Five Film Favorites: Westerns

While we’ve all seen lots of bad Western movies with tired clichés about trail drives, crooked sheriffs and handgun duels wrapped around predictable plots, a good Western, with well drawn characters moving about in a lean story, is hard to beat.

The stark landscape of most Westerns is the prefect backdrop for tall tales of men driven to extremes. Listed below are my five favorite Westerns, presented in alphabetical order:

“High Noon” (1952): Directed by Fred Zinnemann; Cast: Gary Cooper, Grace Kelly, Lloyd Bridges

“Lonely Are the Brave” (1962): Directed by David Miller; Cast: Kirk Douglas, Gena Rowlands, Walter Matthau

“Stagecoach” (1939): Directed by John Ford; Cast: John Wayne, Claire Trevor, Andy Devine

“Treasure of the Sierra Madre” (1948): Directed by John Huston; Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Walter Huston, Tim Holt

“Unforgiven” (1992): Directed by Clint Eastwood; Cast: Clint Eastwood, Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman

All of the films above have plots that can be boiled down to one word. “High Noon” is about honor. “Lonely Are the Brave” is about freedom. “Stagecoach” is about survival. “Treasure of the Sierra Madre” is about greed. “Unforgiven” is about revenge.

“Lonely Are the Brave” is probably the least known on that list. If you aren’t familiar with it, do yourself a favor and see it soon. It’s sort of a beat treatment to the cowboy-verses-modernity angle.

My generation (Baby Boomer) grew up watching Westerns in movie houses and on television. When I was a kid it seemed there were more Westerns on TV than there were situation comedies, quiz programs and soap operas, put together. And, whether we knew it or not, some portion of our collective sense of right and wrong was being shaped by all those heroes and villains wearing cowboy hats and boots.

Roy Rogers and Trigger. Republic Pictures publicity photo, 1949.

Speaking of fashion, for a spell in the first grade, regardless of the weather, I refused to wear any shirts with collars that weren’t checkered to resemble the trademark cowboy shirt Roy Rogers wore on his weekly TV show.

Happy trails to you…

– F.T. Rea

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6 Responses to Five Film Favorites: Westerns

  1. Peter Schilling says:

    As a lover of Westerns, I’ve gotta throw my own five cents in (one penny for each picture, of course…)

    1. Winchester ’73–the movie that challenged James Stewart’s ‘good guy next door’ routine, as a man hell-bent killing his brother for murdering their father. James is seething with rage, and it took roles like this (and the other Westerns he did with director Anthony Mann) to prepare the world for “Vertigo.”

    2. What the heck, no “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” or other Leone spaghetti Westerns?

    3. Or Howard Hawks?–”Red River” and “Rio Bravo” are just wonderful.

    4. Or Peckinpah? “Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid” is amazing, much better, actually, than the lauded “Wild Bunch” (though I’ll add “Ride the High Country” as a favorite, too…)

    5. Speaking of “Ride”, well, we have to add one from the Randolph Scott/Budd Boetticher series of B-Westerns, especially the vicious “Tall T”.

    Honorable mentions: Keaton’s “Go West”, Brooks’ “Blazing Saddles” (I’m projecting that one at the Trylon this weekend), Ford’s “Searchers”, and three great foreign westerns: the great Thai horse-opera (believe it) “Tears of the Black Tiger”, this summer’s Korean spaghetti Western “The Good, the Bad, and the Weird”, and “The Proposition”, from Australia and written by rocker Nick Cave.

  2. F.T. Rea says:

    Peter, I almost put “Cat Ballou” on the list.

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  5. Ted says:

    My favorite westerns – and I generally don’t like the genre:
    “THE FURIES” (Dir. Anthony Mann)
    “MY DARLIN’ CLEMENTINE” (J. Ford)
    “WAY OUT WEST” (James Horn)

  6. Ted says:

    “Horne” not “Horn”

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