Sunday, June 21, 2009

Westerns I Love, Part 2

(in the latest poll Amadeus was chosen "best music biopic")

To save this from being an ongoing topic I will throw out some of my other favorites not highlighted: Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid, Along Came Jones, Winchester '73, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, My Darling Clementine, Fort Apache, 3:10 to Yuma (both new and old), and The Magnificent Seven.

And here are some more I really love...

Destry Rides Again

Pure old school western entertainment. Jimmy Stewart plays one of his usual likable roles as the son of a famous lawman and curiously doesn't carry a gun. So of course the bad guys think he's a sucker and he proves them wrong by film's end. Marlene Dietrich , in one of her best roles, sings "See What the Boys in the Back Room Will Have". Brian Donlevy is also perfect as the smarmy villain.

High Noon

Often mentioned when the "best western ever" argument comes up. Not my all time favorite but certainly in the top five. Gary Cooper won his second Oscar for Best Actor as the sheriff left to fend for himself by an ungrateful and cowardly community. Grace Kelly plays his new bride and she was never lovelier. A young Lee Van Cleef plays one of the baddies.

The Big Country

William Wyler's grand sweeping drama is another one I get trapped watching at any point I find it. The acting is superb with Gregory Peck, Jean Simmons, Charlton Heston, and Burl Ives. Much like Destry, Peck's character is an underestimated hero and gentleman.

The Gunfighter

Another Gregory Peck film and probably the most underrated and underappreciated of his career. Not as full of action as many westerns, but an excellent character study destroying the myth of western gunfighters. It's hard to believe today, but Peck's mustache was controversial at the time. The thinking was it would destroy his image since leading men were all clean shaven then. Either way it didn't affect his stellar performance.


Speaking of destroying myths, this is THE film demystification of the western genre. Clint Eastwood's film won him Best Director and Best Picture at the Academy Awards because of its very stark portrayal of the American west, NOT the Hollywood west. It contrasts the glorification of the gunfighter (excitedly pursued by the biographer of English Bob and then Little Bill) with the harshness of each murder in the film. There is no glory in killing which becomes evident to the young hired gun who accompanies William Munny (Eastwood) and Ned (Morgan Freeman). "I'm not like you" he says to Eastwood's character as he holds back tears.

This was the point in Eastwood's career that propelled him to become one of the greatest living directors. He examines the hardest parts of life with the utmost grace. Unforgiven may be his best example of that and his best film. And it is one of my favorites.

Next time I will discuss my top five Westerns starring the king of westerns, The Duke himself, John Wayne.

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