Best Westerns? (i.e. movies)
November 15, 2007 1:57 AM   Subscribe

Moving out to the country and have a hunger to watch some good old (or recent) Westerns. What are your favorites and why?
posted by zaebiz to Media & Arts (34 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
The obvious: Unforgiven, Shane, The Good THe bad and the Ugly.
Not so obvious: Terrence Hill spaghetti westerns. I'm partial to the My Name is Nobody series.

(great, I now have the urge to blast the tGtBtU theme. Girlfriend's gonna be pissed)
posted by notsnot at 3:52 AM on November 15, 2007

There are a LOT of shitty or otherwise forgettable westerns out there, but there are also some excellent ones, or ones that at least merit a viewing. For some reason, many of the best films of the genre have been directed by foreigners.

The Searchers -- If not the prototype for westerns (I'd say that honor goes to Stagecoach), it's probably the benchmark for the early era of the genre.

Shane -- I enjoyed this one primarily for Alan Ladd's soft-spoken, reluctant take on the Cowboy Hero, and for Jack Palance's equally soft-spoken performance as a villainous mercenary. There are some scenes that will probably seem cliched to you (the same goes for The Searchers and Stagecoach) but that's probably because this movie helped originate those cliches in the first place. And there are other scenes that are still fresh today, particularly (in my opinion) the final showdown between Ladd and Palance. The smile on Palance's face in that scene is bone-chilling.

The Good, The Bad And The Ugly -- My favorite western. This is a VAST film -- I think of it as the Wild West version of Lawrence of Arabia. It epitomizes the western, so much so that it veers toward parody at some points. But it's very powerful, with some amazing imagery, some amusing dialogue and three memorable main characters. One of whom is the incomparably badass Clint Eastwood, of course. (Not to belittle the badassery of Lee Van Cleef or Eli Wallach.)

El Topo -- Alejandro Jodorowsky's best known film. A lot of it is very surreal and psychedelic. All the Jodorowsky films I've seen I've found pretentious to varying degrees, but I'm willing to suffer through all the pseudo-philosophical bullshit for the impressive imagery in this one. (I'm sure it all makes a lot more sense when you're trippin' balls.) It's not a film I actually like, but it is one I think is worth watching, and it's a notable departure from the traditional western palette.

Unforgiven -- My second-favorite western. It's not epic in the way that The Good, etc. is, but its treatment of the characters and their moral struggles is captivating, and rare for this genre.

For every classic western I have seen, there's another I have yet to get around to. I've heard almost universal praise for High Noon, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and Once Upon A Time In The West. Also, Sergei Eisenstein had a series of films set in Mexico. I haven't seen any of those, either, but it's something I want to get around to soon. Perhaps one of our fellow mefites could recommend a particular Eisenstein for you...

No Country For Old Men is in theaters right now, and it's amazing. It's set in 1980, so it's not exactly a traditional western, but there's definitely enough of the western's stamp on it to fit this category. Go watch it. I'd call it the best film of the year so far.
posted by Vic Morrow's Personal Vietnam at 4:13 AM on November 15, 2007

Did you see last week's New York Times Sunday Magazine? It had a bunch of small and large articles about westerns, and mentioned a bunch I'd never heard of.

My suggestions are to watch the best of the spaghetti westerns (especially those by Sergio Leone), plus the American classics like Shane, plus the occasional funky foreign western-inspired oddity like the Spanish movie 800 Balas / 800 Bullets (and the classic The Harder They Come is in many ways a homage to the western). Then there are the more recent and more self-consciously western movies, many of which are really excellent, like the El Mariachi trilogy, Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven, Bareback Mountain, The Missing, and HBO's Deadwood series. Blazing Saddles has its fans, although I much prefer the darker westerns. I really disliked all those Young Guns-style puff pieces, but they sure sold a lot of tickets, so if that's your thing you'll love it.
posted by Forktine at 4:18 AM on November 15, 2007

My favourite western has got to be Il Grande Silenzio, but you gotta go with the subtitled version and not the crappy dub. Least campy cowboy flick ever.
posted by kxr at 4:18 AM on November 15, 2007

Forgot to add one of my favorites, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, in the dark and self-conscious category of western. I am looking forward to watching the new Coen brothers movie, because the book was great. And the remake of 3:10 to Yuma has been getting favorable attention, as well.

Sergei Eisenstein had a series of films set in Mexico

I really liked Que viva Mexico; haven't seen any others by him. If you have a good university library, or a large Mexican immigrant community in your city, there are a vast number of Mexican made "westerns" (aka "rancheros"), both old and new. Not many have subtitles, although some do, and sometimes the actors will burst into song at unexpected moments.
posted by Forktine at 4:25 AM on November 15, 2007

The recent 3:10 to Yuma was excellent, even with Russell Crowe and Christian Bale doing Americanized accents. It kept your attention right up to the end.
posted by fuse theorem at 4:50 AM on November 15, 2007

Bareback Mountain

....Are you sure you mean Bareback Mountain and not Brokeback Mountain?
posted by Vic Morrow's Personal Vietnam at 4:56 AM on November 15, 2007

I'll second the Good the Bad and the Ugly, add Stagecoach, and suggest that although it's not exactly a western, Cool Hand Luke has the best example of the required attitude of all time.
posted by Pants! at 5:32 AM on November 15, 2007

The AV Club did a fantastic roundup recently: 17 Truly Grim Westerns.
posted by hermitosis at 5:54 AM on November 15, 2007

Lonesome Dove is well worth the 6.5 hours.

And if you're interested in a number of films all made about the same gunfight, all of these are good in their own way:

Gunfight at the O.K. Corral
Hour of the Gun
posted by jrishel at 5:55 AM on November 15, 2007

High Plains Drifter by Clint Eastwood is a really odd film, bitterly cold, morally just completely repugnant. It is awesome. Watch a few uplifting westerns where the moral, upstanding lawman protects the townsfolk from harm. Then watch Shane, where the scenario is slightly tweaked and the moral character is forced to protect the town out of love to the townsfolk and with great emotional pain to himself. Then watch High Plains Drifter, which in many ways is similar to Shane, except the "hero" (who, by the way, immediately rapes a woman upon arriving to town) has nothing but bold contempt for the townsfolk and their unwillingness to engage in violence. He turns their town into Hell, somewhat literally (just see the movie), and with relish and perverse glee shows them the power of emotionless, perfectly executed violence. It is a truly unique American film and epically EFFED UP. God, I love that movie.
posted by billysumday at 5:56 AM on November 15, 2007

Lonely Are The Brave.
Treasure of the Sierra Madre.
posted by box at 6:01 AM on November 15, 2007

ooh, how can I forget? The Maginificent Seven. And then you should follow up with the film that inspired it, Seven Samurai, while not technically a western, definitely has that sort of feel to it.
posted by jrishel at 6:05 AM on November 15, 2007

Little Big Man. High Noon. She Wore a Yellow Ribbon. Soldier Blue. A Man Called Horse. They Died With Their Boots On. Paint Your Wagon. Cat Ballou. A Thousand Pieces of Gold. Heartland. Wind Walker. The Wagon Train.
posted by LarryC at 6:13 AM on November 15, 2007

Once Upon a Time in the West. Sergio Leone's best, in my opinion.
posted by buka at 6:49 AM on November 15, 2007

The The Westerner, if you can find it and a second on Once Upon A Time In The West.
posted by raildr at 6:51 AM on November 15, 2007

Christ, how could I forget that Sunday-afternoon-local-channel staple, The Outlaw Josey Wales?
posted by notsnot at 6:59 AM on November 15, 2007

Several really good westerns mentioned above, the Good, the Bad and the Ugly is a true classic, but for my money - Blazing Saddles.

Offensive and truly hilarious.

Most others were made in the mide 60's and early 70's. While there have been some done since then, it doesn't seem that the western is a respectable Hollywood movie genre anymore.
posted by fox_terrier_guy at 7:02 AM on November 15, 2007

Firefly/Serenity. OK, it's got space ships...but it's still very western (there are horses and guns, people speak oddly).
posted by anaelith at 7:14 AM on November 15, 2007

The Wild Bunch
The Ox Bow Incident
Bad Day at Black Rock

IMDB's Top 50 Western movies by average vote

You can download the first western, The Great Train Robbery, from the Library of Congress.
posted by kirkaracha at 7:29 AM on November 15, 2007

Rio Bravo.

John Wayne is the sheriff, Dean Martin the drunken ex-gunfighter looking for redemption and one last chance, Ricky Nelson is the hot-shit kid. They, along with Walter Brennan as the grizzled, crippled, old sidekick Stumpy, hold off the forces of entrenched power and do right in the face of long odds.

Oh, yeah. Angie Dickenson plays the mysterious lady who is just passing through.

Great action, great set pieces, genuinely exciting. You even get Dean and Ricky singing together. Movies literally don't get more enjoyable than this one.

The only thing it has against it as a western is that it is all soundstage - there is no sweeping Monument Valley footage. For that go with The Searchers, which might be a "better" movie, but is certainly not nearly as much fun.
posted by dirtdirt at 7:37 AM on November 15, 2007

Rio Bravo is my all-time favorite western (Good-Bad-Ugly is a close second). But I'd also recommend Red River (Wayne & Brennan), Fort Apache, and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.
posted by mattbucher at 7:52 AM on November 15, 2007

I have to say Lonely are the Brave, the 1962 Kirk Douglas movie based on Ed Abbey's The Brave Cowboy.

Also try The Big Sky based on A.B Guthrie's novel of the same name, also starring Kirk Douglas.

Needless to see, the books are better than the movies.
posted by Seamus at 7:57 AM on November 15, 2007

2005's The Proposition. Nick Cave, Guy Pearce, brotherly drama, and lots of flies.
posted by asuprenant at 8:01 AM on November 15, 2007

I'm surprised nobody has said this yet, but the only old-school western that I've been able to sit through without losing attention was A Fistful of Dollars.
posted by PFL at 8:03 AM on November 15, 2007

A Mule For Sister Sarah (John Wayne)
Hildago (kinda, if you expand the definition of a Western)
Desperado, with Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek.
posted by rainbaby at 8:17 AM on November 15, 2007

The Ballad of Cable Hogue
Once Upon a Time in the West
Red River
Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid
Who Shot Liberty Valance?
The Left-Handed Gun
High Plains Drifter
posted by jennydiski at 8:39 AM on November 15, 2007 [1 favorite]

Uh - The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
posted by jennydiski at 8:39 AM on November 15, 2007

Some good Westerns which I don't see mentioned above: Dead Man (Jim Jarmusch), Paint Your Wagon (James Coburn and Clint Eastwood singing! Badly!), The Gunfighter (this movie I seen one time about a man riding across the desert and it starred Gregory Peck).

And you can get $1 double-feature DVDs of old Tex Ritter, Gene Autry, and Roy Rogers singing-cowboy movies in many dollar stores and discount bins. Col. Potter and I prefer Tex Ritter.
posted by fidelity at 9:13 AM on November 15, 2007

Nthing The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. One of my all-time favorite films. Also seconding High Noon.
posted by scody at 11:40 AM on November 15, 2007

Seconding (thirding) a bunch here:
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
Once Upon a Time in the West
My Name is Nobody
The Magnificent Seven
Treasure of the Sierra Madre
posted by oneirodynia at 1:02 PM on November 15, 2007

Oh, I really liked the The Proposition, too, even though it's not an American Western. Bleak and awesome.
posted by oneirodynia at 1:05 PM on November 15, 2007

I second Deadwood, though it's ruined me for all other Westerns. My father, brother and husband all love Lonesome Dove, High Noon, Tombstone, and Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid.

And like many others, I have a soft spot for Treasure of the Sierra Madre.
posted by tempest in a teapot at 1:06 PM on November 15, 2007

....Are you sure you mean Bareback Mountain and not Brokeback Mountain?

Whoops. Thanks for catching that. I'm always making that mistake, and I've heard other people do so as well. Freud would be proud that so many of us can stand on his slip at once.
posted by Forktine at 6:06 AM on November 16, 2007

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