Tuesday, April 25, 2017

10 GREATEST WESTERNS

Funny, I don't see any AA people on the list. Weren't we in the west back then??


Robert Frost
Robert Frost, Cinephile and movie blogger

I’ve done two posts on The Greatest Movies, According to Me about westerns (10 Greatest Westerns and 10 Greatest Westerns of the Last 15 Years). Extracted from those posts, my favorites are:
10. Open Range (2003) - Kevin Costner directed and costarred in this excellent love letter to the western. It's a story about honor and change. It's 1882, the end of the west is on the horizon. Duvall and Costner play ranchers moving a herd across the country. When one of their men is brutalized by a corrupt land baron that is holding a town under his thumb, the two men feel obligated to stop this evil.
"Man's got a right to protect his property and his life, and we ain't lettin' no rancher or his lawman take either." - Boss Spearman
9. Red River (1948) - A Howard Hawks/Wayne collaboration. In the Dark Knight, there's a line that goes: "You either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become the villain." Red River is an examination of that process. It is also a look at one of the legendary cattle drives from Texas to Kansas.
Wayne plays Thomas Dunson, depicted over a 14 year period, as we watch him go from a young, ambitious white hat starting his ranch to a jaded, tired black hat cattle baron. It's also a story of the decline of the father and ascendancy of the son, with a young Montgomery Clift as Dunson's adopted son, Matt.
"You're soft, you should have let 'em kill me, 'cause I'm gonna kill you. I'll catch up with ya. I don't know when, but I'll catch up. Every time you turn around, expect to see me, 'cause one time you'll turn around and I'll be there. I'm gonna kill ya, Matt." - Thomas Dunson
8. Rio Bravo (1958) - Director Howard Hawks' greatest film, and one of John Wayne's greatest performances, is a counterpoint to High Noon, essentially telling the same story in a different way. This time, the experienced lawman (Wayne) does have a little help - from a drunk (Dean Martin), a kid (Ricky Nelson), and an old man (Walter Brennan). Added to that interesting cast is a strong performance from a young Angie Dickinson.
John Wayne shows his acting skills in this film with a subtle and quiet performance, letting his body language speak for him. Watch this film and you'll understand why he was such a star.
"Supposing I got 'em. What'd I have? Some well-meaning amatuers, most of 'em worried about their wives and kids. Burdette has 30 or 40 men, all professionals. Only thing they're worried about is earning their pay. No, Pat. I'd just be giving them more targets to shoot at. A lot of people'd get hurt. Joe Burdette isn't worth it. He isn't worth one of them that'd get killed." - John Chance
7. Stagecoach (1939) - This is the film that made John Wayne a star. He had had one chance at the A-list in a movie that failed and had spent a decade doing B-movies. But in John Ford's Stagecoach, he showed he had the stuff to be a star.
Stagecoach is the archetype of the movie in which a group of very dissimilar people must come together to survive a great challenge. Wayne plays "The Ringo Kid" a fugitive intent on avenging the murder of his father and brother. Also on the stagecoach are a gunslinging gambler (played with mustache-twirling glee by John Carradine), a corrupt banker, a prostitute, an alcoholic doctor, a pregnant woman, a meek salesman, and a marshal.
Their journey takes them through hazardous Apache territory which provides a stunning action scene as the stagecoach is chased across the desert by a swarm of Apache warriors. The stunt work is impressive, including a stunt in which a character is dragged under a team of horses and down the length of the stagecoach. It is this stunt to which the famed scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark pays homage.
"Well, I guess you can't break out of prison and into society in the same week." - Ringo
6. High Noon (1952) - Gary Cooper plays Will Kane, a marshal on his last day in office. He has just married and is ready to give up the responsibility. But he has also just found out that a dangerous criminal that he sent to prison has been released, and is coming to town, with his gang, to kill the sheriff and anyone else in town that he has a grudge against. Kane feels duty bound to defend the town, even though no-one in town will assist him.
It's a gripping story told almost in real time. The film is rich in allegory and a true classic. High Noon was nominated for eight Academy Awards and won four, including Best Actor for Gary Cooper.
"You risk your skin catching killers and the juries turn them loose so they can come back and shoot at you again. If you're honest you're poor your whole life and in the end you wind up dying all alone on some dirty street. For what? For nothing. For a tin star." - Martin Howe
5. 3:10 to Yuma (2007) - Christian Bale and Russell Crowe face-off in this remake of the 1957 Glen Ford film, based upon an Elmore Leonard story. It is beautifully shot and suspenseful as these two men simmer until their violent confrontation in the climax. A great western.
"For God's sake, he's killed more men than the drought!" - Dan Evans
4. Shane (1953) - Hollywood's look at the range wars. Alan Ladd in the titular role plays a gunfighter trying to leave that part of his life behind him and start anew that is forced to take up the gun once more to defend homestead settlers against thugs. At its simplest viewing, Shane is a white hat vs. black hat (with Jack Palance as the scary black hat), but there are layers of complexity behind that simple front.
"There's no living with a killing." - Shane
3. True Grit (2010) - When I first heard that the John Wayne film, True Grit, was being remade, I thought it was a pointless idea. But, the Coen brothers didn't remake that film, they went back to the source novel and reinterpreted it. In this one, even with a star like Jeff Bridges and supporting actors like Matt Damon and Josh Brolin, the real star is fourteen year old Hailee Steinfeld. This is a brilliant film, and one that makes every idiot that has been saying the western is dead, eat crow. Damon is hilarious as LaBoeuf, the alcoholic Texas Ranger, played by Glen Campbell in the 1969 film.
"I thought you were going to say the sun was in your eyes. That is to say, your EYE." - LaBoeuf
2. The Searchers (1956) - New York Magazine referred to The Searchers as the most influential film in the history of film. The Searchers was the ninth collaboration of director John Ford and actor John Wayne. It is based on the novel by Alan Le May, which, in turn, was based on the real historical Parker massacre and capture of Cynthia Parker by Comanche Indians.
Wayne is compelling as Ethan Edwards, the uncle of a missing girl. He undertakes a years long search for his niece. His character hates the Comanche. He is unrepentantly racist towards them - hating them so much that he sees his mission as to find his niece and mercifully kill her because she will have been corrupted by the Indians.
"I don't believe in surrenders. Nope, I've still got my saber, Reverend. Didn't beat it into no plowshare, neither." - Ethan Edwards
1. Unforgiven (1992) - Unforgiven is Clint Eastwood's elegy to the western and his bookend to his career in westerns. He was 62 when he directed and starred in Unforgiven. He plays a former gunslinger named William Munny. He has long been settled down and away from that life. He married and had children and he has become a hog farmer. He is widowed and just trying to live out his days in peace, when he is lured back into a violent world.
Unforgiven is its own story - well crafted and independent. But it shows influences and pays homage to almost every film on this list - most particularly Shane. The film respectfully illustrates the difference between truth and legend, as Munny tries to live down the mythology that grew about his younger self - the mythology that many earlier westerns were built around. Unforgiven manages to both dispel and live up to that mythology.
"It's a hell of a thing, killin' a man. Take away all he's got, and all he's ever gonna have." - William Munny