After a bit of a discussion about True Grit over on my Facebook page today, a friend asked if I’d make a list of my favorite Western movies so he could see which ones he might’ve missed. At first, I thought that would be impossible (how could I pick favorites when there are so many great Westerns out there?), yet somehow I managed to do it anyway.
I aimed for a list of ten, but had to bump it up to eleven or else risk omitting something important like Tombstone. Untenable!
These are in no particular order, mind you. And if I missed any of your favorites, I’d love to hear about them in the comments!
1. Shane (1953) — Alan Ladd plays a weary gunfighter who tries to settle into a normal, peaceful life with a homestead family, but gets sucked back into the game when a cattleman picks a fight. Ain’t that always the way? [netflix it]
2. The Magnificent Seven (1960) — Funny, clever, and featuring an absolutely awesome cast (Yul Brynner, Eli Wallach, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, Robert Vaughn, James Coburn!). I’ve practically got the entire script memorized and I’d guess I’ve probably watched it an average of once a year since I was about 12; it only gets better with every viewing. [netflix it]
3. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966) — Another childhood favorite (Sergio Leone spaghetti Western!), this movie combines the Old West with the Civil War and features three characters tangled up in a messy treasure hunt. The Ennio Morricone score from this film alone — the main theme from which is my cell phone ring tone, by the way — is iconic. And you can’t beat the combination of Clint Eastwood, Eli Wallach, and Lee Van Cleef. Oh ho, no you cannot, sir. Classic. [netflix it]
4. The Wild Bunch (1968) — This is Sam Peckinpah’s infamously violent Western starring William Holden and Ernest Borgnine, about an aging outlaw out looking for one last big score who instead ends up on the run from a very unfriendly posse. It’s as brutal as everyone says, but worth a gander for the interesting look at not just the end of one gunfighter’s career, but the end of the entire “Western” era, as technological advances like cars and pump-action shotguns move in to replace the ol’ horseback-into-the-sunset gunfighter. (For more Peckinpah Westerns, I also recommend Ride the High Country, by the way.) [netflix it]
5. High Plains Drifter (1972) — I actually wanted to go with Two Mules for Sister Sara here, because if I’m going to pick a favorite non-spaghetti Clint Eastwood Western that isn’t Unforgiven, I confess to a real soft-spot for that one, in no small part because Shirley MacLaine is the schizznit in it. But High Plains Drifter is definitely the better film, so there you go. It’s about a gunfighter who rides into a mining town and throws the whole place for a loop. [netflix it]
6. Unforgiven (1992) — Duh. I mean, honestly. [netflix it]
7. Man of the West (1958) — Gotta have at least one Gary Cooper movie on here, so I’m going with this one, which features Coops as downtrodden outlaw Linc Jones, who gets thrown from a train in the first act, losing all his money in the process, and decides it’s time to reform. I’ve never had the heart to tell him this rarely seems to work out for men of his character. Cue bank heist. [netflix it]
8. Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid (1969) — Closest to a comedy out of all the Westerns on my list, this is a movie even people who hate Westerns probably can’t resist the charms of. Beautifully made, brilliantly acted (Paul Newman and Robert Redford, not to mention Katherine Ross, who has always reminded me of my mother, and a ridiculously young Donnelly Rhodes), and absolutely laugh-out-loud funny at times, this is another one my father introduced me to as a kid, and thank god for it. [netflix it]
9. The Man from Laramie (1955) — This one stars Jimmy Stewart as a guy obsessed with finding the killer of his brother, a US Cavalryman murdered by a group of Apaches wielding repeating rifles. (It’s not the Apaches he’s after, by the way, but instead the dude who sold them the guns.) There are several Anthony Mann/Jimmy Stewart Westerns out there, and I like them all, but this one’s my favorite. It’s beautifully filmed — lots of sweeping landscape shots — and has a lot of emotional heft to it as well. [netflix it]
10. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) — I’m not a huge John Wayne fan, as I’ve mentioned before, but it’s hard to resist this one, in no small part because it also stars Jimmy Stewart and Lee Marvin. It’s about a senator recounting the story of the time he saved a town from an evil-doer named Liberty Valance (played by the ever-awesome Marvin). The only problem is, he’s recounting it to a reporter who doesn’t believe him. Oh, it’s much more complicated than that. Rent it and see. [netflix it]
11. Tombstone (1993) — Sure, it’s got some flaws, but the dialogue is infinitely quotable, Val Kilmer’s the best big-screen Doc Holliday ever (don’t bother trying to argue with me on that point — I’ll never come around to your position), and it’s just plain FUN. My nickname in college was “Huckleberry” and it stemmed in large part from my open, avid affection for this flick. I could watch Tombstone every day for the rest of my life and never get tired of it. How’s that for a recommendation? [netflix it]
This is probably a boring list to any Western fan, I’m now realizing — these are all really obvious choices. But I figured I at least had to start with the favorites that are great, right? There are some admittedly-not-brilliant Westerns that I have a real fondness for, though, including James Garner’s Support Your Local Gunfighter (1971), and Jane Fonda’s Cat Ballou (1965, starring a delightfully crotchety and perpetually drunk Lee Marvin — have I mentioned that I LOVE LEE MARVIN? Because I totally love Lee Marvin).
And I also almost put Paul Newman’s Hud on here, but I’m not sure if it qualifies as a Western? I suppose it does. Larry McMurtry, after all. If we’re going to blur the line there slightly (most of these others are gunfighter Westerns, I’m noticing), let’s also add supreme guilty pleasure The Last of the Mohicans, starring Daniel Day Lewis and a lot of untamed spirit and hair. Mrrowl.
Also, for the record, no fan of the genre should miss season one of HBO’s Deadwood, either. (You can skip the other seasons, if you want, but not the first one. If only for the expansion of your knowledge of cuss words.)
Okay, my friends — What did I miss? Let me have it!