Monday, March 4, 2013

My Five Best Westerns

A few days back someone printed a list of his five best Westerns.  It got me to thinking.

As a film genre goes, the Western has fallen on bad times.  Hardly see one being made these days.  Which is a  resoundingly foolish mistake Hollywood is committing if you ask me.  The Western can't get any more American as a film type.  It literately encapsulates what Americans have always thought of themselves.  Rugged, independent, honest, tough as rawhide, and reliable.  Interestingly that image (whether it's right or wrong is immaterial) hasn't changed in 200 years.  It's what we think we are. 

Every nationality has an image of themselves.  And every nation's movie producers try to fill that image with visual representations for its audience.

So I'm thinking the Western should be making a BIG come back soon.

Anyway . . . .  we were talking about the five best Westerns ever made.  Let's continue down that murky road and see where we come to a screeching halt, shall we?

First of all, how do you make such a selection.  What is the criteria you're using to make the selection?   What's the time frame, for instance.  The years between 1800 and 1900?  Between 1700 to 1900?  That is an issue.  What defines the period when a Western is a true Western?

Can a Western be a comedy?  Think of Mel Brook's Blazing Saddles.  Is that a real Western?  Or more like a Comedy dressed up in western clothing?  Is a Western solely a drama?  Could it be a Musical like Paint Your Wagon or Oklahoma?  How about all those Gene Autry movies where they  mixed horses and automobiles together in the movies made in the middle and late '30's?  Hmmm . . .

Okay.  Cut to the chase;  my definition of a Western.  Drama; depicting the American West between 1800 to 1900.  Here goes;

1.  The Searchers (filmed, 1956)

2.  The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence (1962)

3.  Magnificent Seven (1960)

4.  Unforgiven  (1992)

5. (tie)  Stagecoach (1939) and My Darling Clementine (1946)

If you're a movie buff you've already seen this list about six or seven times apiece.  And quite willing to sit down and see them all over again.  They're classics.  Great movie plots with genuine stories that pull you in immediately.  Great scenery to behold the American West.  Great photography . . . both in color and in black and white . . . that just fires up your imagination.  And of course . . . great acting.

John Wayne is in three of the above movies (The Searchers, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence and Stagecoach).  Let's face it.  When it came to depicting the rugged, silent type, no one beats John Wayne.  He's the flawed loner  . . . the honest man who, despite his flaws, knows the right thing and does it.

But I'm giving a big 'Hi Ho, Amigo!' to Yul Brynner (Magnificent Seven).  There's just something about this ball headed gunslinger that grabs you.  One tough SOB.

And then there's Henry Fonda.  There's a basic streak of Just Plain Honesty in the man you've got to admire in this movie.  Honesty and Commitment.  Love this oldie.  Love'em all.

Oh, by the way . . .

The photo above.  Coming out of the last scene of The Searchers.  Wayne brings his niece home after years of captivity with a band of Comanches.  He once swore that he was going to kill for fear she had 'gone indian.'  But in the end he saves her life and brings her home . . . and stands in the doorway after the family gathers around her and then turns, and walks into the sunset.

Classic American chutzpah.


  1. I just recently saw The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance for the first time and I loved it. I've never been a fan of westerns but that and Unforgiven are the two on your list I really, really enjoy.

  2. Hannah, you'll love The Seachers. It really is much more than a mere Western.

  3. B.R. my own list would include HONDO and, if I can fudge the time limits, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN. Great list!

  4. Lee, I'll agree with you about Hondo. That one would be in the Top 10. And I enjoyed No Country For Old Men. But I can't see it as a Western. Hard core noir; yes.