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My Favorite Westerns

Here are my favorites, ranked in order.

  1. Tombstone (1993). Val Kilmer’s performance as Doc Holiday, in particular, makes this western one of my favorites. At first Val's southern dialect put me off a little but it wasn't long before he completely won me over. He had some really great scenes - to name a few: his first face off with Johnny Ringo in the saloon where Ringo (Michael Biehn) demonstrates his pistol skills and Holiday mocks him by duplicating the moves with a tin cup; then the scene where he steps between Wyatt and Ringo with "I'm your hucklebberry!'; his performance at the OK Coral was wonderful and featured another of his trademark lines, "You're a daisy if you do."; and finally, his showdown with Ringo at the end of the movie. Most people agree that Val Kilmer stole the movie. Michael Biehn plays a delightfully insane Johnny Ringo and uttered one of my favorite lines in the film "All right lunger, let's do it!" Referring to the tuberculosis-ridden Holiday as a "lunger"! Ha ha ha! Hilarious. All the Earps are wonderfully cast - Kurt Russell as Wyatt, Sam Elliot as Virgil, and Bill Paxton as Morgan. The gunfight at the OK Corral is pretty accurately depicted in this film, down to dialogue - you can Google newspaper accounts from 1881 like I did to check that out. Charlton Heston does a great little turn as Henry Hooker, a tough old rancher who hides Doc Holiday from the Cowboys late in the film. I actually talked to Michael Biehn about this film last year and he said the credit for keeping this film together (they changed directors mid film) all went to Kurt Russell. This is my number one favorite.

  2. Silverado (1985). Larry Kasdan, a great writer-director, put together a fantastic cast to portray his take on the classic western theme of a few good men going up against evil to make things right. Kevin Kline and Scott Glenn lead the cast. Kevin Costner plays a delightfully wacko kid (one of his early film roles), Danny Glover steps up as the expert with the Henry rifle (something every group of good guys going against bad guys could use), Brian Dennehy plays a wonderful bad guy. Jeff Goldblum is also great as a weasely gambler. And the diminutive Helen Hunt offers a wonderful performance as a saloon keeper. But I have to say, in the company of such a cast, Scott Glenn really shone and stepped up as a hero once he heard the bad guys had taken the little boy. Glenn is one of those support actors who often gets passed over and under rated. Big mistake. He is an exceptional actor.

  3. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966). Clint Eastwood, and especially Eli Wallach as Tuco are wonderful. Segrio Leone presents the scope and vastness of the American West like no other director. And no western I have ever seen presents a better portrait of the madness of the American Civil War. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. This is an epic tale of a quest for gold set against the brutality and madness of the American Civil War. Clint’s steel-eyed silent gunslinger is complimented beautifully by Eli Wallach’s motor-mouth sidekick. This was YEARS BEFORE the action buddy comedy appeared as a genre in American Cinema and Wallach’s performance as the morally bankrupt Tuco is absolutely wonderful. But there is a real poignancy and depth throughout this movie, illustrated in a scene that gives us a glimpse of Tuco’s character - when they encounter Tuco’s brother the priest at a little mission in the middle of nowhere. Tuco’s brother hates him for who he has become and casts him out. As they leave, unaware that Clint overheard this, Tuco brags to Clint about how wonderful it is to have a brother like he does, to have someone who cares about you. Clint just squints, lights his little cigar and says, “Yeah” - showing real heart for not busting his motor-mouth sidekick. There’s a scene where Tuco shows up at a gun store and shows off his gun expertise when he takes various guns apart, replacing barrels and spinning cylinders, carefully listening to the clicks, looking for the perfect balance and handling in a single action six shooter. Then he asks for cartridges, loads the gun, tests it out behind the gun store - and of course, threatens the owner with the loaded gun, and steals it. Pretty sure, Jim Cameron was recalling this iconic scene in Terminator 1 when Arnold went into the gun store and made his choices. Tuco has another brilliant cinema moment when he is taking a bath in an abandoned Civil War town, and a one-armed man spots him. The one-armed man sneaks up on him as Tuco basks in a giant bubble bath and points a gun at him. He reminds Tuco that he is the one who shot him, causing him to lose his arm, and in one of those classic cinema moments, gives a long-winded revenge speech about how this is a sweet moment of payback after stalking Tuco all these years. Suddenly three flashes erupt from the bubbles. Yes, Tuco the weasel, was bathing with his gun ready under the bubble and he says to the one-armed man, now dead, “When you’re going to shoot, shoot! Don’t talk!” This was a brilliant satire of all those moments in film when a bad guy gets the drop on a good guy, makes a long speech, giving the good guy time to get the drop on him. And then there’s another wonderfully poignant scene when Clint and Wallach come upon Union soldiers facing off with Confederate soldiers at a narrow bridge. The alcoholic Union commander, played by Italian actor, Aldo Giuffre, suggests that if the bridge simply wasn’t there, so many lives (including his own) would never have been lost. Of course, Eastwood and Wallach oblige by blowing up the bridge with dynamite, then the armies simply disappear, going off to find some other place to wage their insane grey against blue war. All Clint and Wallach want to do is to cross the bridge because the gold is on the other side. There is a wonderful shot of the Union commander smiling, as he breathes his last, knowing that that damn bridge is gone. What a beautiful little statement about the madness of war. There are so many great moments in this film, too many to mention. But it remains in my mind as one of the finest westerns ever made. Great performances, great script, and brilliant direction.There is also a wonderful scene where Wallach puts together a pistol in an old gun store with the expertise of a real shooter. So many good scenes in this film.

  4. The Magnificent Seven (1960). A wonderful classic with an amazing cast: Yul Brynner, Eli Wallach (again!),Steve McQueen (1960s epitome of cool), Charles Bronson, Robert Vaughn, and James Coburn. This is a must-see and unlike a lot of 50 year-old westerns, this really holds up, even today. Everyone in the cast has their moment in this film: Vaughn as the gunfighter who lost his nerve swiping at flies with his hand,"There was a day when I could've caught all three"; the gun against a knife fight with James Coburn; the opening scene where McQueen and Brynner take the funeral wagon up to Boot Hill; the scene with Charles Bronson scolds the Mexican kids for lowballing the heroism of their fathers; and, of course, Eli Wallach again doing a masterful turn as Calvera, the leader of the bandits.

  5. The Wild Bunch (1969). It's 1913, and the "traditional" American West is dying. Amongst the inhabitants of this dying era are a gang known as "the wild bunch." After a failed railroad office robbery, the gang heads to Mexico to do one last job. Seeing their times and lives drifting away in the 20th century, the gang takes the job and ends up in a brutally violent last stand against their enemies deemed to be corrupt, in a small Mexican town ruled by a ruthless general.William Holden really shines in this movie as the aging gunfighter Pike Bishop. It's a complicated and nuanced performance of a man past his prime, stepping up one last time to do something heroic. Ernest Borgnine is a wonderful sidekick for Holden. And Warren Oates and Ben Johnson give fine performances as well. Sam Peckinpah directed this a brought a new level of blood and gore to the shoot out at the end.

Also worthy of note: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, High Noon, Open Range

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