Huge film fan here. I dig all genres of movies, and among them the western genre maintains a pretty solid place. Part of it is, I lean toward the mythic in storytelling. So John Boorman’s EXCALIBUR or Richard Carpenter’s ROBIN OF SHERWOOD or Keneth Branagh’s HENRY THE V, speak directly to that portion of me that is purely griot, purely African, purely a believer in the mythic.
Westerns are very much of that mythic mold. The best of them drawing some half remembered line, between chaos and order, between good and evil, and the singular men who must hold that line.
My favorite westerns are examinations of that mythic landscape.
So without futher ado my ever changing list of MUST SEE Westerns. I’ve broken this down by Star and Director, and each film has a star or letter grade:
I guess any examination of the western would be lackluster without the films of one of the greatest western directors, and greatest directors… period. I speak of course, of John Ford.
Having directed a 144 films (according to IMDB), there’s a lot of FORD films I haven’t seen. But of the one’s I have (which are generally considered to be his best) here are my favs:
THE SEARCHERS- The finest western ever made. And my favorite John Ford/John Wayne film, it is the definitive western, and the the inspiration for hundreds of films and filmmakers since. It’s well known that Kurosawa and Samurai Flicks as a whole, were influenced and inspired and shaped by the mythic images of John Ford. And you get no more mythic than this film. A film that also put to rest the notion that John Wayne can’t act. He provides here the performance of the tortured, racist man of war. And no one could have done it better. A+.
STAGECOACH-1939s STAGECOACH may seem derivative now, 70 years later, but that’s only because 70 years worth of directors and films (from all genres) have stolen from this movie. 70 years ago, there was nothing else on the planet like it. And 70 years later, it still has a wonderful structure, and brevity, and beauty. B+.
I don’t think you can get away from the fact that Ford’s cavalry trilogy is just required viewing. They are FORT APACHE, SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON, and RIO GRANDE. B-B+.
Howard Hawkes is another seminal western director, second only to John Ford in terms of importance, impact on the genre. And having done a little over forty films, his output is a little more manageable than that of Ford. And his canvass, his range, despite doing fewer films than Ford, was broader. While Ford was mainly in the genres of Drama, Western, and War, Hawkes genres included comedy, Scifi/Horror, Noir, and Gangster Pic, as well as Westerns.
In the genre of Westerns his best films are: (Drum roll please)
RED RIVER (2nd only to SEARCHERS as my favorite western of all time)-A great cast, and a brilliant performance by all involved, including Montgomery Clift and John Wayne, in this tale of a cattle drive through hell. From 1948. A+.
Another fine film by Howard Hawkes is 1959s RIO BRAVO starring John Wayne as the Hero, Dean Martin as the drunk sheriff, Ricky Nelson as the hotshot kid with a score to settle, all three against a townfull of killers. This was remade by Hawkes in 1966, in the equally good EL DORADO. This time with Robert Mitchum as the drunk Sheriff and James Caan as the hot-head kid. Both films are solid B+s.
YOUNG GUNS- I love this film.With it’s 80s brat pack glossing of the myth of Billy the Kid. Phenomenal script, brilliant cast, and wonderful direction (from Christopher Cain, father of Dean (Superman) Cain. YOUNG GUNS stands out as a jewel in an otherwise unmemorable slate of films). I know the lines by heart, one of my favorite new age westerns. The sequel while overlong, and not as good, is definitely still recommended. But overall the original gets an A+.