Mike’s Thirteen Favorite Westerns
Recently, a radio listener asked for my four favorite Westerns. You know how it is with lists; once you start, it’s hard to stop. So, right now, the first four are my own favorites. Tomorrow, the order might change. I know that all of these are available on DVD. I’m not sure if they’re available on the various streaming services.
Once Upon a Time in the West (1969, PG-13) Following the world-wide success of his Dollars trilogy with Clint Eastwood, director Sergio Leone went to Monument Valley for a larger canvas upon which to paint a vivid picture of the opening of the West. With Charles Bronson, Claudia Cardinale and Henry Fonda at his best as the icy villain Frank.
The Wild Bunch (1969, R) Sam Peckinpah’s masterpiece set standards for the depiction of action and violence. Many films have been more graphic since then but none have matched its emotional intensity.
Unforgiven (1992, R) Clint Eastwood’s finest film is a meditation on the many Western heroes he played over his long career. His costars Gene Hackman and Morgan Freeman have seldom been better. Fittingly, it is dedicated to his mentors Sergio Leone and Don Siegel.
Deadwood, Season One (2004, not rated) The story of people creating an organized community in a wilderness has seldom been told with more attention to historical detail. Ian McShane, Timothy Olyphant and Keith Carradine (as Wild Bill Hickock) lead an exemplary ensemble.
Lone Star (1996, R) John Sayles’ contemporary Western is a complex tale of generational conflict, cultural clashes, and family secrets. With Chris Cooper and Elizabeth Pena.
The Big Country (1958, not rated) William Wyler’s epic has a terrific cast led by Gregory Peck, Charlton Heston, and Jean Simmons, but Burl Ives won an Oscar for his performance as a wily rancher engaged in a long-running feud.
Stagecoach (1939, not rated) John Ford and John Wayne and stuntman Yakima Canutt may have created the modern action movie with this one. Remade several times. Yes, it’s dated, but if I’m channel surfing and I come across it, I’m hooked for the duration.
Shane (1953, not rated) Alan Ladd is the gunfighter trying to start a new life. Jack Palance is at his villainous best. Spectacular locations and photography.
Tombstone (1993, R) Kurt Russell (also an uncredited director) stars as Wyatt Earp in the best telling of the gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Val Kilmer is the screen’s best Doc Holliday.
Bad Day at Black Rock (1955, not rated) Spencer Tracy is the wounded WWII vet who gets off the train in a desert town and opens old wounds. With Ernest Borgnine, Lee Marvin and Robert Ryan as the bad guys.
McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971, R) Robert Altman’s snow-covered winter’s tale breaks most of the rules of the genre. With Warren Beatty and Julie Christie at their youthful best and a haunting Leonard Cohen score.
Will Penny (1967, not rated) Charlton Heston said that his role as an illiterate cowboy was his favorite. I agree. Donald Pleasance is a scenery=chewing psychotic villain.
Lonesome Dove (1989, not rated) Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones are at their best in an excellent adaptation of Larry’s McMurtry’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel.