Sunday, April 24, 2011

Top 25: Westerns You Should Know

Let’s discuss the Top 25 Westerns you should know to be well-versed in Westerns. Westerns are one of the most distinct genres with storylines that can’t easily be translated to other genres, e.g. wagon trains and cattle drives. They are also the quintessential story of America. Picking the Top 25, however, is surprisingly difficult because Westerns have been a cultural battleground where left and right struggled to define American’s Mythology. This means the influence of individual films often was short-lived and coincided with cultural changes within the country, rather than coming from the film itself.

1. The Good, The Bad and the Ugly (1966): This may not sit well with traditional western fans, but GBU is easily the most influential Western. Part of a “Spaghetti Westerns” trilogy (including Fistful of Dollars and For A Few Dollars More), GBU forever changed the Western. Prior to GBU, Westerns were philosophically black and white, with clear good guys and bad guys, and they were about settling the West, bringing law and order, building an economy, and taming the Indians and the wilderness, i.e. the building of America. This film tossed all that aside by introducing the “anti-hero,” a good guy who acts more like a bad guy -- this remains the dominant form of protagonist in film today -- and changed the themes of Westerns toward selfishness, cynicism and the exploitation of others. This film also made Clint Eastwood a star. “Two hundred thousand dollars is a lot of money. We’re gonna have to earn it.”

2. The Covered Wagon (1923): This is the first truly epic Western and established many of the conventions of the genre -- including Indian attacks, shoot outs, fording rivers, and the hero who must clear his name. “Far out on the westward trail stands another plow that bravely started for Oregon.”

3. High Noon (1952): High Noon is fascinating and controversial. Premised on the now-classic Western theme of a sheriff (Gary Cooper) waiting for killers to come to town, High Noon was written by communist Carl Foreman, who chose to make this sheriff weak and unwilling and the townsfolk cowardly. This was Foreman’s attempt to eliminate the hero from Western mythology. Yet, as with The Guns of Navarone, Foreman ultimately fails because Cooper rises to the occasion and becomes an iconic hero as a man who answers the call of duty even when those around him try to tear him down. “In the end you wind up dying all alone on some dirty street. For what? For nothing. For a tin star.”

4. Rio Bravo (1959): Considered by many to be Howard Hawks’ and John Wayne’s finest Western, this was Hawks’ direct response to High Noon, which infuriated him. Hawks believed firmly in strong and self-reliant heroes, like Sheriff John Chance (John Wayne), who must fend off the brother and gang of a man he holds prisoner for six days until the marshal arrives. Hawks’ view of heroism would continue to reign in Hollywood until the The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. “Sorry don’t get it done, dude.”

5. Stagecoach (1939): By the 1930s, Westerns had fallen from favor and were seen as B-movies. John Ford’s Stagecoach saved the Western through a combination of inventive camera work which remains influential today (such as riding among the Indians), incredible stunts, the use of stunning scenery from Monument Valley, complex dialog, and its huge box office success. This film also made John Wayne, who played outlaw Johnny Ringo, a star. “I guess you can’t break out of prison and into society in the same week.”

6. Shane (1953): Shane add two of the most common conventions to the Western mix: the gun fighter who tries to put away his guns until he is forced to fight to protect those he loves and the struggle between the farmers v. cattlemen. “Shane. . . come back, Shane!”

7. Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid (1969): Starring leftists Robert Redford and Paul Newman, Butch Cassidy attempted to declare the Western dead. Not only did Butch Cassidy do things like send its heroes to New York and Bolivia, but it included a pop music soundtrack and it used cars, bicycles and electricity to signify the passing of the West into history. Moreover, while it rejected traditional heroes entirely, it also largely lampooned the anti-hero of the Spaghetti Westerns by presenting heroes who were neither heroic nor all-that competent. It would take sixteen years for the Western to recover. “The future’s all yours, you lousy bicycle.”

8. Silverado (1985): Directed by Lawrence Kasdan, Silverado was the film that revived the Western after Butch Cassidy’s attempt to kill it. By reaching back into the past for old-school, classic Western heroes, Silverado sucked the cynicism from Westerns and returned to classic pro-American themes of settling the West, bringing law and order, and heroes protecting the weak from the predatory. This film made Kevin Costner a star. “We’re gonna give you a fair trial, followed by a first class hanging.”

9. Unforgiven (1992): When Unforgiven first came out, people saw it as an attack on the Western and a repudiation of Clint Eastwood’s Spaghetti Westerns. This was largely the result of Eastwood’s grumpy attitude, the constant dispelling of myths by Gene Hackman and the claim that all their prior triumphs were the result of being drunk. In effect, this film appeared to take a cynical look at the cynical anti-hero. But over time, this view has changed and people now see Unforgiven as a surprisingly strong Western with a solid moral compass that humanizes the anti-hero and shows they can be genuine Western heroes when they have a moral motivation. “Deserve’s got nothing to do with it.”

10. The Ox-Bow Incident (1943): One of the first socially-relevant Westerns, with an anti-lynching theme, Ox-Bow involves a posse looking for a murderer. They happen upon three men, led by a Mexican (Anthony Quinn) and decide to hang them. Henry Fonda stands against the crowd, attacking both Southern racism and vigilante justice. “If people touch God anywhere, where is it except through their conscience and what is anybody’s conscience except a little piece of the conscience of all men that ever lived.”

11. The Magnificent Seven (1960): Based on Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, The Magnificent Seven is the last hurrah for the classic Western, as larger-than-life heroic gunmen defend a Mexican village. With a stellar cast, including Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, James Coburn and Charles Bronson, and a massive score by Elmer Bernstein, this was the last big cynicism-free Western until the 1980s, but would soon be overtaken by the anti-heroes. “If God didn't want them sheared, he would not have made them sheep.”

12. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962): Just as Magnificent Seven was the last hurrah of the BIG Western, Liberty Valance was the last shot of traditionalist John Ford to justify the old-style heroes. Liberty Valance is the story of Jimmy Stewart, a civilized man, who is given credit for shooting outlaw Valance (Lee Marvin), even though ruffian gunman John Wayne actually did the shooting. The moral here was that men like Stewart owe their civilized, rule-of-law world to the difficult choices and hard deeds of frontiersmen like Wayne. In other words, we all owe the heroes of the past a significant debt even if we no longer accept their ways today. This was a powerful counter to the deconstructionism of the era, but ultimately proved futile as the country was changing. “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

13. How The West Was Won (1962): This epic covers all the bases of the Western genre, following a family as it moves from the East to the West, becoming trappers, pioneers, gold miners, soldiers, and gamblers and helping build America. This film presents the classic American (pre-1960s liberal) view of the settling of the American West and the virtues of America. “Out of their rude settlements, their trading posts came cities to rank among the great ones of the world. All the heritage of a people free to dream, free to act, free to mold their own destiny.”

14. Dances With Wolves (1990): Wolves is difficult to rank. It’s a dull movie that’s rife with political correctness, having been made during Hollywood’s “noble American Indian” phase, where Indians were idealized, whites were demonized and only a white liberals could save the Indians. It did have significant influence at the time, although that influence really hasn’t lasted and didn’t really impact other films. Nevertheless, you should know this film. “Turned injun, didn’t yeh.”

15. Tombstone (1993): Starring Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer, Tombstone came along just as it appeared Hollywood was trying again to remove heroes from the old West with films like Unforgiven, Dances With Wolves, and The Quick and the Dead. But Tombstone was a rowdy, old-fashioned Western that reveled in classic heroes, classic themes, and black and white versions of good and evil. And the public’s acceptance of Tombstone kept the Western alive and well. “Wearing that badge don't make you right.”

16. My Darling Clementine (1946): Staring Henry Fonda and Tim Holt, John Ford’s version of the gunfight at the O.K. Corral, Clementine became an inspiration for many Western filmmakers, including Sam Pekinpah. “When ya pull a gun, kill a man.”

17. Dodge City (1939): Errol Flynn must tame Dodge City, a notoriously violent cattle town full of ex-soldiers following the end of the Civil War. This is a classic Western of the type Hollywood made before its more political period started. “Gamblin’, drinkin’, and killin’. Mostly killin’.”

18. The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976): One of the few serious Westerns made in the 1970s, Josey Wales tapped into the stress of returning Vietnam veterans by presenting Civil War veterans who were incapable of integrating into society. “Are you gonna pull those pistols or whistle Dixie?”

19. High Plains Drifter (1972): Along with Josey Wales, High Plains Drifter was one of the few serious Westerns during the post-Butch Cassidy dead period. In Drifter, Clint Eastwood tries to give his Spaghetti Western past a supernatural aspect and an extra-dose of cynicism as even average citizens are portrayed as unredeemable degenerates. This perhaps went too far for Eastwood, who remade this film as Pale Rider in 1985, this time making the citizens the normal decent folk of prior Westerns. “You're a man who makes people afraid, and that's dangerous.”

20. Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948): Directed by John Huston and staring Humphrey Bogart and Tim Holt, Sierra Madre added Mexico to the film world of the West and provided an in-depth look at treasure hunters and gold fever. “Badges? We don’t need no stinking ain’t got no badges!”

21. The Searchers (1956): Ostensibly a revenge film wherein John Wayne seeks to avenge the massacre of his family by Indians, Searchers is actually an anti-segregation statement by conservative John Ford. “A fellow could mistake you for a half-breed.”

22. Blazing Saddles (1974): The only comedy on the list, Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles effectively lampoons many of the conventions of Westerns, and treads all over the politically incorrect topic of race in America. “The sheriff is a nig...”

23. The Wild Bunch (1969): An anti-Western and anti-Vietnam War statement, The Wild Bunch is a defeatist, immoral jaunt as a gang of railroad deputies led by outlaw Robert Ryan chase a gang of outlaws led by William Holden. Bloody, crude, and without any moral compass, The Wild Bunch is unlike any other Western ever made. It is also considered Sam Peckinpah’s greatest achievement. But unlike Butch Cassidy, which made Westerns “uncool,” The Wild Bunch was too violent and nasty to have significant influence in the culture. “It ain’t [your word] what counts! It's who you give it to!”

24. Quigley Down Under (1990): Tom Selleck takes Westerns to a new land. . . Australia. “You’re about a half a bubble off plumb, and that's fer sure and fer certain.”

25. The Quick and the Dead (1995): Sharon Stone, Leonardo DiCaprio and Gene Hackman star in this highly clichéd attempt to open the gunfighter subgenre to women. The film bombed in theaters, but not before inspiring a series of films attempting to open Westerns to other minority casts. The film has since found an audience on cable. “Is it possible to improve on perfection?”



Tennessee Jed said...

The Man From Laramie, The Charge at Feather River, Big Country, Magnificant 7. I assume this is not a "ranked list." I think it extremely difficult to rank influance per se.Silverado "revived" the format? I would argue that Clint Eastwood "revived" the format more than Silverado. I should say "re-revived.

Tennessee Jed said...

sorry about the Mag 7 typo, btw!

Anonymous said...

Sadly, I've only seen six of these films and, of those six, I only remember five of them. Westerns are one genre where I need to play catch-up but I imagine anyone my age could say the same, having grown up in a time when there weren't many westerns being made.

The most recent one I saw was Tombstone and I thought it was very good but the last ten minutes made it great. And it's so quotable! And that cast! This interview isn't online anymore but a few years ago, Kurt Russell admitted that, for the most part, he actually directed the film but promised the film's director (George Cosmatos) that he wouldn't say anything while he was alive (Cosmatos passed away in 2005).

There's some more info about that here. (Just scroll down to the fourth paragraph.)

P.S. I realize the site is probably still in R&D but do you have to link to TMZ? They're just a bunch of gossip idiots and I think you can do better than that. :-)

Tennessee Jed said...

Interestingly, Scott, I've seen all but a couple (Quigly and Dodge City.)

Andrew's premise, e.g. influential as opposed to "best" is worthy of more than I can give today. I will say, though, I've always thought of westerns as a genre more influenced by "stars." Thus, there is a real need for me to see giants such as Tom Mix, Gene Autry, Roy Rodgers, Jimmy Stewart, and Robert Duval in addition to obvious greats John Ford, The Duke, and Clint Eastwood. I will grant you Kevin Costner is a natural in this format and did his share of keeping it alive in modern times. "Open Range" is a wonderful film or recent vintage. His Wyatt Earp is a better film than most people credit it for.

"Lonsome Dove" can't be included I suppose,because it's a mini-series, but still ranks among the most influential ever. To me, 1935-1955 was probably the golden age.

LL said...

Though not a feature film (because you couldn't tell the story in 2 hours), I would have to put Lonesome Dove in the top 25 of all time and compromise because it's a mini-series.

Unknown said...

I was glad to see you include Silverado on your list. And that's even though I dislike Kevin Kline, and abhor Danny Glover. It was still a fine reworking of the classic Western. I would add The Big Trail with a very young John Wayne, but I realize you can't list everything in a top 25.

Writer X said...

Oh, man! So many of my fave films are on this list! I've probably seen HOW THE WEST WAS WON about a million times.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, I've done my best to rank the influence they had based on how strong and how long a particular film's version of the West survived.

But as I note, Westerns are different than other types of films and that makes them very hard to rank. With other films, you can look at a film and say "ok, this one introduced that type of dialog or more realism or created a new subgenre." Westerns aren't really like that. The reason for this is that Westerns are drive by politics more than anything. They have been a battleground for the mythological history of America and how we see ourselves, with the left trying to discredit America's Western heroes and discredit our actions, and the right trying to make the heroes larger than life.

Thus, the best way to describe the influence of these films more often than not was just to look at how long their particular version of the American West remained the popular mythology. In some cases, that was only until the next counter punch, but in others, it lasted long.

That's also why the Spahgetti Westerns were so influential, because they really are the only ones that permanently changed our view of Western heroes.

AndrewPrice said...

P.S. Yes, Silverado revived the Western. After Butch Cassidy nearly killed it, Silverado was the first to come along and give Westerns mass appeal. Also, Silverado returned Westerns back to what they were before the Spaghetti Western anti-hero mode, with larger-than-life, black and white villains and themes of how great these people were for building America from the wilderness up.

Regarding Eastwood, his westerns between Unforgiven and The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly did little to bring the public back into the theaters to see Westerns.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, We are still in R&D, I'll take a look at TMZ... but let me point out YOU sent me that link to include! LOL!

There are some great Westerns and I highly recommend them, but I think you have to like the genre to like the films. They are in many ways like period pieces, if you don't like the period, you are unlikely to like the story itself.

Still, these are truly American stories and it's good to see the history of America through them.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, I've been intentionally skipping tellevision in all these lists, or else several television shows/films (like Lonesome Dove or even Gunsmoke) would need to be included.

Interestingly, I originally had another paragraph at the beginning explaining both points you just made -- (1) that the stars are often bigger than the films in Westerns (something I think is only true in this genre) and (2) that much of Western history took place on television. But because of the necessity of shortening an already very long article, I had to take that out -- ditto some of the explanation on the films.

It might be a good idea to attack Westerns another way around, by doing a list of the most influential stars? If you'd like to write something like that (either by yourself or jointly) let me know. This would be a good place to publish it!

In terms of what I considered "influential" in this list (all my Top 25 lists are based on "influence" rather than "best"), see my comment above -- it's mainly about the effect the film had in terms of defining the Western mythology.

AndrewPrice said...

LL, I did seriously consider that, but I've been going with a rule of no television series. I know that a LOT of people consider that their favorite Western.

I probably should have mentioned that somewhere in the article. :-)

Anonymous said...

I just checked my e-mail - I sent you a link to Turner Classic Movies (TCM) but not TMZ.

I might've suggested TMZ when you started posting RSS feeds but I'm pretty sure I wouldn't do such a thing (I can't stand gossip mongers).

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, Ironically, I'm in the same boat on Silverado -- I don't like Costner and I can't stand Glover, but I truly appreciate the movie and what it did to clear up the post-Butch Cassidy funk.

Good call on John Wayne. Sadly, there were dozens of films I just couldn't include. Especially as you get toward the bottom of the list it becomes much more of a judgment call.

The tops of these lists are actually surprisingly easy once you think they through. But somewhere near the bottom you start to get dozens of films with a similar level of influence.

Normally, I would toss in some additional choices at the bottom, but this list was already soooo long that I couldn't do that without have people saying "is he trying to write a treatise?"

AndrewPrice said...

Writer X, Me too. In fact, every time it's on television I watch it. I just love the story of how Americans took pure wilderness and made the Great American West out of it! :-)

A lot of these are favorite films of mine. I could listen to the soundtrack on The Good, The Bad and The Ugly all day. And I always catch The Magnificent Seven or Rio Bravo whenever they're on television.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, Ok, I remember where I got it. One of the sites you linked me too had a lot of feeds and I took their feeds. That's where I got it from. I've already removed two of those and I still need to check some of the others out too.

I'll remove it. :-)

FYI, there is still more work to be done here, but I'm going to start posting film articles here from now on -- as I did today, with a link here. I spent yesterday trying to upload the film articles from the other site, but Blogger just wouldn't do it. Argh.

Tennessee Jed said...

I agree it is extremely hard to try and rank them. Shane, for example, introduces a concept, but that is a totally different measurement than for some of the others. I would probably simply say these are 25 important films to the genre and let it go at that rather than try and rank them. But that's just me and just a thought.

I enjoyed Silverado as a film and a change back to a heroic western after the late 60's and 70's p.c. versions such as Little Big Man. Still, I just cannot think of any other films that were spawned or inspired or brought to fruition as a result of Silverado. Certainly it would be a stretch to say Silverado did that for Lonesome Dove. I would argue Lonsome Dove had more influence with more people, but even there westerns now seem to be the periodic one-off, there just aren't enough of them made anymore. I suppose as a result, one can make the same argument about others that I make about Silverado. And maybe that is your point, afterall. (e.g. that one could make a modestly successful western film, if not a blockbuster) without losing one's shirt, particularly if there aren't too many of them. The westerns I have seen in the past 25 years from Pale Rider, Silverado, Unforgiven, Open Range, etc. have all been enjoyed for the most part, and I tip my hat to those who keep the genre somewhat alive, often at little more than breakeven financials. I just see it as a boutique genre anymore without much potential for more than that. More's the pity.

It is probably easy for most of us to give particular weight to our own time. That is why some of the films I mentioned were more influential, if only in the more important category of "influential to me!"

Tennessee Jed said...

Am watching Rio Grand with the Duke on HDNET Movies as we "speak" ;-)

Tennessee Jed said...

OMG, "The Sons of the Pioneers" were just masquerading as cavalry troops serenading Maureen O'Hara with "I'll take you home again Kathleen." Then they did "Cattle Call" recently revided by Buddy Miller on His Majestic Silver Strings Album. Dang, the western as a mini-musical. Now there is a convention I wish would have lasted. This is great stuff, all in glorious black and white 4X3 format :D

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, I try to rank these for two reasons. First, I think it's more useful and it gives people more to think about. And secondly, I do think they can largely be ranked.

What I've found in doing these lists is that there is a fairly easy cut off into tiers when you talk about "influential" between films that really were significant and films that had some influence and films with only minor or no influence.

For example, it was pretty clear that the Spaghetti Western trilogy changed everything. After they came out, it just wasn't possible to do another white-hat hero... at least until Silverado did it. That makes both films highly influential and sets them apart from lower-tiered films like Dodge City, which was just another Western of the era.

Similarly, something like High Noon and its counter-punch Rio Bravo were highly influential in terms of shaping the debate about how we see heroism and even became matters that were examined before the House Unamerican Committee. Again, they are clearly in the top part of the list.

Then you find second tier films like Ox-Bow, which opened the Western to social commentary, and therefore laid the groundwork for many films to follow, but which didn't really reshape the genre as much as the first tier films.

Then you come to a third tier, which is actually the most difficult because there are so many other films of a roughly equal level of influence that could be swapped out. For example, Virginia City could easily replace Dodge City. Still, there is usually something that gives one an edge -- this is probably where popularity matters the most.

In any event, it's fairly easy to group these films into the three tiers. Within the tiers it can be difficult, but not always.

That said, there is one caveat. Sometimes you get films like Shane, which could arguably be anywhere on the list. Shane gave us building blocks that became a standard part of Westerns. But is that more important than defining the essence of heroism or reviving Westerns that had fallen to B-movie status? Tough call, and that can certainly be argued either way. So those are often the hardest to place.


AndrewPrice said...

In terms of Silverado, this is where it matter how you define a film's influence, and that's often different for different films. It's true that no films copied Silverado and it didn't spawn a sequel, nor did it make Westerns the best performing genre in films again. BUT, I would argue that films like Tombstone and Appoloosa and 3:10 to Yuma would not have been made if Silverado hadn't shaken off the post-Butch Cassidy malaise and shown that an old-fashioned Western could succeed on the big screen.

Lonesome Dove, while great, was still seen primarily as a television success. It did not spark the idea in Hollywood that theater-goers would be ready to pay to see Westerns again. Silverado did that. Indeed, that was Kasdan's hope, that he could revive the Western as a legitimate film choice in Hollywood, and I think he succeeded.

If Silverado had not come along, I suspect that the only theater-Westerns to be made would have been those involving Clint Eastwood, who was seen as the one star who could do a Western. But because of Silverado, the Western was again open for business -- especially the non-anti-hero, non-self-conscious fumbler type Western.

Do they make enough of them? No. But they do make them again.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, I think you can put that down to the studio system which seemed to have access to a lot more talent that could be inserted into films. :-)

AndrewPrice said...

By the way, for anyone interested, here is my process for how I choose these films.

1. I try to list all of the genre films that I can think of and rank them roughly based on what I know about them.

2. Then I look at other best of lists by people like AFI and even just generally on the web and I add anything I hadn't considered.

3. Then I look up the films that are likely to be on the list (usually around 35) to see if there is anything I'm missing. I look at Wikipedia and IMDB and I'm looking for claims to fame, outside issues or controversies, box office and where these films have been referenced in the culture, i.e. other movies, on television, etc.

4. Then I group them and write them up.

5. Then I look at each critically and ask if it truly was more important than the one or two below it. If not, they move up or down.

And when I do this, I try very hard not to consider films that I like or "want" to succeed. Indeed, I've started many times with films that I figured would be on the list, but which just never made the cut when I couldn't justify their beating out the other 25.

So there is a process.

Ed said...

Good list. I like the new site. I can't wait to see what you do with it!

Doc Whoa said...

Andrew, Good luck with the new site. I love your film articles.

Don't forget my favorite Western, "Once Upon A Time In the West"!

AndrewPrice said...

Ed, Thanks! It should be fun. I'm hoping to do a lot more regarding films than our schedule likes at the other site -- talking about actors, quick reviews, that sort of thing.

AndrewPrice said...

Doc, Thanks! That's an odd one. It's basically part of the same Good, Bad, Ugly "trilogy", but it is a very different film ultimately. So it's hard to classify. I originally listed it under the GBU entry, but I had to cut that out for space. Very sad. :-(

ambisinistral said...

Open Range should be on that list. In has the same sort of style of Old West Reality as Unforgiven does, but the Robert Duval character is the polar opposite of Eastwood's Muny.

The two together make a fine double feature.

AndrewPrice said...

ambisinistral, I think Open Range along with Lonesome Dove probably both belong on the list, but I haven't been including television movies. Still, I probably should have mentioned both as an aside at the end -- they are both excellent.

Tennessee Jed said...

What did you think of Apaloosa, the Ed harris. Viggo Mortensen, Renee Z. western? Personally, I thought it brought yet another viewpoint to the genre and was generally overlooked by most of the public (sadly true of most westerns.)

I'll get together with you off thread vis-a-vis a format for a separate future thread, be it favorite western t.v. show, favorite actor, favorite storyline, favorite theme (Have gun will travel reads the card of a man . . . a knight without armour in a savage land . . Paladin, Paladin where do you roam, Paladin, Paladin far, far from home)

USArtguy said...

I second Doc Whoa's motion to include Once Upon a Time in the West, if for nothing more than great cinematography.

A couple years ago I watched "Tombstone" at home alone one night. I bought a used copy of it quite some time earlier but had put it aside. Anyway, I knew almost nothing about the movie and didn't even bother to read the box to see who was in it. At first, I was put off by the modern, "pretty boy" actors, especially Val Kilmer. I came around, though, as the story unfolded and remember thinking they were actually doing a really good job.

Then came the scene with Charlton Heston.

His presence dominated the screen and he totally overwhelmed the other actors. I was so blown away with his powerful reserve in that much-too-short part that I actually stopped the movie, rewound and watched that scene three or four times before continuing. I always liked Heston, but that gave me a new and deeper respect for him.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, I thought Apaloosa was very good. In fact, I almost added it to the list at number 25 as something to watch out for in the future because I think it heralded a new kind of Western, one that pulled other genres into the Western.

For example, I saw it as a mix of a crime story and a romance done as a Western -- rather than a Western with a romance in it. I know that's a fine line, but I think Apaloosa's first focus clearly was not on the Western part of the story. And I think that opened the door to similar types of films in the future, which are heavier on other genres but are done as Westerns, e.g. murder mysteries done as Westerns.

By the way, as an aside, despite my extreme dislike of their politics, I really do like Ed Harris and Vigo Mortenson as actors.

On future posts, great! I know you're big into Westerns and I think we could come up with some good stuff that people would appreciate -- plus, it would just be fun to do!

AndrewPrice said...

USArtguy, I don't know what it is about Heston, but he is truly compelling. Even in his cheesiest movies, I still find myself just totally impressed with him and wanting to watch him over and over. I think by that point in his career too, he was playing characters that really suited him -- intensely powerful men that you just don't mess with (like his role in True Lies).

Interestingly, when I first saw Tombstone, my first thought was "oh, this is going to be mass-produced summer junk." But it turned out to be a lot better than that and it really pulled me in. In the end, I thought they all did a great job.

I definitely agree that Once Upon A Time should be on the list. I consider it part of the Spaghetti Western trilogy that I've lumped together at number 1, even though I didn't specifically mention it. It does have great visuals. In fact, a lot of these movies do and they make me want to hop in my car and drive out to into the mountains or down to Arizona and see the desert.

It's too bad they rarely give you cinematography like that today!

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Wow, excellent list, Andrew, and I have enjoyed the commentary immensely!

I do differ, somewhat, irt Silverado being the first western after Butch and Sundance to return to the clearly heroic western.
I thought The Outlaw Josey Wales did that (and a few others).

Heres why: even though Wales was labelled an outlaw (by the true villains), he was without a doubt a hero (albeit reluctant) in the classic sense.

He helped several other folks without any material gain for himself and risked his life (with very bad odds of survival) to protect them.

This flick, hands down is my favorite Eastwood western, followed by

Pale Rider (somewhat a clear hero portrayal, although Moriaty's character was the most heroic and that was the point), The Good, Bad and Ugly, Unforgiven, Hang 'Em High (another clearly heroic Eastwood character) and the rest.

I concur Silverado was still influentual in the way you have mentioned, but there was other westerns between Butch and Silverado that had clear heroes (all, of the Duke's westerns of that era included).

Of the 80's I think Silverado (and to a lesser degree, Paqle Rider) were indeed a huge influence (as well as Lonesome Dove of course).

I also concur that Costners Wyatt Earp is definitelt worth watching. Too bad it came out the same time as Tombstone (and it had Gene Hackman, one of my favorite actors).

And a hat tip to Robert Duvall, Sam Elliot and Tom Selleck for making some superb westerns throughout the 80's, 90's and early 00's). :^)

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

BTW, you have mentioned this before but it bears repeating that many of the most successful flicks (Star Wars, Raiders, etc.) used a lot of western type elements (Serenity especially, but, alas, it wasn't as successful as it should've been).

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks Ben!

There's always room for disagreement!

I see Josey Wales as more of an anti-hero still, but I see your point. In his actions, he is more like the classic hero than the man with no name in the Spaghetti Westerns, but in his attitude, I have a hard time seeing someone like John Wayne riding with him without shooting him. LOL! But that's just the long way of saying that I can see him going either way.

Pale Rider interests me a lot because it's Eastwood's remake of his own prior film and I think there is considerable meaning in how he's changed around the people to be more decent than they were in High Planes Drifter. I think that really reflect a huge cultural shift that he is reflecting.

As an aside, I like all these movies, so please don't think I don't like any of them just because I say one is or isn't one type of film.

In terms of the actors, I like them all: Eastwood, Wayne, Selleck, Duvall, Sam Elliot, Flynn, Holt, etc. -- I think you almost can't play a Western hero without having that something special that makes you appeal to Americans.

AndrewPrice said...

Ben, Very true. A lot of science fiction in particular (but other genres as well) have taken elements from Westerns and "re-imagined" them with ray guns instead of pistols.

I also find it incredibly fascinating that some of the best Westerns are reworks of Samurai films. I'm not entirely sure what that tells us except that maybe there is something common to heroes that makes them amenable to certain kinds of stories which can be translated into different genres. In any event, it's interesting to see the cross-over.

Yeah, too bad Firefly/Serenity wasn't more successful, I really enjoyed that and would have loved to have seen a few more seasons.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

It isn't my intention to imply in any ahape or form that you don't like many other westerns, Andrew, 'cause I know you do. :^)

I realize and you have explained well how you arrived at this list and I like it. It sparked some good discussion too!

AndrewPrice said...

No problem Ben, and I didn't meant to imply that you were saying I don't like Westerns. I just wanted to be clear that while I may offer criticism of one Western or another, I really do love all these films!

And in terms of disagreement, I totally welcome it. I'm not always right and I like hearing opposing views because (1) I like to know when I'm wrong and (2) I think debating films is quite fun. :-)

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Good point about the samurai films.
It's very serendipiticous (is that a word? LOL!) that the Samurai period of Japan was their wild west era, and the samurais were still around during our wild west era.

AndrewPrice said...

Ben, That could well be true that their Samurai period was their version of our wild west?! I can't think of anything comparable in Europe except maybe the Age of Chivalry, though their code was very different than the code of the West. So maybe, we have more in common with Japan than we do with Europe?? Hmmm.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Oh, speaking of Blazing Saddles (love this flick!) another great western comedy is The Cheyenne Social Club with Jimmy Stewart and Henry Fonda (and Debbie Reynolds, hotcha!).

I thought when Stewart told Harley (Fonda) he's switching to Republican because he was now a many of property was hilarious! LOL!

AndrewPrice said...

Ben, When I first asked myself, "has there been a Western comedy outside of something Disney-like, like the Apple Dumpling Gang" the only one that came to mind immediately was Blazing Saddles.

Then I thought harder and even looked into it and soon I was finding comedies left and right. I love Cheyenne Social Club and I love Support Your Local Sheriff. There was one in the 1980s too that I really liked, which I thought deserved more publicity than it got. That was called Rustlers Rhapsody, in which both sides hire a good guy to beat the other side -- it was very clever. And I really like Maverick in the 1990s.

There were a couple good musicals too. All in all, Westerns are a very broad genre that can include a lot of good stuff!

Joel Farnham said...


Great list, good commentary as well.

For a comedic western, I respectfully submit a small movie called "Draw!" It has Kirk Douglas playing an aging gunfighter and James Coburn playing an aging legendary alcoholic ex-sheriff. It is very good.

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks Joel, I'm glad you liked it. And I agree -- good commentary. We have an excellent and knowledgeable crowd!

Thanks for the tip, I actually don't know that film, but it sounds like a good one. I'll watch for it!

Tennessee Jed said...

Just had a thought about Apaloosa. While it was a classic revisit of the "realistic" hardcase pro, the two lead characters had a certain professional nobility. What sets it apart is the Renee role. At first, you tend to really dislike her for her ambition and disloyalty. Ed Harris recognizes it as her strength, e.g. the only way a women with the guts to go west can survive in a hostile environment. In other words, her actions are entirely logical if you think about it, and you can't fault the gal for that! :D

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, I think she is definitely unique in the world of Westerns. In most Westerns, women fall into one of two rolls -- the desperate housewife who wants her husband to stay out of trouble or the hooker with the heart of gold. It's the fairly rare female character who diverges from that -- and usually it's just to be a tough matriarch of a ranch family.

Renee's character really is unique. She isn't really any of these. She's kind of a gold digger, but not really because she's not as obvious about it. At the same time, she's tough, but not butch. And she's definitely not the scared housewife. And yet, despite being a new type of character, she fits right in with the story.

I would argue too that Viggo Mortenson's character is unusual as well because he's more capable than Ed Harris. Usually, the sidekick is lesser in terms of courage, ability and brains. But Mortenson is actually greater. He's also kind of philosophical, which is unusual too in Westerns.

All in all, I think it's a very different kind of Western than we've seen before. And I suspect it will open the door to new "broader" Westerns.

rlaWTX said...

i know that I am late - but Tombstone was AWESOME!!!!
and Open Range is the Costner-Duvall movie, right - it wasn't a TV movie - I saw it in the theater.

Love Liberty Valance!!! and John Wayne.

AndrewPrice said...

rlaWTX, You're right, Open Range was a movie. Somehow I missed that -- I first saw it on television and it never dawned me on to check. Whoops. Thanks for pointing that out.

Open Range is definitely an excellent Western and should be added to the list!

John Wayne was great! He's the ultimate American hero! :-)

Baskerville Hall said...

Anthony Quinn), Bend of the River (Jimmy Stewart) and a few Randolph Scott/ Anthony Mann films. How about Red River ? And She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, with the 2 other John Ford US Cavalry trilogy?

Great B-westers? Man from Del Rio (Anthony Quinn) and Fastest Gun Alive (Glenn Ford).

I think your comments on The Searchers are shallow... It's not a "revenge" film. It's a "search" film - if you're looking for labels. He kills only those Indians who murdered and raped his family members & kidnapped the child. If that's "revenge", then there's not too much space between it and "justice". And you state it's a pro-segregation film because one character (the Reverend/Ward Bond ?) says, “A fellow could mistake you for a half-breed.” Marty was a "half-breed". You make the error of wanting politically-correct language where it would be obviously out of place & anachronistic. Perhaps you should see instead that the half-breed was taken in by the white family and treated as family, even though his "uncle" Eathan's manner toward him was somewhat gruff. But then again, i'd be surprised and disappointed if I saw any John Wayne character exhibiting warmth and caring toward any male character...

Baskerville Hall said...

The opening lines of my earlier comment piece were left out, somehow.

They were to the effect that I disagreed with many of your Top 25, but was in agreement with The Searchers, Rio Bravo & Shane (In my Top 5 Favourites). I suggested the Jimmy Stewart film, Bend of the River might be considered, along with Warlock (Henry Fonda, Richard Widmark & Anthony Quinn) . A few of Anthony Mann's other westerns (Bend of the River was his) might also be considered - The Tin Star,The Naked Spur etc.

The Tin Star might be considered a B-western, like Man from Del Rio & Fastest Gun Alive, but in their way, they are very fine western movies. In the same category are the great Budd Boetticher/Randolph Scott films, Comanche Station, The Tall-T & Ride Lonesome.

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