier who refused to surrender and took to the outlaw trail, ceaselessly pursues a little girl captured by the Commanches who butchered her family, brooding over the thought of what she has become as the years pass. Undeniably John Ford's masterpiece, The Searchers was the Duke's personal favorite. It may be his finest performance; certainly it is one of his most grim and darkly passionate. Ethan is an unremitting racist regarding the native Americans and his transformation of purpose in pursuing his niece is a startling and powerful development of character. A bit whiney at times, Jeffery Hunter's part-Cherokee adopted brother of the girl is ultimately a true hero. Not only is this a strong and uncommonly realistic story, but it is gloriously filmed in Monument Valley National Park. There is a bit part by Patrick Wayne as a young cavalry lieutenant near the end of the film and Ken Curtis, who played Festus on the TV series Gunsmoke plays Lori's other suitor McCorry.


GUNFIGHT AT THE OK CORRAL
Rating
Film Production Credits
Release Date: 1957
Produced by: Paramount Pictures
Directed by: John Sturges
Other:
Cast of Characters
Burt Lancaster Wyatt Earp
Kirk Douglas Doc Holliday
Rhonda Fleming Laura Denbow
Jo Van Fleet Kate Fisher
Synopsis and Commentary

Wyatt Earp assumes the role of marshal in Tombstone as a conflict is building between the town and the lawless cowboys of the Clanton and McLowery ranches and must call upon his dangerous friend "Doc" Holliday for a showdown at the OK Corral. At one time Hollywood's most famous depiction of the most famous gunflight in the history of the west (though far from the most significant or impressive!), this film teamed Lancaster and Douglas at the summit of their respective careers. Classic Hollywood, the performances of these two nevertheless make this film a worthy addition to the canon. DeForrest Kelley, who made his early career in westerns before becoming "Bones" McCoy on Star Trek, plays Morgan Earp. Another sci-fi star, Kenneth Tobey, plays Bat Masterson and a young Dennis Hopper appears as Billy Clanton.


THE BIG COUNTRY
Rating
Film Production Credits
Release Date: 1958
Produced by: William Wyler and Gregory Peck
Directed by: William Wyler
Other: Novel by Donald Hamilton
Cast of Characters
Gregory Peck James McKay
Jean Simmons Julie Maragon
Burl Ives Rufus Hannassey
Carroll Baker Patricia Terrill
Charles Bickford Major Henry Terrill
Charlton Heston Steve Leech
Chuck Connors Buck Hannassey
Alfonso Bedoya Ramon Guiteras
Synopsis and Commentary

A ship's captain and heir to a shipping dynasty comes West to marry his fiance, and steps into the middle of an old feud over water rights between two local cattlemen. This film follows the well trodden trail of the stranger to the West who seems a coward or weak, but who is truly a man among men when the times is right for him to act. However, it does so without any sense of cliche' or staleness. It is a film of many twists and inversions of convention. Wyler makes effective use of the wide angle film technology to make the big country one of the dominant characters in a film that seems to suggest that no expanse of territory is big enough for all the male ego warring for dominance on the screen. The musical score by Jerome Moross is among the most recognizable Western themes (and was the music for the Hidden Valley Ranch dressing commercial for years).


THE BRAVADOS
Rating
Film Production Credits
Release Date: 1958
Produced by: Henry B. Swope, Jr. (20th Century Fox)
Directed by: Henry King
Other: Novel by Frank O'Rourke
Cast of Characters
Gregory Peck Jim Douglass
Joan Collins Josefa Velarde
Stephen Boyd Bill Zachary
Albert Salmi Ed Taylor
Henry Silva Lujan
Kathleen Gallant Emma Steimmetz
Lee Van Cleef Alfonso Parral
Synopsis and Commentary

A man obseesed with vengeance for the murder of his wife, pursues a gang of outlaws relentlessly, losing himself along the way. With one of the darkest portayals by Gregory Peck, The Bravados explores the consequences of unrestrained righteous wrath. The climax of the film is a shocker. Veteran villains Henry Silva and Lee van Cleef appear alongside period heavy Stephen Boyd, who antagonized Charlton Heston in Ben Hur the following year.


RIO BRAVO
Rating
Film Production Credits
Release Date: 1959
Produced by: Warner Bros.
Directed by: Howard Hawks
Other:
Cast of Characters
John Wayne John T. Chance
Dean Martin Dude
Walter Brennan Stumpy
Angie Dickinson Feathers
Ward Bond Pat Wheeler
Rick Nelson Colorado
Synopsis and Commentary

A sheriff and his two deputies are besieged by an outlaw gang when he arrests the gang leader's brother (Claude Akins) for murder. The surprise in this film is the outstanding and complex performance by Dean Martin as the alcoholic former deputy of the sheriff played by John Wayne. A young Rick Nelson plays an Audie Murphy-esque mild mannered but lightning fast and dangerous kid named Colorado, while Walter Brennan plays a crusty old coot with a wicked sense of humor. A nice touch of the film is the playing of the Deguello by the cantina band, the song the Mexican Army played indicating no quarter given before storming the Alamo. This film was so well received that it was copied almost exactly for El Dorado about (can you guess?) an alcoholic sheriff who is an old friend of John Wayne besieged by an outlaw gang when he arrests the gang leader's brother, and who has a crusty old deputy and is aided by a fastdraw kid named Mississippi. Hmmm.... Oh well, both are fun, although I include this one for originality and Dean Martin's standout performance. Also features a very young and fascinating Angie Dickinson. This film was John Wayne's answer to High Noon, which he despised, and supposedly shows a strong man standing alone. Actually, the reverse is true. Cooper's Marshal Will Kane asked for help, but never got any, and while Wayne's Sheriff John T. Chance protests that he needs no help, he does need it and takes advantage of it all through the film. For all that, this is one of my favorite John Wayne films and the best of his "buddy" westerns.


WARLOCK
Rating
Film Production Credits
Release Date: 1959
Produced by: 20th Century Fox
Directed by: Edward Dmytryk
Other:
Cast of Characters
Henry Fonda Clay Blaisdell
Anthony Quinn Tom Morgan
Richard Widmark Jonny Gannon
Dorothy Malone Lily Dollar
Synopsis and Commentary

A western town plagued by shootouts and unbridled cowpunchers hires a professional gunfighter as a marshal to clean up their town, but, as he warned them, they ultimately come to fear and despise him. Relatively obscure, this is one of the best of the "Hollywood westerns" in which the archetypical trappings are ubiquitous: the opulent saloons and hotels in town, the wild cowboy gangs riding through town, the saloon dance hall girl with a storied past set against the upright and cultured "good girl", the hard drinking and gambling best friend turned foe. What sets it apart is the way that the story turns and the roles of hero and antagonist shift.


THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN
Rating
Film Production Credits
Release Date: 1960
Produced by: John Sturges
Directed by: John Sturges
Other:
Cast of Characters
Yul Brynner Chris Adams
Steve McQueen Vin
Eli Wallach Calvera
Charles Bronson Bernardo O`Reilly
Robert Vaughn Lee
James Coburn Britt
Horst Buchholz Chico
Vladimir Sokoloff The Old Man
Synopsis and Commentary

Desperate Mexican peasants go in search of a group of fearless gunmen to deliver them from a marauding band of forty outlaws who regularly pillage their farms, and find seven men who, for various reasons, accept their offer of beans and a bed. Based on Akira Kurosawa's masterpiece The Seven Samurai, (which was styled after American westerns) this film is perhaps the most mythological of all classic American westerns. It is so focused on character and story that it seems legendary. Indeed the translation of the story from medieval Japan to the Old West demonstrates the universal mythological nature of the tale. True fans of either film will want to see the other. Part of the significance of this film is the impact it would have later on Sergio Leone when he was searching for a good story for a western film; he chose Kurosawa's classic Yojimbo and created the first "Spaghetti Western". Owing its success in no small measure to a witty and thoughtful script, this film has numerous quotable moments; here is one of my favorites:

"If God had not meant for them to be sheared, He would not have made them sheep."


THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE
Rating
Film Production Credits
Release Date: 1962
Produced by: Paramount Pictures
Directed by: John Ford
Other:
Cast of Characters
James Stewart Ransom Stoddard
John Wayne Tom Doniphon
Lee Marvin Liberty Valance
Vera Miles Hallie Stoddard
John Carradine Maj. Cassius Starbuckle
Synopsis and Commentary

The story of the notorious confrontation between an idealistic young lawyer from back East and a dangerous outlaw and gunfighter and the aftermath as he lives with the career and reputation earned in that moment. This is Ford's final word on the western. John Wayne and Stewart teamed for the first time in this unusual and iconoclastic western tale which begins long after the climactic gunfight and tells the story by looking back. Both give complex performances. Lacking the contrived suspense of the typical western this film is a powerful examination of the very substance of the western legend and the forces which forged it in the popular conception. Arguably the real standout performance is Lee Marvin's Liberty Valance, a portrayal of a fittingly brutal and menacing antagonist to Stewart's non-violent Stoddard. Vera Miles is also better in this film than in The Searchers or any other role I have seen. Wayne and Stewart would reunite many years later in Wayne's final film, The Shootist.


RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY
Rating
Film Production Credits
Release Date: 1962
Produced by: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Directed by: Sam Peckinpah
Other:
Cast of Characters
Joel McCrae Steve Judd
Randolph Scott Gil Westrum
Mariette Hartley Elsa Knudsen
Ron Starr Heck Longtree
Synopsis and Commentary

An aging lawman trying to find dignity and respect in his livelihood, accepts a job escorting gold from a mining camp and enlists an old friend and partner whose virtue is less certain. A glorious final sendoff for Joel McCrae and Randolph Scott, this was Sam Peckinpah's second film, considered by some to be his finest. Already it shows his unflinching style in the confrontations and the ultimate violence of the showdown. A genuine classic in the style of the old Saturday matinee westerns, this film elevates the form to what it should have been all along and gives these great actors a vehicle worthy of their talents. Veteran villain L. Q. Jones (also in Peckinpagh's The Wild Bunch) appears here in one of his earliest such roles along with Edgar Buchanon as an intemperate justice of the peace in the seedy mining town of Coarse Gold.


A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS
Rating
Film Production Credits
Release Date: 1964
Produced by: United Artists
Directed by: Sergio Leone
Other:
Cast of Characters
Clint Eastwood Joe
Gian Maria Volonte Ramon Roja
Jose Calvo Silvanito, the Innkeeper
Wolfgang Lukschy John Baxter
Sieghardt Rupp Esteban Roja
Marianne Koch Marisol
Joseph Egger Piripero, the Undertaker
Synopsis and Commentary

A drifter rides into a town divided between two powerful families bent on the absolute extinction of the other and sees an opportunity to exploit their enmity "for a fistful of dollars". Based very closely on Akira Kurosawa's classic Yojimbo (my favorite of his films), this first effort by Sergio Leone in the western genre created an international sensation in the form of its young and relatively unknown star, Clint Eastwood, who had played Rowdy Yates on the TV series Rawhide. This film was the first "Spaghetti Western" and established many of the elements common to the films which followed, some of which are derived from the source material, a tale of a ronin samurai. Indeed the mythos of the duel in Leone's work owes as much to its samurai antecedents as to the established western mythos. The opening gunfight is still amazing in its force, even after countless viewings. Indeed those who minimize Leone as a B-film maker fail to recognize the powerful cinematography and development of his films. Few American film makers in this genre have ever even approached the emotion and intensity of Leone's work; by contrast most appear stiff and flat.


FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE
Rating
Film Production Credits
Release Date: 1965
Produced by: United Artists
Directed by: Sergio Leone
Other:
Cast of Characters
Clint Eastwood Manko
Lee Van Cleef Col. Douglas Mortimer
Gian Maria Volonte Indio
Joseph Egger Old Man
Synopsis and Commentary

Two bounty hunters vie for the reward on the ruthless bandito, Indio, who is planning to rob a cunningly designed and hidden bank vault. Leone's second collaboration with Eastwood, this film highlights another American actor, whose former credits include playing one of Frank Miller's gang in High Noon, Lee Van Cleef. This film is not as good as A Fistful of Dollars, and easily the hokiest of Leone's films, but has its moments. Leone's hallmark device of a musical theme is introduced, in the form of a song played by a gold pocketwatch. Returning also to play the brutal and psychotic Indio is Gian Maria Volonte, who made a wonderful villain in both films. A little observed piece of trivia is that Eastwood's "Man with No Name" character has a name (three actually): Joe in the first film, Manko in this one and "Blondie" in the third.


THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY
Rating
Film Production Credits
Release Date: 1966
Produced by: United Artists
Directed by: Sergio Leone
Other:
Cast of Characters
Clint Eastwood "Blondie" (The Good)
Lee Van Cleef "Angel Eyes" Sentenza (The Bad)
Eli Wallach Benedito Pacifico Juan Maria Ramirez
aka "Tuco" (The Ugly)
Aldo Giuffre Dying Union Officer
Synopsis and Commentary

Three ruthless outlaws come into conflict and tenuous alliances as they pursue a hidden treasure of Confederate gold in the New Mexico Territory at the close of the War Between the States. Reprising his role as The Man with No Name, this was Clint Eastwood's third and final collaboration with Sergio Leone (though earlier in history than the previous films) in what has become the quintessential "Spaghetti Western". The Italian romantization of the Lost Cause is very evident and the story is steeped in Leone's Old West mythology. A classic! One of the fabulous things about Leone is that he cared more about the authenticity and atmosphere than did Hollywood. The people are grimy, the wood of ramshackle frame buildings bleached and weathered, the riders dusty, the faces unshaved. The film features a very recognizable musical score by Ennio Morricone with a signature theme like mocking laughter which serves as a diagetic device. This is a good film to highlight Leone's camera work. The director is fond of panoramic shots of distant riders, extreme close ups of eyes and hands, and contrasting close ups and long views of antagonists at the moment of confrontation. Leone likes to work with ambient natural light, however dim, a feature which Eastwood seems to emulate in his own later films.


HANG `EM HIGH
Rating
Film Production Credits
Release Date: 1967
Produced by: The Malpaso Company
Directed by: Ted Post
Other:
Cast of Characters
Clint Eastwood Jed Cooper
Pat Hingle Judge Fenton
Inger Stevens Rachel
Ed Begley Wilson
Synopsis and Commentary

A cowboy mistakenly lynched and left for dead by a mob posse vows vengeance against the men who hanged him. This film was an attempt, I think, by Eastwood to create a film with the look and feel of the traditional Western, but it is deceptive. Hang `em High, an exploration of the uncertain shades of gray between private vengeance and lawful justice, is arguably his most disturbing film, even more so than Unforgiven. Eastwood's character becomes a US marshal in order to seek revenge against the men who carelessly tried to judge a rustler and he pays a high price for his own justice in becoming the willing accomplice of a self-righteous territorial judge who hangs men for the least offenses. Pat Hingle, a familiar face in Eastwood's movies, is marvellous as the judge, balancing our feelings between admiration and outrage by his deft handling of the moral complexities of his character.


HOMBRE
Rating
Film Production Credits
Release Date: 1967
Produced by: Irving Ravetch and Martin Ritt
(20th Century Fox)
Directed by: Martin Ritt
Other: Novel by Elmore Leonard
Cast of Characters
Paul Newman Role
Richard Boone Cicero Grimes
Fredric March Dr. Alex Favor
Barbara Rush Audra Favor
Cameron Mitchell Frank Braden
Martin Balsam Henry Mendez
Synopsis and Commentary

A half-breed Apache falls in with a group of stagecoach passengers waylaid and left to die in the desert by a gang of road agents. As anti-heroic a western film as you are likely to see, Hombre belongs to the new western cinema that emerged in the 1960s. This film could be seen as an anti-type to the classic Stagecoach. Fredric March is a crooked Indian agent, rather than a kindly frontier physician, and the threat to the passengers on the stagecoach comes from within, rather than from an Apache. It is, in fact, the Apache in their midst who offers them their slim prospect of salvation.


HOUR OF THE GUN
Rating
Film Production Credits
Release Date: 1967
Produced by: John Sturges (Mirisch / United Artists)
Directed by: John Sturges
Other: Music by Jerry Goldsmith
Cast of Characters
James Garner Marshal Wyatt Earp
Jason Robards Dr. John "Doc" Holliday
Robert Ryan Ike Clanton
Steve Ihnat Andy Warshaw
Michael Tolan Sheriff Pete Spence
William Windom "Texas Jack" Vermillion
Lonny Chapman "Turkey Creek" Johnson
John Voight "Curly Bill" Brocius
Synopsis and Commentary

In the aftermath of the Shootout at the OK Corral, newly appointed US Marshal Wyatt Earp pursues the last of the Clanton gang who murdered his brother, killing them one by one. No other event in the history of the West has received such treatment on film and no other depiction of the tale is perhaps nearer the truth than John Sturges' brilliant Hour of the Gun. Earp is the only immediate participant in these events who survived to set down an account, so we will probably never really know. The controversies have kept the story vivid in the American imagination, for what was truly a very minor and anti-heroic incident in western history. This film is in stark contrast to Sturges better known Gunfight at the OK Corral, which was a rather stereotypical Hollywood western. The film opens with the the notorious gunfight, it is finished seconds after the credits conclude; all of the action and the dark psychological study that follows is concerned with the rarely told aftermath. It is this much less heroic, less sharply defined good against evil conflict that Sturges works with a noirish artistry, without pretense or glamour. Garner's Wyatt Earp is brutal, a ruthless machine of vengeance, and undeniably his best performance. Robard's defeated, cynical "Doc" Holliday is outstanding, ironically the ostensible conscience of the film. He is able to communicate more with expression and gesture than most actors can with a brilliant script. It is unfortunate that Hour of the Gun was filmed in 1967, because the rejuvenating influences of the western had not taken hold (and indeed, they did not for another 15 years or so). It has languished in obscurity because it appeared at the sunset of the western and at a time when America, deeply embroiled in the Viet Nam War, was not interested in dark, realistic portrayals of violence in the character of its archetypes. The film has a fine musical score by industry master, Jerry Goldsmith. Trivia: Director Sturges tried to recast DeForrest Kelley as Morgan Earp, but he was unable to play the role because of his recurring role on Star Trek; the following year, an episode of the landmark science fiction program entitled Spectre of the Gun pitted the principal crew of the the USS Enterprise against the Earps in a reenactment of the Shootout at the OK Corral.


SHALAKO
Rating
Film Production Credits
Release Date: 1968
Produced by: Palomar Pictures
Directed by: Edward Dmytryk
Other:
Cast of Characters
Sean Connery Shalako
Brigitte Bardot Countess Irina Lazaar
Stephen Boyd Bosky Fulton
Jack Hawkins Sir Charles Baggett
Peter Van Eyck Frederick Von Hallstatt
Honor Blackmon Lady Baggett
Woody Strode Chato
Synopsis and Commentary

A hunting party of European aristocrats, lured by a crooked guide deep into Apache territory and abandoned, must overcome their petty foibles and rely upon a former Army scout to escape. Based on Louis L'Amour's great novel, this has one of the most unlikely assemblages in a western ever filmed, but it works, and such scenarios were not unheard of in the annals of the West (less the menace of Apaches on the warpath). It might never have been filmed had it not been for the time, but it also arrived at the waning of the western in cinema and has been largely forgotten.


BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID
Rating
Film Production Credits
Release Date: 1969
Produced by: 20th Century Fox
Directed by: George Roy Hill
Other:
Cast of Characters
Paul Newman Butch Cassidy (Robert Leroy Parker)
Robert Redford The Sundance Kid (Harry Longbaugh)
Katherine Ross Etta Place
Synopsis and Commentary

A highly romanticized depiction of the last days of the outlaw career of the flamboyant train robbers who led the historical Wild Bunch, from their heyday to the relentless pursuit by Pinkerton agents to their final stand in Bolivia. This film appeared at a time when the form of the western was being reconsidered. The same year a traditional western, True Grit, and a cutting edge western, Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch, were also released. This film offered a third direction for westerns, the light-hearted, spoofish style, but apart from some Italian films (the Trinity series) this sub-genre never took hold. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid may be the most off-beat western ever (discounting out and out parodies), however that judgment is most urged by the rather unsettling musical soundtrack by Burt Bacharach, the removal of which would be profound (and an improvement!).


ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST
Rating
Film Production Credits
Release Date: 1969
Produced by: Paramount Pictures
Directed by: Sergio Leone
Other: Co-written by Dario Argento
Cast of Characters
Claudia Cardinale Jill McBain
Henry Fonda Frank
Charles Bronson The Man with the Harmonica
Jason Robards Cheyenne
Synopsis and Commentary

A cold-blooded killer, a ruthless railroad baron, a wealthy widow, a crusty drifter and a mysterious stranger cross paths in a moment of history, separate destinies becoming one...once upon a time in the west. Sergio Leone's final statement in the western genre, this is one of his most fascinating films. Once again he uses the device of a musical leit motif signaling the mystery surrounding the appearance and enigmatic purpose of the stranger played by Bronson. Fonda delivers his most viscious performance as a killer utterly devoid of pity. This film served as the model for Leone's gangster epic Once Upon a Time in America. 1969 was a remarkable year for the western genre, giving birth to the "un-western" Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, the most classic of westerns, True Grit, this denouement of the "Spaghetti Western", and the first of the true "new westerns" in the American cinema in Sam Peckinpagh's The Wild Bunch.


TRUE GRIT
Rating
Film Production Credits
Release Date: 1969
Produced by: Paramount Pictures
Directed by: Henry Hathaway
Other:
Cast of Characters
John Wayne Marshal Reuben J. "Rooster" Cogburn
Pam Darby Mattie Ross
Glenn Campbell LeBoeuf
Robert Duvall "Lucky" Ned Pepper
Jeff Corey Tom Chaney
John Fiedler Lawyer J. Noble Daggett
Synopsis and Commentary

An impetuous and outspoken young woman hires an aging and intemperate US Marshal to find the man who murdered her father, then accompanies him on the trail. Possibly the best Western of all time, this is my pick for John Wayne's finest performance and the one that earned him the Oscar for Best Actor in 1970. Not a huge fan of the Duke (blasphemy, I know!), I absolutely love this film because of his characterization of Marshal "Rooster" Cogburn; no one else could have done it. For those unfamiliar with the novel by Charles Portis, it is a treasure; the courtroom scene is even more hysterical than in the film. Extremely well written, this is a great one for quotable moments. Not only authentic, this film also has breathtakingly spectacular views of the landscape, a country less identified with the West in the American imagination than the deserts of the Southwest (but far more historically correct). Glenn Campbell and Robert Duvall turn in great character performances as the Texas Ranger and outlaw leader respectively. Veteran badman Jeff Corey plays the despicable villain Tom Chaney.

"Ya can't serve papers on a rat, Baby Sister; ya gotta either kill `im or let `im be."


THE WILD BUNCH
Rating
Film Production Credits
Release Date: 1969
Produced by: Warner Bros.
Directed by: Sam Peckinpah
Other:
Cast of Characters
William Holden Pike Bishop
Ernest Borgnine Dutch Engstrom
Robert Ryan Deke Thornton
Ben Johnson Tector Gorch
Edmund O'Brien Sykes
Jaime Sanchez Angel
Synopsis and Commentary

A band of utterly ruthless and hardened outlaws near the close of the era of the Old West find themselves suddenly at odds with the times and head south of the border for one last moment of glory and a chance at redemption. Considered by most to be Peckinpah's crowning achievement, The Wild Bunch is certainly one of the most influential films of the last 30 years. Like Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven, its iconoclastic anti-heroic style was predicted to bring the twilight of the western genre. Instead it inspired a new generation of film makers and created new directions for the western film. This film is like the Ragnarokur of the Western gods, the violence is truly epic. Veteran grungy villains of the period Strother Martin, L. Q. Jones and Warren Oates lend a seedy authenticity to the story.


THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES
Rating
Film Production Credits
Release Date: 1976
Produced by: Malpaso Co. (Clint Eastwood)
Directed by: Clint Eastwood
Other:
Cast of Characters
Clint Eastwood Josey Wales
John Vernon Fletcher
Chief Dan George Lone Watie
Sondra Locke Laura Lee
Paula Trueman Grandma Sarah
Will Sampson Ten Bears
Synopsis and Commentary

A Confederate cavalryman unwilling to surrender at the war's end, sees the betrayal of his troop and blames their deaths on his former commander, who is forced by the Army to pursue him as a renegade and an outlaw from justice. Laced with Eastwood's characteristically self-deprecating humor, this film is a mythical portrait of the western legend of the gunfighter but, significantly, it is at the same time carefully historical in detail from the treachery of the Union in dealing with the Cherokee to the Reconstruction corruption of the military government in the occupied South and the simple details of the clothes, guns and habitations of the pioneers. Handguns of note in this film: 1847 model Colt dragoon pistols, more commonly known as Walker Colts.


THE SHOOTIST
Rating
Film Production Credits
Release Date: 1976
Produced by: Dino DeLaurentiis
Directed by: Don Siegel
Other:
Cast of Characters
John Wayne John Bernard Books
Lauren Bacall Bond Rogers
James Stewart Dr. Hostetler
Ron Howard Gillom Rogers
Synopsis and Commentary

An aging and notorious gunslinger, now dying slowly of cancer, comes to a burgeoning city in the New West to live out the rest of his days in some measure of dignity, but is driven by old troubles and his reputation to a final confrontation. The poignancy of this film is that Wayne was himself dying of cancer. The scenes reflecting this fact between Bacall and Stewart are deeply touching and indeed the whole film may be seen as an effort by Wayne, not merely Books, to end his days in some measure of the dignity he enjoyed as a heroic figure against insurmountable forces. The relationships between Bond, Books and Gillom are classic material yet so well handled that they seem original.


THE SACKETTS
Rating
Film Production Credits
Release Date: 1979
Produced by: Douglas Netter
Directed by: Robert Totten
Other:
Cast of Characters
Sam Elliott Tell Sackett
Tom Selleck Orrin Sackett
Jeff Osterhage Tyrel Sackett
Ben Johnson Cap Rountree
Glenn Ford Tom Sunday
John Vernon Jonathan Pritts
Gilbert Roland Don Luis Alvarado
Mercedes McCambridge Ma Sackett
Ruth Roman Rosie
Jack Elam Ira Bigelow
Gene Evans Benson Bigelow
Buck Reed Carney
Slim Pickens Jack Bigelow
Synopsis and Commentary

The story of three brothers from Tennessee who venture west, leaving a blood feud behind them but encountering conflict and the test of their integrity in the territory of New Mexico. This fine made-for-TV production of Louis L`Amour's novels The Daybreakers and Sackett, is fairly faithful to the characters and the historical details (except for the rifles used). A host of veteran Western actors contributed to the film, but the real standout is the late Ben Johnson, an actor who lived the role of cowpuncher (if not gunfighter). He is absolutely perfect as the ornery old frontiersman Cap Rountree. This film also highlighted the talents of Sam Elliott in an unforgettable performance.


THE MAN FROM SNOWY RIVER
Rating
Film Production Credits
Release Date: 1982
Produced by: Geoff Burrowes
Directed by: George Miller
Other:
Cast of Characters
Tom Burlinson Jim Craig
Terence Donovan Henry Craig
Kirk Douglas Harrison / Spur
Sigrid Thornton Jessica Harrison
Synopsis and Commentary

A young man raised in the mountain country of Australia comes to the lowlands after the death of his father and must earn the respect of the horsemen with whom he rides and the woman he loves by returning a prize stallion which has run away with the wild mountain "brumbys". All right, this is not about the American West, but it is a classic story from the Australian wilds with all the traditional elements of the western (less the gunfights). It bears a much more authentic likeness to the real West than most western films, dealing as it does with values of respect, honor and hard work. Director George Miller is most famous in this country for the Mad Max films.


PALE RIDER
Rating
Film Production Credits
Release Date: 1985
Produced by: Malpaso Co. (Clint Eastwood)
Directed by: Clint Eastwood
Other:
Cast of Characters
Clint Eastwood The Preacher
Michael Moriarty Hull Barret
Carrie Snodgrass Sarah Wheeler
Richard A. Dysart Coy LaHood
John Russell Stockburn
Synopsis and Commentary

A community of tin panners is being driven out by a big mining outfit until a stranger drifts into town, riding on a pale horse... Eastwood has made a career in westerns playing enigmatic nameless strangers and this one hearkens to the stranger in High Plains Drifter. The "Preacher" has a mysterious quality and reminds people of someone long dead. In the final confrontation, he seemingly vanishes at times and appears to be in two places almost at once. Pale Rider pays tribute to such classics as Shane (especially with the scene between the old Irish miner and the hired guns) and High Noon. This is the film that really renewed my interest in the western and I believe that the country responded in much the same way; it had been years since Hollywood had produced anything. Eastwood has often highlighted pistols in his films, such as the cap-and-ball New Model Army and Pocket Model Remingtons in this and the Smith and Wesson No. 3 Schofield in Unforgiven.


SILVERADO
Rating
Film Production Credits
Release Date: 1985
Produced by: Columbia Pictures
Directed by: Lawrence Kasdan
Other:
Cast of Characters
Kevin Kline Paden
Scott Glenn Emmett
Kevin Costner Jake
Danny Glover Mal
Brian Dennehy Cobb
John Cleese Sheriff Langston
Synopsis and Commentary

A group of men brought together by differing wrongs find comraderie in their trouble and join forces against a common enemy in a town called Silverado. A reinvention of the "classic western" of Hollywood heyday, Silverado runs against the grain of the "new westerns" of the late 1960s and captures much of the atmosphere of romantic adventure created by the Indiana Jones films of the time, so popular with audiences. It does involve some depth of characterization, particularly in the person of Paden, one of my all-time favorite western figures. This film has a large cast delivering fine performances, including Linda Hunt, Jeff Fahey, Lynn Whitfield, Joe Seneca and Jeff Goldblum.


YOUNG GUNS
Rating
Film Production Credits
Release Date: 1988
Produced by: Producer
Directed by: Christopher Cain
Other:
Cast of Characters
Emilio Estevez William H. Bonney (aka Billy the Kid)
Kiefer Sutherland Josiah Gordon "Doc" Scurlock
Lou Diamond Philips Jose Chavez y Chavez
Charlie Sheen Richard (Dick) Brewer
Dermot Mulroney "Dirty Steve" Stephens
Casey Siemaszko Charles (Charley) Bowdre
Terence Stamp John Tunstall
Jack Palance Lawrence G. Murphy
Brian Keith "Buckshot" Roberts
Synopsis and Commentary

An unstable teen-aged orphan is taken on as a ranch hand by a man who tries to educate him and instill in him the values of lawful civilizaton, but inevitably he becomes the leader of a notorious band of "Regulators" in a range war. Only partly faithful to the facts, Young Guns is nevertheless a more historically accurate depiction of Billy the Kid and the infamous Lincoln County War than has generally been seen on film. Estevez's borderline psychotic portrayal of Bonney is inspired. Usually a heavy, Terence Stamp's role in this film is the surrogate father figure for young Billy, tragically unable to prevent the violence to come when the Kid and his band ride in righteous vengeance, but cannot find justice for their cause.


DANCES WITH WOLVES
Rating
Film Production Credits
Release Date: 1990
Produced by: Majestic Film / Tig Productions
Directed by: Kevin Costner
Other:
Cast of Characters
Kevin Costner Lt John Dunbar / Dances with Wolves
Graham Greene Kicking Bird
Mary McDonnell Stands with a Fist
Rodney A. Grant Wind in His Hair
Synopsis and Commentary

An emotionally destitute cavalry officer, made an unwilling hero for an action inspired by a desire for self-destruction in the War Between the States, travels to a remote outpost on the frontier in the war's aftermath and becomes a self-appointed cultural envoy to the native Sioux peoples, only to find himself caught between his military duty and his genuine affection for the native Americans he has befriended. One of the very few films to depict the native American viewpoint with any depth or more than a passing brush at empathy or true historicity, Dances with Wolves is told almost entirely from the Sioux perspective. A lot of people are openly offended by what they perceive to be "revisionist" history or unpatriotic "dissing" of the United States, but this film is not pretentious or "preachy" and the simple indisputable fact is that the US Government (with the full cooperation and blessing of its white citizens) conducted a campaign of dislocation and genocide against the native Americans for more than a century, which while in its scale may not have equalled that of Hitler's "final solution", but was in execution and purpose no different.


QUIGLEY DOWN UNDER
Rating
Film Production Credits
Release Date: 1990
Produced by: Pathe Entertainment
Directed by: Simon Wincer
Other:
Cast of Characters
Tom Selleck Matthew Quigley
Lara San Giacomo Crazy Cora
Alan Rickman Elliott Marston
Chris Haywood Maj Ashley-Pitt
Synopsis and Commentary

A renowned sharpshooter travels to Australia to hunt for a rancher only to discover upon his arrival that his quarry is human. Like The Man from Snowy River, this film's setting does nothing to detract from its authenticity as a western cast in the classic mold. Tom Selleck is one of my all-time favorite western actors, combining toughness with good humor and warmth in a way that perhaps no one else of his generation does. Too many of our hero types are one-dimensioned darkly cynical characters, without the aspect of their humanity which binds them to the rest of us. Quigley is not only this, his character is a true selfless hero. The marvelous Alan Rickman provides all the malevolent charm that he first displayed in Die Hard. While this film has all the marks of a traditional western, including a happy ending of sorts, it is impossible to forget the monstrous reality of the plot's central premise or the tragedy that haunts Crazy Cora as being all too real elements of the taming of the aboriginal wilderness.


CONAGHER
Rating
Film Production Credits
Release Date: 1991
Produced by: Sam Elliott and John A. Kuri
Directed by: Reynaldo Villalobos
Other: Novel by Louis L'Amour
Cast of Characters
Sam Elliott "Conn" Conagher
Katherine Ross Evie Teale
Barry Corbin Charlie McCloud
Billy Green Bush Jacob Teale
Ken Curtis Seaborn Tay
Paul Koslo "Kiowa" Staples
Gavan O'Herlighy Chris Mahler
Buck Taylor Tile Coker
Dub Taylor Station Agent
James Gammon "Smoke" Parnell
Synopsis and Commentary

An aging cowboy finds trouble in a range dispute and romance with a lonely widow. Another adaptation of a Louis L'Amour novel by Turner Network Television with the most iconic Western actor of our time, Sam Elliott, Conagher is impressive in its spareness of action and simplicity of plot. This is not an epic tale of mythic cattle barons, not an exaggeration of fastdraw quickness or incredible endurance. It is a story about a tough, hardened man whose lonely life of riding the range has made him self-reliant and strong enough to face his enemies and prevail by using his wits and restraint as much as violence. Katherine Ross plays the lonely prairie widow who writes her hopes and dreams of love on scraps of paper tied to tumbleweeds. Trivia: Elliott and Ross are married, one of Hollywood's few long time couples. Gunsmoke veteran Ken Curtis plays the crusty range boss, Seaborn Tay. Western regulars Dub and Buck Taylor also appear.


UNFORGIVEN
Rating
Film Production Credits
Release Date: 1992
Produced by: Malpaso Co. (Clint Eastwood)
Directed by: Clint Eastwood
Other:
Cast of Characters
Clint Eastwood Bill Munny
Gene Hackman Little Bill Daggett
Morgan Freeman Ned Logan
Richard Harris English Bob
Frances Fisher Strawberry Alice
Synopsis and Commentary

A widowed reformed outlaw is coaxed into killing the men who raped and brutally mutilated a whore in a town run by a sadistic sherriff. Arguably the grittiest of all westerns, as well as the most iconoclastic, this film so struck such a chord with audiences that it elevated the status of Clint Eastwood forevermore into the hallowed halls of honored filmmakers and earned the film an Academy Award for Best Picture and the Best Director award for Eastwood. It is one of the very finest of all the western films, maybe the best; that's a tough call. Morgan Freeman, one of my favorite character actors, and Gene Hackman, at his most chillingly genial, deliver top-notch performances. Some people interpreted the impact of this film to be the final denouement of the western in American cinema, the "western to end all westerns", literally. But I feel that is far from true, and in fact some of the most unrealistic portrayals of western life appeared in answer to its release, notably The Quick and the Dead (with Hackman!) and Wild Bill. Its legacy I believe will be a standard to which future filmmakers will look when pursuing seriously artistic depictions of the Old West.


TOMBSTONE
Rating
Film Production Credits
Release Date: 1993
Produced by: Hollywood Pictures
Directed by: George P. Cosmatos
Other:
Cast of Characters
Kurt Russell Wyatt Earp
Sam Elliott Virgil Earp
Val Kilmer Doc Holliday
Bill Paxton Morgan Earp
Powers Boothe "Curly Bill" Brocius
Michael Biehn Johnny Ringo
Stephen Lang Ike Clanton
Synopsis and Commentary

The story of the Earp brothers coming to Tombstone in the Arizona Territory and their ultimate conflict with the Clantons at the OK Corral and afterward. Not as historically accurate in physical detail as Wyatt Earp, this is nonetheless a very well made if somewhat romantic portrayal of the events surrounding the most legendary gunfight in the Old West. Although Sam Elliott, Bill Paxton and Kurt Russell give able performances, the real scene stealer is Val Kilmer's Doc Holliday, with his ascerbic erudition and sarcastic wit, a characterization reminiscent of Bierce. The villains are wonderful as well: Powers Boothe, Michael Biehn and especially Stephen Lang as the craven but murderous Ike Clanton. Interestingly, the death of Johnny Ringo is made to adhere with one possible explanation of his demise. Charlton Heston received billing when the film was released but appears in only a cameo. Veteran Harry Carey, Jr. plays Sheriff Fred White, Buck Taylor also makes a brief appearance and Robert Mitchum narrates!


LEGENDS OF THE FALL
Rating
Film Production Credits
Release Date: 1994
Produced by: Tristar Pictures
Directed by: Edward Zwyck
Other:
Cast of Characters
Brad Pitt Tristan Ludlow
Anthony Hopkins Col. William Ludlow
Aiden Quinn Alfred Ludlow
Julia Ormond Susannah Fincannon
Henry Thomas Samuel Ludlow
Gordon Tootoosis One Stab
Karina Lombard Isabel Two-Decker Ludlow
Synopsis and Commentary

The story of a man torn between his natural affinity for the western lands where he was raised almost as a savage in communion with the land, his stern and civilized father, his love for a woman he can never have and the modern world which drives him to a life marked by violence. People misunderstand this movie and the title; the "Fall" is Autumn, and Tristan is a legend of autumn like the great old bear (the tagline doesn't help, but the movie is clear). Although it begins with the close of the Old West, this film continually hearkens to the native ways and is a parable of the conflict between the now lost natural West and the emerging modern world; it is this "born out of his time" feeling that haunts Tristan. This is a very strong film and deserves recognition in the canon of western classics.


WYATT EARP
Rating
Film Production Credits
Release Date: 1994
Produced by: Warner Bros.
Directed by: Lawrence Kasdan
Other:
Cast of Characters
Kevin Costner Wyatt Earp
Gene Hackman Nicholas Earp
Dennis Quaid Doc Holliday
Joanna Going Josephine Marcus
Isabella Rosselini "Big Nose" Kate
Bill Pullman Ed Masterson
Tom Sizemore Bat Masterson
Synopsis and Commentary

The life story of the West's most famous professional marshal from his first travels as a cow hand and buffalo hunter through Dodge City and Tombstone to his last years of relative peace. Dennis Quaid lost 42 lbs to play the role of the dying consumptive Doc Holliday and his performance is Oscar quality. In this and other respects this film is far more authentic in its look and feel than the more traditional western Tombstone which deals with the same subject. Costner's portrayal of Wyatt Earp is not highly romanticized, as has been too often the case with his later films; in fact his character is deeply flawed and the film does nothing to gloss over these facets of his person from his bullying, pistol-whipping manner as a "peace officer" to his relationship with his arch rival Sheriff Behan's mistress. The Earp women, JoBeth Williams, Catherine O'Hara, and Mare Winningham in particular deliver outstanding not-to-be-overlooked performances.


CROSSFIRE TRAIL
Rating
Film Production Credits
Release Date: 2001
Produced by: Michael Brandman
and Tom Selleck
Directed by: Simon Wincer
Other: Novel by Louis L'Amour
Cast of Characters
Tom Selleck Rafe Covington
Virginia Madsen Ann Rodney
Wilfrid Brimley Joe Gill
Mark Harmon Bruce Barkow
David O'Hara Rock Mullaney
Christian Kane J. T. Langston
Barry Corbin Sheriff Walter Moncrief
Brad Johnson Beau Dorn
Synopsis and Commentary

The former business partner of a murdered man returns to his home to discover the circumstances of his death and seek vegeance against his killer. Based on one of my favorite Louis L'Amour novels, Crossfire Trail is another of the many westerns to be produced by Turner Network Television in the last two decades. These TNT films command a cast of fine actors and boast excellent production detail in terms of authentic setting, costume and firearms. Mark Harmon perfectly embodies the classic Louis L'Amour villain, a handsome, charming and successful man whose ruthless psychopathology cannot allow him to be thwarted in any matter.


OPEN RANGE
Rating
Film Production Credits
Release Date: 2003
Produced by: Armyan Bernstein and Craig Storper
(Touchstone Pictures)
Directed by: Kevin Costner
Other: Novel by Lauran Paine
Cast of Characters
Robert Duvall "Boss" Spearman
Kevin Costner Charley Waite
Annette Benning Sue Barlow
Michael Gambon Denton Baxter
Diego Luna "Button"
Abraham Benrubi Mose
Michael Jeter Percy
James Russo Sheriff Poole
Synopsis and Commentary

Cowboys pushing their small herd through what they know to be open range are menaced by a ruthless local cattle baron. Working one of the classic themes of the Western mythos, the range war, Open Range achieves its superlative effect through the quality of its characterization rather than by epic action or complexity of plot. The conflict is simple and clearly drawn, what remains is the realism of the struggle by the characters to find resolution. Acclaimed Irish stage actor Michael Gambon, the vigorous yet kindly Headmaster Albus Dumbledore in the Harry Potter films, makes an imposing presence here as the ruthless cattle baron Baxter. Veteran Robert Duvall lends weight to the film as the trail boss who puts justice above all else and reluctantly chooses to fight for it. Costner, too often unbridled in lead roles, is marvellous here as director and in his portrayal of the haunted and resigned Charley Waite, whose awakening in the climax makes for one of the most original and well executed gunfights on film.
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