Thursday, January 27, 2011

10 Favorite Western Films

Since I seem to be in a western film frame of mind today, what with the snow and everything - my mind wanders when it's cold. I thought I'd post 10 favorite western films that you might or might not be familiar with. Next to books, I like nothing better than talking about old movies. In case you hadn't guessed that already. Okay, here's my ten (with two additional) - not necessarily in the order of preference, just as they occur to me. I could easily do another ten at the drop of a hat, since you'll notice that later films are not on the list. Some of my favorite westerns from the 70's, 80's and 90's are missing and yet to be catalogued. As excessively fond as I am of lists, I'll get to it at some point.

1) The Magnificent Seven (1960) starring Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, James Coburn, Robert Vaughn, Brad Dexter, Charles Bronson, Horst Bucholz and Eli Wallach. The 9th member of the cast is the stirring and almost universally recognized dynamic film score by the great Elmer Bernstein. I am embarrassed to say that I can recite dialogue from certain scenes almost verbatim. I can also hum the music from most every scene.This is the first and only film I ever played hooky from school to see. I sat in Loew's Canal and watched it about four times (you could do that then). John Sturges directed.

2) The Big Country (1958) starring Gregory Peck, Jean Simmons, Burl Ives, Carroll Baker, Charlton Heston, Charles Bickford and Chuck Conners. This is Gregory Peck at the peak of his perfection, if you care about such things. (I saw the man in person once in NYC, I know what perfection looks like.) Jean Simmons, too, looks great. Come to think of it, so does everyone else in the film. The opening credits are a Saul Bass must-see. Not the usual Saul Bass, but great nonetheless. The score by Jerome Moross is brilliant. Burl Ives won an Oscar. William Wyler directed.

3) Stagecoach (1939) starring John Wayne, Claire Trevor and John Carradine. John Carradine as a refined southern gentleman gambler almost steals the picture. He is incredibly good. John Wayne's first appearance in the film is shot in a way guaranteed to make him a star then and there. I never did like Thomas Mitchell in anything, but I put up with him in this because the rest of the cast is so fine. John Ford directed.

4) Blood on the Moon (1948) starring Robert Mitchum and Barbara Bel Geddes. I don't remember ever seeing Barbara Bel Geddes in any other film and it's a shame, she is so good and such a different kind of female movie presence. Throughout this entire film, Mitchum looks like he needs a good bath and maybe needs to lose a couple of pounds, but he carries it off. Mitchum could carry just about anything off. Physically he seems to overpower Bel Geddes, but they make that work as well. Walter Brennan is in this too, I think. Well, Walter Brennan was in just about every western made around that time. Robert Wise directed.

5) Tall in the Saddle (1944) starring John Wayne, Ella Raines and Ward Bond. John Wayne looks great in this and I love the black shirt he wears almost throughout the whole film. The interesting thing for me, in this otherwise run of the mill western, is the relationship between the simpering blond Audrey Long and Wayne and the dark and comely Ella Raines and Wayne. There's a bit of an obvious triangle, light and dark, good and evil, get it? Not that Ella Raines' character is evil, she's just more 'out there' - makes her preferences known, she (gasp!) wears pants and can shoot a gun. She's terrific. Who will Wayne choose? The answer is rather obvious, but it's fun to watch. Edwin L. Marin directed.

6) Red River (1948) starring John Wayne, Montgomery Clift, Joanne Dru, John Ireland and the ubiquitous Walter Brennan. Monty Clift at the height of his good looks, no question. John Wayne has to age from youngish man to older man and does it with style and a certain relish. You wonder, in the film, why a man like him never marries. (I think he's a widower from the beginning and stays that way, far as I remember.) To tell the truth, Joanne Dru looks like she'd be too much for Monty Clift to deal with, she looks better next to Wayne, but that's not how the story works out. John Ireland is unintentionally funny in a scene where he and Monty Clift compare the size of their guns. This is a great film with a great score. Howard Hawks directed.

7) Yellowstone Kelly (1959) starring Clint Walker, Andra Martin, John Russell, Ray Danton and Edd Byrnes. This film starred three of the handsomest men in the business: Walker, Russell and Danton. You see where I'm going with this? I'm a fan of big handsome men cluttering up the screen, and even better, riding horses. That is my weakness. John Russell took my breath away as Gall, a Sioux chief determined to behave with honor....sigh! Andra Martin is incredibly beautiful in this as an Indian maiden, and it's amazing to me she never became any kind of a star. I tolerated Edd Byrnes (late of 77 Sunset Strip) since he was there to appeal to the teens in the audience. Hey, I was 17 when I saw this and even then I knew that Walker, Russell and Danton were choice. Gordon Douglas directed.

8) Yellow Sky (1948) starring Gregory Peck, Richard Widmark and Anne Baxter. Gregory Peck plays an outlaw with a heart, Richard Widmark plays an outlaw without one. They both look good, especially Peck in a nice black shirt and very cool hat. (Hey, these things are important.) John Russell is in this too, but hardly visible as a henchman. Anne Baxter gets caught up in a mad dash to freedom when a band of bank robbers on the run, hide out in a ghost town where she and her grandpa (James Barton) are prospecting. William A. Wellman directed.

9) Three Godfathers (1948) starring John Wayne, Pedro Armendariz and Harry Carey Jr.
This is such a classic story. (George Clooney made an update of this idea set in, I think, Iraq.) Three outlaws on the run find a woman about to give birth. She dies, but the baby lives. They are left with an infant to deal with. The thing is they must cross some sort of desert, they have little if any water and no way to feed the baby. How they manage makes for such a heroic and splendid tale. I defy anyone not to be moved by the ending. John Ford directed.

10) One Eyed Jacks (1961) starring Marlon Brando, Karl Malden and Pina Pellicer. Brando directs his first and only film and it's pretty damn good. He looks great in it and rides and shoots like he was born to do so. This is an unusual western set first in Mexico then in a California town near the Pacific ocean which is very much in evidence scenery-wise. It's a brutal story told in unexpected ways. Not your standard western. Some people complained that Pellicer's thick Spanish accent was hard to decipher, but I thought it added a lot of charm to her characterization of an innocent caught in the middle of a deadly feud. (The actress later committed suicide, so it's hard, with that knowledge, not to view her as especially delicate. This was her first film.)

Two honorable mentions that I would love to see again, but haven't been able to in years and years. So I'm only going by long ago memory.

A Bullet Is Waiting (1954) starring Rory Calhoun, Jean Simmons, Stephen McNally and Brian Aherne. This is the film that convinced me that Rory Calhoun would bear looking into. I mean, the man was gorgeous! I used to sit in the darkened theater and just swoon. Jean Simmons looks great in this little known film as well. She had the most fetching short haircut, pixie-like. But Calhoun was so unbelievably good looking that he stole every scene he was in. You couldn't take your eyes off him. A simple-minded script, but who cared? I didn't. John Farrow directed. (Mia Farrow's dad, I think.)

Four Guns to the Border (1954) starring Rory Calhoun and Colleen Miller. Another Rory Calhoun feast for the eyes. Yes, I know, I am shameless, but hey, I was an impressionable kid then. Nowadays I hope I would be more circumspect. (Ha!) Colleen Miller is another actress I always wondered about - why she never became a big star. I guess there were lots of these B-movie actresses around and some just got lucky and some didn't. This film contains the best screen kiss - between Calhoun and Miller - I've ever seen. Whenever anyone asks me and I respond with this scene from this film, they look at me as if I'm crazy cause no one but me has ever seen it. (I exaggerate, but you get my drift.) Richard Carlson directed.
Note: the painting at the top of the post of the lone rider is, I believe, by Remington.


  1. Rory Calhoun was so good looking !!Richard Widmark also!! really never like John Wayne and The "Seven" what can I say !! WOW

  2. Ah, another Rory Calhoun fan! Yes, I always liked Richard Widmark too, though he couldn't act worth a lick. Still he could play mean nicely. But I liked him in THE LAST WAGON and another film he did with Donna Reed, THE LAST SUNSET? Something like that. Liked that he played the hero in both those films.


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