Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Great (film) Debates vol. 66

Reach for the sky, mister! The western is perhaps the most uniquely American of all forms of storytelling, and it's one of the most enduring.

What is your favorite western?


Panelist: T-Rav

Okay, well, westerns aren’t really my thing. I don’t have anything against them, I just can’t get into that genre. So, I haven’t seen a lot. But of the ones I have, the movie Tombstone with Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer was pretty good, especially Kilmer’s portrayal of Doc Holliday. “I’m your huckleberry” is no doubt the most memorable line he’ll ever have.

Panelist: Tennessee Jed

The Big Country is the most epic and had a great cast. I do love Guy Madison in The Charge at Feather River, though.

Panelist: ScottDS

I haven't seen enough westerns to give an intelligent answer - it's the one genre where I'm lacking in experience. I did like Tombstone, though. The first 90% of the film was good but the final scenes made it great. Kilmer might be an oddball but he can bring his A-game when he wants to! I'm also partial to Kurt Russell's dialogue in this scene - it hits rather close to home.

Panelist: AndrewPrice

There are a lot of westerns I’ve really come to love, but without a doubt my favorite is The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. This is just such a perfect film. Everything from the idea to the epic scale to the twists and turns to the amazing soundtrack to having the perfect actors makes this film just stand head and shoulders above the rest.

Panelist: BevfromNYC

This is not my favorite genre, but I really loved “True Grit”, the John Wayne version, not the new one. Glen Campbell was just terrible, but since he dies a hero, you can forgive him. And John Wayne is just John Wayne! And whatever happened to Kim Darby?

Comments? Thoughts?

65 comments:

Tennessee Jed said...

Can't argue with anybody's choices here, and I'll admit that it is a genre from another era; one in which I grew up. On Tombstone, it is a great flick. I learned about Wyatt Earp via the Hugh O'Brian Warner Brothers t.v. show. That said, I honestly felt Kevin Costner's epic Wyatt Earp was an incredibly faithful telling of the real Earp, and westerns are probably Costner's best genre.

John Wayne was iconic, and when somebody mentions Kim Darby, wasn't she in Darby O'Gille and the Little People? Kind of the Gwyneth Paltrow of her day? (e.g. who did she know to get this role?)

As far as Good, Bad, and Ugly goes, it ushered in a whole sub-genre (the spaghetti western, and vaulted Clint to film stardom. Those Italian perogi's were terrible, I must say, and it did seem to stretch out to be a little long.

Tennessee Jed said...

oops, Kim Darby, wasn't in that one with Sean Connery. But think of this. Had Kim Darby married Darby O'Gille, she would have been Kim Darby O'Gille & the Little People. Now there is a thought. Truth be told, westerns work so well as "B" movies rather than epics. Basic good guys and bad guys with big larger than life iconic heroes, plenty of great scenery, and simple plotting. Wimpy progressive anti-heroes need not apply. "Acting? we don't need no stinking acting!"

DUQ said...

Jed, That's why I always hated the progressive westerns like Butch Cassidy which felt like they were mocking westerns.

K said...

Anything directed by John Ford and starring John Wayne.

Second favorite: anything directed by George Lucas and staring Mark Hamill.

Dave Olson said...

Well if you want a western that doesn't mock other westerns and pulls no punches while telling its own story, there's Lonesome Dove. OK, OK, I know it's a miniseries and not a movie, but Gus McCrae may be one of the greatest characters ever written. He's tougher than an old boot; witness his pistol-whipping of a less-than-respectful bartender, and his utter destruction of Blue Duck's gang. He's got a tender side as well, as demonstrated by his gentlemanly treatment of Lori after her kidnapping.

Lonesome Dove also never shied away from showing just how tough frontier life was. Well digging, cattle driving, and cabin building weren't just noble pursuits of a romanticized, bygone era. They were matters of survival. That was how you scratched a living out of an unforgiving land. No bleeding-heart welfare statism here; you worked or you starved.

And if you stepped out of line or fell into the wrong crowd as did Jake Spoon, justice was swift and sure. The "cowboy code" was less formalized than that of the Samurai, but it was every bit as strict. "You ride with an outlaw, you die with an outlaw. Sorry you crossed the line, Jake."

Outlaw13 said...

It's a toss up between these films for me. I can watch them all at any time...

Tombstone
Fort Apache (in fact the entire cavalry trilogy is worth watching)
The Searchers (if you have never seen this watch it and see John Wayne in a whole new light)
The Magnificent Seven (Yeah, I know it's based on a Japanese film...I don't care)
Silverado (an under appreciated film from the '80s)

If you want to see the western torn apart...Blazing Saddles is your film.

Tennessee Jed said...

"K" - well supposedly Gene Roddenberry described Star Trek as "wagon train to the stars," and in many ways Star Wars does the same thing (take a western plot and put it in a galaxy far, far away.)

You can never go wrong with Ford and the Duke, though.

Tennessee Jed said...

Dave Olson - You are exactly right about Lonesome Dove. Fantastic . . . AND no quarter asked or given, no punches pulled. One of the very best ever. Hey, it is a story told by actors on screen, so why should I (or anyone else for that matter) quibble about screen size, episodes, etc.) Fine choice.

Tennessee Jed said...

DUQ - Yeah, Butch Cassidy was highly romanticized and probably meant to signal the end of an error. It wasn't the first to really romanticize very rough bad guys, but it felt more like a "buddy" picture to me. Still, I so liked Paul Newman (and his wife Joanne Woodward even though she wasn't in it)) that at the time it came up, I did enjoy it despite myself. Were there any you really liked?

Tennessee Jed said...

DUQ - end of an era (l.o.l.)

Tennessee Jed said...

Outlaw - any list of yours is a list of mine :) As always, a great list, and, as you say, who cares if Mag 7 was a Japanese story. The whole notion of the code of the Samurai is just as much at home in the American west as it is in Japan, Greece, or Napoleonic Europe. (see my old review on the Duellists at this site for a "yap"on that subject. ;)

Outlaw13 said...

There was a 70's sub genre of western comedy. Typified by TV shows like "F Troop" and movies like "Support Your Local Sheriff" and "Support Your Local Gunfighter" both starring James Garner as James Garner...the only character he ever really played and I'm fine with that. :)

Tennessee Jed said...

I think much of the early 70's television was lost to me as a general rule of thumb. I just had other stuff going on at the time, and didn't watch too much television. Probably for that reason, and the fact that most weekly comedy shows were just not my genre, I never really got into those shows. That said, James Garner was a stalwart of the western. His early guest roles on shows such as Cheyenne led to his getting a full time gig as one of the Maverick brothers. (a show which always had just a hit of comedic touch going on.) I'm not knocking them, just never got into that sub-genre.

Outlaw13 said...

There are also some lesser known westerns that IMO are well worth your valuable time.

"Bite The Bullet" a story about a horse race across the wet around the "turn of the century" (can we use this phrase now to describe the 1990's?)

"The Professionals" with Burt Lancaster, Lee Marvin and others is very entertaining and the recent film "Open Range" with Costner and Duvall is very good as well.

The western shouldn't be dead, it's uniquely American and if done right as compelling as anything else you will see on the screen. As for beauty of location you can't beat the American west.

Tennessee Jed said...

Loved both The Professionals and Open Range, but Bite the Bullet I haven't seen, and I thank you for the tip. It would be great to see a revival of westerns if we don't get the political p.c. spin of which Hollywood has become so fond.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, How are we the only people who like westerns? Westerns = America!!

AndrewPrice said...

K, LOL! I never thought of Star Wars as a Western, but it sort of is, isn't it? Science fiction and westerns seem to be very good fits actually. I guess they share many similar elements.

AndrewPrice said...

Dave, I don't think DUQ means that most westerns mock other westerns, I think he's talking about a small group of westerns which really were meant to dismiss the genre. Butch Cassidy actually makes a point of flipping the bird at westerns in general. But the vast majority of westerns are played quite straight and earnestly.

AndrewPrice said...

Outlaw, Silverado is an excellent film and is one of my favorite westerns. I also see it as the western that saved the genre after a series of downer films in the late 1970s.

I love The Magnificent Seven. Another one I really love is The Wild Bunch.

AndrewPrice said...

Outlaw and Jed, I don't think the western is dead at all. They make a ton of money and every tough guy actor eventually wants to do a western. I think they'll be with us for a very, very long time.

Outlaw13 said...

Andrew, I mentioned westerns being dead because I see articles every so often telling me that it's so. :)

AndrewPrice said...

Outlaw, I see that all the time too. Amazing isn't it? Despite all the evidence, they keep saying it. That's called wishful thinking. I think it's also urban bias. Those articles tend to be written by people who are afraid to leave Manhattan.

K said...

T Jed: I think you could include "Firefly" in the SF "western" catagory even more strongly than Star Warz or Star Trek. It's just more talky and not action-y for my tastes.

Andrew: Depends on the SF of course. E.G. "Equilibrium" or "Fahrenheit 451" are in no way shape or form westerns. In fact they're pretty much the opposite.

tryanmax said...

Andrew, Jed, you aren't the only western lovers. I've just been "recovering" all morning.

I can't rightly say what tops my list. I'm amazed by Tombstone b/c it seems too new to have achieved "classic" status, and yet it appears to have.

There's nothing wrong with liking Magnificent 7. In fact, I think it's an improvement on Kurosawa's ponderous 7 Samurai.

For some reason, I'm partial to westerns set in the northwest, like Jeremiah Johnson and Legends of the Fall, that are less about gunslingers and more about the frontier life.

I didn't have any problems with the new version of True Grit, which brings me to a bit of sacrilege on my part. I simply don't care for John Wayne in westerns. Some of his earlier ones are alright, but in his later ones, including True Grit, he was just playing a clown in a cowboy hat. I'm sorry.

Of course, no conversation about westerns would be complete without mentioning Blazing Saddles, a perfect parody of the genre.

tryanmax said...

I would posit that most frontier sci-fi is built of western elements and that post-apocalyptic sci-fi is basically western in a different west.

T-Rav said...

I thought about going with Blazing Saddles, but I thought a "serious" western would be better. It's just not a genre I know a lot about.

For those who've seen both versions of True Grit, how's the remake stack up to the original? I heard it was pretty good (except for Matt Damon trying to do a Texas accent, which should probably be illegal).

Floyd R. Turbo said...

Westerns...

Second Outlaw on the cavalry trilogy and The Searchers

Rio Bravo as well.

I liked Unforgiven as well... I like the romanticized West, but a little revision is called for sometimes and Unforgiven stripped a lot of varnish off the gunfighter.

Also The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. That debate will still start fights in some places. It's is slowly paced to be sure, but it had a lot to say.

The newer (and older) 3:10 to Yuma.

No Country For Old Men was a great new Western I thought.

And for Western in space -- Outland -- High Noon off Saturn.

tryanmax said...

T-Rav, having seen both versions of True Grit, I'd say it's a break even. I've never read the novel, but there aren't enough differences b/w the films to think one is more faithful than the other. Both have their highs and lows.

Grit '69 is certainly more colorful, with lots of landscape footage and being set in some month other than January. It's got a lot of what one would look for in a western of that particular vintage, but it's a much lighter film than Grit '10.

As I previously mentioned, John Wayne's "Rooster Cogburn" is a clown in a cowboy hat. I think that Jeff Bridges does more justice to the character. The only problem with Kim Darby playing "Mattie" is that she's clearly not 14. Hailee Steinfeld is the appropriate age and she does a fine job in the same role, but it's not exceptional. Matt Damon's "LeBoeuf" is just awful--completely unconvincing. Glenn Campbell's "La Boeuf" (yes, they're spelled differently for no reason) is much more acceptable as a real character.

tryanmax said...

Floyd, Unforgiven has one of my favorite lines from any movie: "Hell, I even thought I was dead 'til I found out it was just that I was in Nebraska."

The Assassination of Jesse James is another one of my favorites, and I'm surprised it isn't more widely known.

I also thought both 3:10 to Yumas were good.

AndrewPrice said...

K, True, not all science fiction is similar to westerns, but the two genres can very easily blend because they can have very similar elements. Firefly is a great example of how easily that can be done.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, I'm recovering too, but not from the same thing I'll bet. Whatever I've got has stubbornly stuck with me. :(

I agree about the apocalyptic films. They are often very similar to westerns on many levels.

AndrewPrice said...

Floyd, I really hated Unforgiven at first because it seemed like an intentional repudiation of Eastwood's man with no name westerns and that offended me. But over time, I've really come to enjoy the film and I think it's one of the better westerns.

Outlaw13 said...

I would say you need to see "The Shootist" if you think John Wayne was a clown in a cowboy hat at the end of his career.

As I said earlier, if you have never seen "The Searchers" John Wayne's character is pretty racist and troubled. Finally in the cavalry trilogy and especially "She Wore A Yellow Ribbon" he effectively plays a frontier cavalry officer.

I'm not going to call for Tryanmax's head, but for Pete's sake dude...clown? Keanu Reeves is a clown, John Wayne is not.

AndrewPrice said...

Outlaw, LOL! Feel free to call for tryanmax's head if you like. :)

Floyd R. Turbo said...

I would add The Quiet Man to the list of John Wayne great roles list.

And also add The Cowboys to the list where he leads a group of young boys on a cattle drive and comes up against Bruce Dern in full Bruce Dern-mode

Tennessee Jed said...

just got back from a great win by the Lady Vols over the Lady Bulldogs:) I say off with Tryanmax's head, damn it!!! Hell yes, Unforgiven. Clint's portrayal of Will Munny is kind of like the early John McClain.

I would say both versions of True Grit were worthy, but I think I give a slight nod to the Coen Bros.'s version.

"K" - I didn't see Firefly until recently, and didn't learn about it until after seeing Castle. The couple of episodes I have seen make think I would agree with you that it could fit the SF as western tag.

Andrew - westerns aren't dead, but it's just that as a kid they dominated the screen the way cop films do now.

T-Rav said...

I agree. Tryanmax, why you gotta hate John Wayne? The hippies do that enough as it is.

Tennessee Jed said...

more recently, Appaloosa was pretty good, I thought.

tryanmax said...

Hey, give me a John Wayne war movie any day. But if I wanna watch a cartoon western, I'll watch How Bugs Bunny Won the West.

T-Rav said...

I hope you guys don't have the flu or something. That's been all the rage around here the past few weeks. If schools hadn't been closed for the holidays, a bunch of them would have closed from too many sick kids.

tryanmax, I hope you're not dissing How Bugs Bunny Won the West, because that is a great cartoon.

tryanmax said...

T-Rav, quite the contrary: How Bugs Bunny Won the West is an excellent cartoon. I'm not generally a fan of splicing together shorts to produce a feature, but that one is an example of doing it right.

No flu for me. I'm recovering from putting on a 5-yr-old's birthday party. Let's just say, I did as much drinking as I would for a grown-up party, but I did it all afterward. Exhausting!

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, You had a booze party for five year olds? Cool! LOL!

How Bugs Bunny Won The West was indeed entertaining. But Bugs is no John Wayne... or vice versa.

ScottDS said...

(sigh)

I was just talking to a friend's father about westerns and how, as I said above, it's one genre where I seriously need to do my homework. That's why I put Tombstone - I really couldn't think of anything better at the moment (at least not without lying).

Back to the Future Part III isn't half-bad as far as westerns go and in my review, I even labelled it the perfect "gateway western" for kids.

Anonymous said...

I'll be greedy and pick two. For modern western I'll pick Tombstone as it is a classic, as Tennessee Jed said Costners Wyatt Earp was more epic and true to life but Tombstone
is a better movie. For classic western I'll pick The Outlaw Josey Wales, great story and action it touches on so many topics.

Both movies are favourites, I have copies of them both and will finish watching them if they come up on TV. As to Westerns being dead that is crazy, to me Westerns are to movies as Heavy Metal is to music. Critically panned but always popular and they will never go away.

Scott.

Mr_Severus_Snape said...

I love Westerns! Being an Urbanite, there are days, where I fantasize of being in wide and open spaces, with just my rifle, my pony and me... *sigh*

The best western movie ever? The Searchers! The Searchers! and The Searchers! Not just the best western of all time, but My favorite movie of all time! Simply a masterpiece by the great John Ford! Everything in the movie is just perfect! Ethan Edwards was made to be played by John Wayne!

I also love Rio Bravo, Unforgiven, Blazing Saddles, The Shootist, Treasure of the Sierra Madre, The Big Country, Oklahoma!, Paleface (and its sequel!), The Outlaw Josey Wales, Stagecoach, and many more...


AndrewPrice said...

Scott, That's a good way to put it. Critics seem to hate westerns, but the public loves them. There's just something really appealing about them.

Josey Wales is a good one too.

AndrewPrice said...

Snape, When I lived in DC, I got that urge all the time! :)

Firefly said...

Shane was one of my first introductions to real Westerns when I was in high school - (prior to that it was Bonanza, the Big Valley, the occasional Gunsmoke or Danial Boone). We did an entire unit on the iconography and the premise, themes, etc. The whole epic strong silent hero/anti-hero bit. Jack Palance reeked of sheer villainy. It is still one of my favorites. Over time, I was introduced to John Wayne's Cavalry series. Loved all three of them. The Searchers was like nothing I had even seen. The "cowboy" was supposed to be noble and honorable, not angry and filled with hate. Other John Wayne favorites are Stage Coach, McClintock and The Alamo. (you could see his love for the project).

Silverado will always be in my top five simply because it had EVERYTHING in it. All the requisite components - location, a great overarching plot with plausible sub-plots, great writing, perfect casting in both the heroes and villains. Even the character names had some throwback (Tyree!!) And IMHO the only good Kevin Costner performance ever.

Finally, Firefly was a nifty example of the cowboys in space premise. Too bad it only lasted part of a season. I will not wax poetically at this, despite the temptation.

Commander Max said...

I lived my whole life looking at those very same vistas. Since a number of westerns were filmed here in Arizona.

I really liked, "The Magnificent Seven". It's message is on point these days.
It sucks we have a quite number of Calvera's running around. As the now old song says, "Where have all the cowboys gone".

AndrewPrice said...

Firefly, I'm a big fan of Silverado as well. I love Kline's character!

Shane never really pulled me in. I like the concept, but not the film quality.

AndrewPrice said...

Max, Excellent choice. I miss the West whenever I'm away from it.

Firefly said...

to me, Paden was the most "true western-ish" of the four primary characters. "where's the dog?"

AndrewPrice said...

Agreed. And I love how he had this code that he stuck to no matter how bad of an idea it was at the time.

Kit said...

Searchers, Fort Apache, Blazing Saddles, Dollars Trilogy (Especially For a Few Dollars More). Have not seen Silverado in a while.

Firefly has (tied with Doctor Who) my favorite tv theme: LINK
It's also probably one of the best Western themes of all time. Sums up so much about the wild west.


And if you want a good western video game then check out RED DEAD REDEMPTION. LINK

Nick Alexander said...

Since the Western has undergone many radical changes since StageCoach up till Dances w Wolves/Unforgiven, and then some, I would suspect that it is only fair to list a favorite from each decade, rather than a fave for all time. It keeps us from being myopic, and picking the pretty-good, (but average in light of all the Westerns ever made) Silverado and Tombstone.

While I'm not nearly as strong as an expert as I'd like to be, the one film that I think is the most quintessentially Western, that is watchable and brilliant and not aged a whole lot, is "Red River" starring John Wayne and Montgomery Clift. Not too weighty with themes (like High Noon, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, The Ox-Bow Incident, The Searchers, etc), just an all around great action-packed and entertaining Western.

BIG MO said...

Late to the party again, as usual :) My favorites:

Clint’s “man with no name” trilogy and Pale Rider. The latter was the first Western I ever saw – on VHS, no less – and I still like it.

Costner’sWyatt Earp: flawed film, but I still liked it better than Tombstone. Not that the latter isn’t great; it definitely is. Can’t quite put my finger on it, but Tombstone felt more like an ensemble of terrific actors starring in a timeless Western tale, while Costner’s epic felt like an actual true-to-life story of a reluctant hero / anti-hero. Still one of my favorites, regardless of the fact that Wyatt Earp was a flat-out bomb.

Of all the John Wayne westerns, I think my favorite is still She Wore a Yellow Ribbon.

Geronimo: An American Legend - Instantly became a favorite when I saw it in the theaters in 1993. Full-blooded Cherokee Wes Studi – one of my all-time favorite actors – stars as Geronimo in this tale of the final Apache war. Flawed film in that it gives more play to the men who convinced Geronimo to surrender, and it could have used about 10 more minutes focusing on Geronimo and his people. Still, the cast was superb, playing real historical figures pretty darn close to who they actually were: Gene Hackman as Gen. George Crook, Robert Duvall as Indian fighter Al Sieber, Jason Patric as Lt. Charles Gatewood (the only white man Geronimo really trusted), Kevin Tighe as Gen. Nelson Miles and Matt Damon (in one of his first roles) as Lt. Britton Davis. The score by Ry Cooder is well done and features “throat singers” for some of the scenes involving Geronimo.

How the West Was Won -- an epic that set out to be an epic, and it worked. The performances are all fantastic, by Jimmy Stewart, Karl Malden, Debbie Reynolds, Gregory Peck and especially George Peppard. What pulls the whole thing together is the music and Spencer Tracy’s narration (which is NOT included on the complete score released about 5-10 years ago, possibly because the PC crowd found some of it offensive, but I’m just guessing). The theme song alone is worth the price of admission, and if you are a soundtrack collector, you need How the West Was Won.

djskit said...

After the Searches I have to rank Shane right up there.

Once you realize the entire movie is shot from the point of view of the boy it all makes sense.

Larger-than-life action sequences, overly loud sound effects, a super creepy villan - these are the impression of a 10 year old boy.

The whole movie has a mythical quality about it, as if the gods them selves were on stage!

shawn said...

Rio Bravo so good they remade it less than a decade later and called it El Dorado. Wayne was so good they put him in both.

Next up would be High Plains Drifter. A great tale of revenge from Clint Eastwood.

AndrewPrice said...

Nick, That's always a good question, is it fair to just pick one or should you do one from each era. Westerns really have changed so much over time that it makes sense to do one from each era.

AndrewPrice said...

Big Mo, How The West Was Won is really a compelling film. I don't know why it works, but it really does.


djskit, I'll have to think of Shane the next time I see it. To me, it's always has a strange quality to it that I'm not really a fan of. Maybe I've been looking at it the wrong way?


Shawn, High Plains Drifter, what a cool movie!

djskit said...

It's the same concept that explains Picnic at Hanging Rock. Everything from the perspective of children. But that's another thread...

Anthony said...

Unforgiven, Tombstone and Django Unchained in that order.

Also, its been forever and a day since I've seen older Westerns, but I liked The Wild Bunch and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

Outlaw13 said...

It's funny that Anthony mentions Django, as the director of that picture was blasting the memory of John Ford recently, proclaiming that he was a racist and treated Native Americans unfairly in his pictures.

That tells me he never really watched the movies he complains about.

Kit said...

"That tells me he never really watched the movies he complains about."

Probably.

rlaWTX said...

OK, just saw this thread: Tombstone is AWESOME. I also grew up on the John Wayne classics, of which McLintock! is my absolute favorite with Big Jake right behind it...

Over Christmas I finally saw most of one of those Clint Eastwood western movies (paints the town red) - that was a dark, depressing movie!!!!

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