Thursday, August 05, 2010


I watched part of The Magnificent Seven the other night after I got in from working in the yard. It's not one of my favorite westerns, but it is well enough made that I could re-watch it and enjoy it. It's also a remake of Akira Kurosawa's The Seven Samurai and allows the director, John Sturges, to use seven Hollywood actors and give each actor a western stereotype to plug into the story. You have the loner, the wild "Kid", the conflicted gunfighter and so on. These misfits come together to stop a Mexican village from being terrorized by outlaws whose leader is Eli Wallach. Probably one of his better roles along with the Mexican thug he plays in The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly, which is probably my favorite role he's played and also my favorite installment of those spaghetti westerns with Eastwood.

I enjoy westerns as they are morality plays. The earlier westerns were sketched more in absolutes, becoming either black or white issues, and a lot of them dealt with revenge. You had your good guys and bad guys. You expected them to live within those parameters. Generally the good guys were the stars in the movie. By the way I think my favorite bad guys actors are Bruce Dern in The Cowboys, and Richard Boone. At any rate, it wasn't until later that they started putting a bit of ambiguity into the mix. The good guys weren't all good and had flaws, perhaps there was some saving grace to the bad guys as well. Not only did that make the westerns seem fresh, and pumped new blood back into the stories, but gave the viewer a bit more to think about.

At any rate, the western genre seemed to be more popular many years ago than they do now, which is a shame in a lot of ways. I've seen quite a few, and can re-watch them again and again. I'd read somewhere that there was around 8000 westerns made so I still haven't seen everything. I'm still queuing classic westerns on my Netflix list to see, and I love it when I see one that really grabs me.

Here are a few of my favorite westerns, in no particular order. The thing about this list was where to stop. I tried to keep it short, but that was hard. And some of classic western stars like John Wayne and Clint Eastwood played in many good westerns, so if I picked more than one western that starred either of them, well, that's because they were just in good movies, and good actors to boot.

So anyway here's a few of my favorite westerns:

Shane--classic, mythological western masterpiece with a drifter (Shane) helping out a poor farming family. Shane is the archetypal western hero.

The Outlaw Josey Wales--Eastwood portrays a Southerner who refuses to surrender his arms after the Civil War, and takes revenge on those who destroyed his family and life.

Jeremiah Johnson--perhaps not solidly a western, and more a pioneer tale, but I've seen it around ten or more times, and still one of my favorites.

Lonesome Dove--this six hour TV series taken from the Larry McMurtry book took some western mythology injecting some factual aspects of western life and presented a epic trail drive that also entailed a love story and the loyalty of friendship.

Red River--I'd say Red River and The Searchers are the Dukes' best films, and I couldn't decide which one is the best. I'd say see them both if you haven't already. They are both real epics. No wonder that John Wayne became such a movie star, his screen presence was stellar, and he made a lot of classic westerns like The Cowboys, True Grit, The Shootist, Hondo, 3 Godfathers, Rio Bravo, among others that made him a superstar.

Unforgiven--Clint Eastwood plays a retired notorious gunfighter that has turned his life around, until hard times, and the pull of money pulls him back into a bad situation. The muddy issues of the film are as muddy as the streets of Big Whiskey.

Duel in the Sun--made by David O. Selznick who also made Gone With The Wind. In it Gregory Peck plays against his normal movie roles as the villian. He's a son of a wealthy landowner, and Jennifer Jones is a half-breed that is torn between the evil brother, Peck, and his good brother played by Joseph Cotten.

The Yearling--again probably not a western in the true sense of the genre, but I'd say a pioneering story that takes place after the Civil War wherein Gregory Peck plays a good guy. The young son adapts a deer to raise. Really a family classic.

More on the old west later.


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