Five for Friday–Indispensable Westerns

Random, I know, but I love Western movies. And by “Western,” I mean frontier movies, cowboy movies. That said, the Western has been successfully “ported” to other some genres, including sci-fi (“Serenity”) and gritty crime drama (“Collateral”). Without further ado, five indispensable Westerns.

1. True Grit. “That’s bold talk for a one-eyed fat man!” The unlikely trio of Rooster Cogburn, Mattie Ross, and La Boeuf on a manhunt for the villain Tom Chaney makes for really fine viewing. Cogburn’s quasi-redemption in Mattie’s young but firm hands.

2. Shane. (FYI: Eastwood’s Pale Rider has a very similar plot, and I like it a lot. But it doesn’t hold a candle to Shane. Young Joey Starrett is “everyboy”–struggling to honor and admire his father when a guy like Shane seems much more interesting. And Shane, despite his dark past, is an honorable man: [to Joey] “You go home to your mother and your father and grow up to be strong and straight.”

3. The Outlaw Josey Wales. Clint’s Josey Wales is pitch-perfect–the terribly wronged family man pushed to revenge, and then to outlaw life. The twist here is that he finds a new (albeit temporary) family in the hodgepodge of folks he ends up protecting.

4. Open Range. Kevin Costner likes the Western genre, and in some ways it suits him. But he’s had small success, in my view, at making a great Western. At least, till “Open Range.” Robert Duvall doesn’t hurt, but the broken man Costner portrays here, and what’s required of him to put his past to rest, I find compelling.

5. Unforgiven. I hesitated to put another Eastwood film on here, but hey, it’s my list. This one features career performances from a number of actors, and the story itself gets at the heart of humanity. Eastwood’s Will Munny gets the line of the film with “We all got it comin’, kid.”

Honorable mentions (I can never resist): Winchester ’73, Silverado, The Searchers, and The Proposition. See them, too, if you haven’t.


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