At first, due to what I thought was my limited experience with Westerns, I thought I'd only do my ten favorites. Then, as I began compiling my list, I realized there were a lot of Western films that I really liked and I would have to take several off of my list in order to keep it at Stephen's original limitation of fifteen films. So to keep the list manageable I'm only including one Clint Eastwood film (I could have taken up at least a third of the list with his films).
If you're wondering about John Wayne films, I'll have to admit that I'm not a big fan so you'll find only one of his films here. I'm going with films that really touched me in some way or another or have a particular significance to my experience as a film fan. And finally, not that these films are not special to me, but I have omitted some of what may seem to be obvious classics such as High Noon, Shane, or Stagecoach.
Fifteen Favorite Westerns:
Shanghai Noon (2000) --Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson star in this buddy comedy kung fu cowboy film. It's wacky fun with plenty of action. And there are trains. I love western films that have trains.
A Man Called Horse (1970) -- Richard Harris is an English aristocrat who gets captured by American Indians in 1825. At first he is treated cruelly, but eventually proves his bravery and becomes part of the tribe. This was probably a film that was partly made as a reaction to the Viet Nam era, but it still holds up as a darn good story. This film was a favorite of mine and my friends after we saw it at the drive-in movie. We all had fantasies of becoming Indians and having beautiful Indian maidens of our own.
Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) -- Humphrey Bogart stars in this more modern day Western. The story takes place in 1925, but is replete with banditos on horseback, rugged scenery, and blazing gun battles. Three Americans in Mexico take off into the Sierra Madre Mountains of Mexico in search of gold. Along with gold, they find trouble fueled by greed. A gritty tale befitting of Bogie's image.
7 Faces of Dr. Lao (1964) -- In this Western Fantasy mash up, Tony Randall plays multiple characters including the mysterious circus owner Dr. Lao. The odd little circus comes to the desolate town of Abalone, Arizona. When the circus comes to town the citizens are given insight as to who they really are as reflected by the changing faces of the wise, but eccentric Dr. Lao. A big plus for me is that the film is not only about the circus, but also prominently features juggling. Gotta love a film that has juggling.
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007) -- This is a slow, brooding, but highly compelling story about the notorious outlaw Jesse James and the gang member who gains his fifteen minutes of fame by shooting Jesse in the back. This is a beautiful film in every way. The cinematography is pure artwork, the music is haunting, and the acting is of the highest caliber. It's a traditional western story told in an unconventional manner.
Lone Star (1996) -- This is a modern day story in the Western tradition. After a skeleton is unearthed in the desert, the sheriff of a small town in Texas investigates to unravel the mystery. He uncovers more secrets in the mystery than he bargains for as he digs up the skeletons in his own closet and those of the town itself. This film is directed by one of my favorite directors, John Sayles, which is another big factor in my inclusion of Lone Star on this list.
The Misfits (1961) -- If nothing else, this film is notable because it was the last film made by both Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe. This is another modern day Western story about horse wranglers and rodeo cowboys. It's a good story with top notch acting. Not a shoot 'em up, but it's a bang of job of film making.
Back to the Future III (1990) -- Take my favorite genre of time travel and send it to the Wild West and I am definitely on board. Add that to a great film franchise like Back to the Future and it's hard to go wrong. There's cowboys and outlaws and trains. And then there's that great scene of the souped-up DeLorean being chased by Indians on horseback. This is some fun stuff.
All the Pretty Horses (2000)-- This is another film involving a journey. It's 1949. Two young cowboys in West Texas realize that the great era of the American cowboy is essentially over and head across the border to Mexico in search of adventure and jobs on a big ranch. The film stars Matt Damon, Henry Thomas, and Penelope Cruz and is directed by Billy Bob Thornton. I included this since it is a beautiful Western and it's based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy, one of my favorite authors. His novel No Country For Old Men is a better film and could also be classified as a Western I'd say, but All the Pretty Horses fits the Western theme better for the purposes of this list.
Oklahoma (1955)-- I'm sure I'll get some disagreement about this one, but it's the Western themed musical with which I am most familiar. I know there are other Western musicals but I don't remember them very well. Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote this musical and the songs are classics that we've all heard. The performances are dynamite. There's love, action, and good singin' and dancin'. The dream ballet sequence is pure dance magic. This is a film that I have watched many times.
McKenna's Gold (1969) -- This is a sentimental favorite for me. I saw it at the drive-in movies when it first came out and have seen it many times since. I never grow tired of watching this film. It has a massive all-star cast headed up by Gregory Peck, Omar Sharif, and Telly Savalas. This is yet another journey film with treasure seekers in search of a cache of gold in the mountains. There are bad guys, good guys, more bad guys, and pissed off Indians all adding up to one rip-roaring adventure.
Tombstone (1993)-- There have been many renditions of the gunfight at the OK Corral. This version is one of the grandest. The film is visually stunning and an A-list of actors is on board. I especially like the depth to which the history of the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday is explored. We see the story before Tombstone and the aftermath as we follow Wyatt Earp to his last days. The movie is good story telling.
The Wild Bunch (1969)--One of the most violent Westerns of all is also one of the best. The film has a great cast and is just an all around good film. There are trains, explosions, gunfights, and a machine gun which makes for a really good gunfight. You gotta love any Western that has a machine gun.
The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly (1966)-- If Apocalypse Now is my favorite film then The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly would have to be my favorite Western since in my opinion it is the Apocalypse Now of Westerns. They are both bizarre hallucinogenic excursions into surrealism where travelers encounter one weird event after another including a Civil War battle. The characters in this spaghetti Western are played by an excellent cast with Clint Eastwood, Eli Wallach, and Lee Van Cleef heading up the list. The theme music by Ennio Morricone has become classic. This film is not only one of the best Westerns in my opinion, but it is among the best films ever made.
There you have it. Perhaps this should have been a blogfest. In fact maybe this is a blogfest in slow motion since Stephen McCarthy's original entry first appeared nearly a year ago. It took me a while to get my list together. If you want to be a part of this, I hope you won't wait until next August to list your favorites. If you do put up a list please let Stephen and me know about it so we can check it out.
Do you like Westerns? Would any of my favorites show up on your list? Do you think any of my choices seem kind of peculiar?
Please be sure to be here on Wednesday with my very special guest, San from Informed Sharing. She has a story that you may find interesting.
On Friday I will have a quirky little tale about cowboys and Indians.