Archive for December, 2022

A few years ago I stumbled upon a twitter poll asking what the best vampire movie of all time was (stick with me, I will get to westerns in a minute).  I forget what the other three choices were but one of them was Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992), I flippantly (as I do), suggested that not only was it not the best Vampire movie, it isn’t even the best Dracula movie.  In response I was invited by Nico, one of the hosts of Movie Mount Rushmore to listen to the podcast where they came up with the four movies in the poll.  So I did!  This is what I found.  In their own words:

Join the Silver Screen Dudes, Anthony “AJ” Jordan & Nico Lurot, for the best TOP 10 movie show out there: the Movie Mount Rushmore. Each of us gets given a new movie topic each week, we count down our individual TOP 10 lists, then combine to make the Mount Rushmore; these are the MUST-SEE 4 movies of each week’s movie topic.

They often ask for suggestions as to what to cover.  I frequently suggested Westerns which they tell me they hare shortlisted but keep putting off as they freely admit it is something of a blind-spot for them.  In order to help them out I thought I would compile a list of recommendations.  This is by no means definitive but I think it gives a strong overview of the genre including some must see classics, and some movies that offer something a little different to the genre.  I have largely ignored modern or contemporary set westers: Hud (1963), The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (2005) No Country for Old Men (2007).  Or Movies from other genres that essentially westers: Battle Beyond the Stars (1980), Outland (1981), Serenity (2005). 

The Iron Horse (1924) – I haven’t seen many silent westerns, and a lot that I have seen are derivative and unremarkable.  Although it’s been a long time since I watched it, this one stands out.  The first epic western from John Ford (you will be seeing that name a lot on this list) who had dabbled in the genre previously.   His most significant work came later.  

Stagecoach (1939) – John Ford’s first talkie western, and the movie that made John Wayne.  The passengers on the stagecoach are a cross section of society.  Made a few years after the great depression, the villain is a banker, still relevant today! It is also the movie that set them template for years to come.

My Darling Clementine (1946) – Not the best telling of the gunfight at the OK corral, but a great western and one that set the blueprint for the genre over the next generation.  For once Wyatt Earp (Henry Fonda) is a more interesting character than Doc Holiday.

Fort Apache (1948) The first and possibly best of John Ford’s Cavalry Trilogy (She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949) and Rio Grande (1950) make up the rest of the trilogy.  Confusingly for a so-called trilogy, the thirst film is a sequel to the first, the second is only connected by theme and genre).  As well as being possibly the best of the three, it is also notable for its depiction of Native Americans, although there is an element of “cowboys and Indians” you would expect of the time it is a lot more authentic and sympathetic portrayal of  Native Americans than you would expect. 

High Noon (1952) – Told in pretty much real time to create tension.  The story is a thinly disguised criticism of McCarthyism/blacklisting, it’s also an early example of a “revisionist western” although not as blatant or violent as those of the 60’s and 70s.

Shane (1953) – Widely regarded as one of the best movies of the genre.  To be honest I haven’t seen it since I was a kid, so am suggesting it more on reputation than recommendation.

The Naked Spur (1953) – Most remembered for Its a Wonderful Life, and Hitchcock movies, James Stewart appeared in a lot more westerns than you would think, this is one of his best.  Nothing exceptional or unusual about it, just a really solid movie.  Winchester ’73 (1950) is also worth a look for the same reason.

Johnny Guitar (1954) – Nicholas Ray’s movie is like no other western, its more melodrama and gangster movie than western.  Sterling Hayden gets the title role, but it’s all about Joan Crawford and Mercedes McCambridge.

The Searchers (1956) – Possibly the best western ever, John Ford at the top of his game.  The crux of the movie is the hero is not a good man, and he knows it, but he hasn’t come to terms with it.  It is also the starting point for Ford starting to address the genre’s treatment of Native Americans.  Try and get a Blu-ray version to make the most of the stunning VistaVission.

Gunfight at The O.K Corral (1957) – Second of four versions of this story to make the list.  As is often the case Wyatt Earp (Burt Lancaster) is a bit stoic and dull making Doc Holiday (Kirk Douglas) the most interesting character.  Lookout for a young Dennis Hoper as one of the Claytons and DeForest Kelley from Star Trek as one of the Earp brothers.   

3:10 to Yuma (1957) – You have probably seen the remake, the original is better in many ways, not least its smaller scope and simpler story  both are worth watching.

The Left Handed Gun (1958) – Paul Newman as Billy the Kid, what’s not to love?  Random fact, it takes is name from the fact Billy was left handed, we know this from a photograph of him.  Except, somebody spotted a few years ago that the picture was printed back to front!  

Rio Bravo (1959) – John Wayne’s best none John Ford movie, and Tarantino’s favourite movie.  What more reason do you need to watch it?  Ricky Nelson, Angie Dickinson, and Dean Martin!

The Magnificent Seven (1960) – Akira Kurosawa was influenced by American directors including John Ford and saw his samurai movies as Japanese westerns, so when John Sturges remake of Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai (1954)  things came full circle!  Not the last time a Kurosawa movie would be remade as a western.  And, not to mention, the incredible cast.

One-Eyed Jacks (1961) – The only feature directed by Marlon Brando, no other reason needed.

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) – As the director who made the biggest westerns with the most amazing vistas, Ford is known for romanticising the west, but this is him in full revisionist mode.  Shot in moody black-and-white (it often looks like a noir) on Paramount’s back lot and  soundstages as appose to on location the way Ford normally worked.  I won’t give away the plot, but there are no great surprises, you will see where it is going, it’s the subtext that really makes it stand out. Ford is telling us the west, and the romanticised myth of the west he helped create is a lie!  He only made one more western after that, Cheyenne Autumn (1964) a largely courtroom movie about the mistreatment of Native Americans. 

The Dollars Trilogy – A Fistful of Dollars (1964), For a Few Dollars More (1965), The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966) – The “spaghetti western” reinvented and rejuvenated a fading genre.  All Leone’s Dollars trilogy are worth watching, this the final entry is the best.  Worth watching just for Ennio Morricone’s score.  If you watch closely the action is cut to the rhythms of the music, this is the earliest really successful example of this I have seen.  

Django (1966) – Sergio Corbucci’s seminal work is the next best and most influential spaghetti western after two or three of Leone’s.  The man at the bar who says “good name” to Django (Jamie Foxx) in Django Unchained is Franco Nero, the original Django.  If you need any more reason to watch the movie, his main adversary is the Klan, and he kills a lot of them!

Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) – If you have seen the Dollars trilogy you may think you know what a Sergio Leone western is all about.  This is a very different movie, a more conventional western, a slower paced and more sombre affair.  After a career of mainly heroic characters, Henry Fonda is very much against type as the films main villain.  As you would expect Ennio Morricone’s music is spectacular. It also has one of the best movie openings ever.

The Wild Bunch (1969) – Sam Peckinpah’s seminal Western attracted is seriously violent, the polar opposite modern comic book violence sometimes shown in vivid and visceral slow motion.  While John Ford’s movies are about the frontier spirit, the settlement of the west, and the birth of America, Peckinpah tells of the end or an era and a way of life heavily laden with doom and despair.  It was a movie made at the time of the Vietnam war as many people were coming to terms with a nations loss of direction and innocence.   

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) – when you think about it this is a strange film, as much a buddy comedy as a western, but it still manages to be a great western along the way.  Made in the end of the 60’s it is also a melancholic allegory for the end, or failure of the free spirited idealism of a generation.

Little Big Man (1970) – Comedy drama and an early example of a “revisionist Western”  that uses the story of a white man raised by the Cheyenne nation to explore the impact of American pioneers on Native Americans.  It also works as an allegory against the Vietnam War which was going on at the time of production. 

Blazing Saddles (1974) – If you think of the great Mel Brooks movies (Young Frankenstein, High Anexiety,  Spaceballs) they all work on their own as a movie as well s being a clever parody, Brazing Saddles is possibly the best of them. 

The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976) – When it comes to wester Clint Eastwood will always be known for The Dollars Trilogy (1964-66) and Unforgiven (1992) but The Outlaw Josey Wales is probably his most interesting western.  The fifth feature (and second western) he directed it appears to be a typical revenge thriller, but its really an exploration of a nation searching for identity and a statement about the futility of war.

The Long Riders (1980) – The 1980’s were a bit of a barren patch for Westerns, the genre was considered old fashioned and didn’t fit with the glossy plastic and neon of the decade.  But, there were a few films that broke through, amongst the best was Walter Hills tale of the James-Younger gang.  Not the best telling of the story (that’s later on the list) but a really good movie with an interesting gimmick.  The four groups of brothers in the  movie are played by real life brothers the Keache’s, Carradine’s, Quaid’s, and Guest’s. It bombed at the box-office, probably one of the reasons there were so few westerns for the next decade.

Young Guns (1988) – The Brat Pack goes west.  Good fun telling of the story of the Billy the Kid story that is just as historically inaccurate as all the others! 

Dances With Wolves (1990) – Not the best Kevin Costner Western (see later in list) and despite picking up the best picture Oscar it wasn’t the best picture of the year (that was Goodfella’s) but don’t let any of that put you off, its is still a great film, and very different to just about any other western of up to that time. 

Back to the Future Part III (1990) – The genre was dead by the end of the 70’s, so for a lot of kids, this would have been the first new western they had seen, it may even have been THE first western they had seen. 

Unforgiven (1992) – I’m not sure if there is any more to say about Unforgiven; a movie that could only be made by a legend of the genre, and at a certain stage of his career.  You have probably seen Clint Eastwood’s masterpiece and think you know it, but watch it again especially after watching some other classic westerns, the collective knowledge of what went before makes an outstanding film even better.

Tombstone (1993) and Wyatt Earp (1994) – Two very different stories about the legendary lawman.  Tombstone is the better film, but Kevin Costner is a better Earp than Kurt Russell.  If you are going to watch just one of them it must be Tombstone simply for Val Kilmer, the best ever portrayal of Doc Holiday, especially in the scenes opposite Michael Biehn as Johnny Ringo. 

The Quick and the Dead (1995) – A wild west quickdraw competition with an amazing cast. It’s dumb, but so much fun! 

Open Range (2003) – The third and best Kevin Costner movie on the list.  Costner and Robert Duvall play a pair of “open Range” cattlemen driving a heard across Montana in 1882 until the come up against a rancher who believes in barbwire and ownership.  Set at a very particular time during the expansion west and the changes of the nation after the civil war.  It is also a really entertaining movie and has some of the best gunfights seen in the genre, shot with a real sense of realism a long way removed from the poetic gloss of the classical western. 

3:10 to Yuma (2007) – I have already mentioned the 1957 original bother based on Elmore Leonard’s 1953 short story “Three-Ten to Yuma”.  A reluctant hero, a charismatic but ruthless bad guy are tropes of cinema in general not just western.  The story of transporting a prisoner while under attack has been done countless times.  But when done well it makes for a supremely entertaining movie, and this film does everything really well.   

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007) – As promised, the best Jesse James movie.  Its slow and pondering, but lyrical and beautiful.  A stunning film that lingers in the back of your mind for days after watching it.  Look out for Nick Cave (whore wrote the score along with Warren Ellis) playing the balladeer in an excellent scene late on in the movie. 

Appaloosa (2008) – Quirky film, with a great cast including by Ed Harris who co-wrote and directed the movie. 

Meek’s Cutoff (2010) – I’m not a fan of Kelly Reichardt’s work and found this dull, but everyone else seems to love it, and Michelle Williams is really good as ever, so you may want to give it a go. 

True Grit (2010) – This isn’t the first adaptation of Charles Portis story of grizzled Deputy U.S. Marshal Reuben J. “Rooster” Cogburn.  The 1969 Henry Hathaway version starring John Wayne is excellent, but The Coen Brothers version is better.  Jeff Bridges is fantastic as Cogburn but the real star is thirteen year old Hailee Steinfeld in her standout role. 

The Salvation (2014) – A Danish western! America was built on immigration, and the west was settled by people from all over Europe, it surprising there aren’t more movies like this.  As you would expect Mads Mikkelsen and Eva Green are fantastic. 

Hostiles (2017) – Described as a “classic revisionist Western” while this terms are clearly intended as a contradiction they are a perfect description of the movie.  The message of the movie is a little heavy handed but is a universal truth that we need to be reminded of from time to time. Christian Bale and Rosamund Pike are both amazing, given the calibre of their filmographies, it is no small statement to say they are among their best performances. 

The Harder they Fall (2021) – I could end with Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog which is a good film and worth watching, but from the same year I am going for something altogether more fun, Jeymes Samuel feature directorial debut.  Taking all the flair of a 70’s Blaxploitation and blending it with a spaghetti wester style revenge story it is an absolute riot.

By no means a definitive list, but hopefully it will give AJ and Nico (or anyone else who stumbles across the list) a few ideas what to watch. 


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