Friday, May 23, 2014

Best Western Movies

Growing up we had horses and cattle, and we worked our beef cows, moving from one pasture to another, getting them up in corrals for one thing or another using our horses.  Dad liked Missouri Foxtrotters.  They originated right there where we lived.  Our family owned some of the stock that was part of the evolution of breed.  The horse I usually rode was not a Foxtrotter.  He could foxtrot a little but he was short-gaited and rough.  His natural gait was a pace, and he could run-walk a little.  But he was an outstanding cow horse.  He loved running cows.  He got as much of a kick out of it as I did. 

Dad had done some ranch work out in Wyoming and Colorado back in the last 1920s, after he had to leave Missouri to, apparently, avoid jail.  So it was kind of natural for us to love westerns.  We watched the multitude of cowboy shows that used to be on the old black-and-white television -- everything from "Bonanza" and "Big Valley" to "High Chaparral" to "Sugar Foot", "Cheyenne", "Have Gun Will Travel", "Wanted Dead or Alive", and, of course, "Gunsmoke" and all the rest. 

The list of actors who just seemed to be naturals as cowboys is long -- John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, Alan Ladd, Gary Cooper, Henry Fonda, all the singing cowboys, too.  We can't forget Burt Lancaster.  His buddy Kirk Douglas didn't always come off as well.  Gregory Peck was in some excellent Westerns, and he's all right as a dark, complex character as in Duel in the Sun.  I didn't think he couldn't handle humor as well as some of the other actors -- great in The Gunfighter, though.  Charleton Heston was in a few good horse operas, too.  In later years, the Western changed but hung on with guys like Clint Eastwood, Costner, Duvall, Tom Selleck, and Sam Elliot. 

One of the actors that I love watching in movies is Randolph Scott.  In most of his roles, he just doesn't seem to be a guy that life can beat.  There always seems to be a smile, if not a smirk, lurking just behind his countenance.  A good movie to see that in is The Nevadan where he play a U.S. Marshall working undercover with Forrest Tucker as the bad guy.  He and Tucker also clash in another classic, Rage at Dawn.  His last film, though, may be his best, Ride the High Country alongside Joel McCrea.  Scott could never quite lose that Virginia accent, and it always seemed to work well.

So what Westerns could I watch over and over again?  In no particular order:

The Magnificent Seven -- even if you say it's not as good as The Seven Samarai, it's still good
The Outlaw Josey Wales
Rio Bravo
Red River
Ride the High Country
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Quigley Down Under
The Searchers
The Shootist
True Grit -- both versions -- back to back, whatever.  No, Bridges isn't John Wayne and gets point for knowing it.  But Glen Campbell and Kim Darby suffer in comparison to that idiot Damon and Hailee Steinfeld, plus the 2010 version does follow Portis more and the soundtrack is better.  But John Wayne.
The Cowboys
The Streets of Laredo -- this one is a little obscure, William Holden, William Bendix, and MacDonald Carey
The Treasure of Sierra Madre
Jeremiah Johnson  -- we can quibble if this one counts or Sierra Madre for that matter
Vera Cruz
The Unforgiven -- Not the Eastwood movie, the Burt Lancaster movie -- it has Audrey Hepburn in it.
Winchester '73
Bend in the River
Fort Apache
She Wore a Yellow Ribbon
Pale Rider

I'm tempted to include The Man from Snowy River, because of that one incredible scene.  I always say the same thing, "Man, that is a good horse."  The rest of the movie is pretty dumb.  I'm also tempted to include Last of the Mohicians which I can watch over and over again, but I don't think western New York counts as the West.  I used to get a big kick out of Hallelujah Trail, but I haved seen it in a long time, and I fear I would not find it all that funny anymore.  There are probably several like that.

I'm leaving out a lot of movies that I like, for example, the Stewart/Anthony Mann western, The Man from Laramie, and the third of Ford's Cavalry trilogy, The Horse Soldiers because they tired me out for one reason or another -- same with High Noon, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and Eastwood's Unforgiven -- once every few years is good for those. 

I'm probably leaving some out just because I don't recall them at the moment. 


  1. I saw a movie once that seems to have been shot at a Best, scratch that.

    My wife and I suffer from some form of movie inertia. When we finally get together to think about watching one we are so far behind in what we think we should watch just to be culturally literate that we can't decide.

    We have a horse, the daughter's, she is in the transition phase of moving out. I'm thinking I might learn to ride just so the beast isn't a total loss. But I want to learn western, no helmet, cowboy hat. Call me shallow but English style is for girls in my opinion.

  2. Absolutely, Western Seat is the way to go. I loaned my horse out to a neighbor's daughter one summer while I was busy bucking bales. She was one of those equestrian hunter types. According to her, he took to jumping quite well. The only jumping he would do with me was across the road when something spooked him. Of course, she probably weighed half what I did.

    My problem with watching movies with my wife is that she will usually fall asleep about thirty minutes in and then complain when all the shooting wakes her up.