Tuesday, July 16, 2013

My Top 5 Westerns

EDIT:  1, 2, 3, 4, 6?!?  What happened to #5, you might ask.  See the post that follows this one for the explanation, because "justice is coming."

Last month I offered up my top 3 casts in a western.  Then, as the Lone Ranger opened in theaters, with Johnny Depp as Tonto (?), my friends at In the Mouth of Dorkness offered up their top 5 westerns:   Matt  Brad.  So, of course, I must follow suit.

I grew up as WTBS, the Super Station!, was first starting its broadcasting.  It carried a lot of old westerns, and a lot of John Wayne westerns.  I was hooked and have been unable to shed that nostalgic sense of awe to truly come around to Clint Eastwood as THE iconic western actor.  I recognize his contribution, but the mythic, almost super-heroic, quality of the western, especially the John Wayne western, is so infused into my DNA that I have to just roll with it.

That said, and with my bias firmly in my sights, I offer my top 5 westerns of all time.

#6 (that's right, SIX)- Unforgiven
The western given a modern bent that, for many, portrays a more honest representation of the times.  This is Clint Eastwood, along with Morgan Freeman, Gene Hackman, & Richard Harris, creating a distinct coda to his "Man with No Name" films, as he maneuvers through the wilderness he helped bring about, as an old man with all the weight of regret and missed opportunities that entails.  An amazing story that is also a wonderful
commentary on the western film as a mythical "object," this is a timeless classic that rewards with each new viewing.

#4 - Once Upon a Time in the West
Sergio Leone. Charles Bronson. Jason Robards. Claudian Cardinale.  And Henry Fonda, as one of the most unfeeling and vicious villains in all of western cinema - mainly a result of the fact that this was HENRY FONDA, coupled with the insistence of Leone (when Fonda showed up unshaven and with contacts to hide his baby blue eyes for the first day of shooting) that he wanted HENRY FONDA, clean-shaven, blue-eyed, and handsome as his villain.  This is epic filmmaking at its best with a very personal, human story underlying the whole thing to give it a resonance so often lacking in many films.

#3 - The Searchers
John Ford and John Wayne are a legendary filmmaking director/actor duo, and their specialty was the western.  And this is their most brutal, most honest, and best film within their oeuvre.  Wayne is relentless and unforgiving in his quest to find his young nieces, kidnapped by a Comanche tribe.  The end resonates with questions long after the final credits roll, its ambiguity of character symbolized by Wayne's homage to early western star, Harry Carey, as in the final scene, silhouetted by the cabin doorway, Wayne holds his right elbow with his left hand before fading away.

#2 - The Magnificent Seven
Hollywood took one of the greatest films (Seven Samurai) of Akira Kurosawa, considered by many to be the greatest film director of all time, and transferred it to the American west.  And with Charles Bronson, Steve McQueen, Yul Brynner, James Coburn, Eli Wallach, et al. they managed to create an equally compelling film here.  From the opening scene, which reveals Brynner and McQueen's characters with very little dialogue, to the final shootout, this is a great film in the grand tradition of the western genre.

#1 - Lonesome Dove
Yes, it was made for TV, but it was not a regular series like Stagecoach or Gunsmoke, back in the day, nor was it a long-form TV series like Deadwood (which would garner the top spot, easily, if it were eligible within the specific and fluid guidelines I have in my mind)

Honorable mentions:  Tombstone, Red River, Appaloosa (Viggo Mortensen & Ed Harris, come on), The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Posse (has, perhaps, the greatest "high noon" shootout I've seen), The Proposition, The Man From Snowy River, and Young Guns.


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