Top 20 American Westerns of the 1930s

This list counts the years from 1 to 10, or from 1931 to 1940 with 1940 being both the endcap of the decade and the transition year into the next. The history of the American western in the 1930s needs to be reevaluated. This was a time when nearly every family in the USA had grandparents who lived in the west during the territorial period, and perhaps great-grandparents who’d been pioneers. The western, therefore, was a recognizable part of life to movie audiences of the 1930s. The point needs to be made that studios and filmmakers dealt seriously with America’s western heritage even as they produced meaningless western entertainment. I’ve seen and collected only a small number of the many hundreds of westerns made in the 1930s. It was a decade in which most westerns lasted just under an hour and were intended to round out the bottom of a double-feature, but there were also quite a few A-list epics that dealt with western history as well as rough & ready character-driven western dramas. There were also western musicals, and I don’t mean singing cowboy films. Even the cheap non-budget independent progammers are full of surprises. Remakes of Zane Grey adaptations dominated the first half of the decade just they did in the second half of the 1920s. Many Americans, especially the older generation, related to Zane Grey’s romantic stories. George O’Brien starred in a dozen vital action-oriented Zane Grey adaptations at Fox that are all but forgotten now; pre-codes that may not be all that faithful to Zane Grey but several of them are among the best westerns ever made. In a strange way, John Ford’s Stagecoach is like a greatest hits collection of O’Brien’s westerns at Fox. Today, Universal is best known for its classic horror films, but in the 1930s the studio was best known for its westerns, and for bringing Tom Mix out of retirement to make a dozen blockbuster talkie westerns.

1931 Cimarron (RKO) directed by Wesley Ruggles
1931 The Cisco Kid (Fox) directed by Irving Cummings.
1931 Riders of the Purple Sage (Fox) directed by Hamilton MacFadden (starring George O‘Brien).
1932 Destry Rides Again (Universal) directed by Ben Stoloff (starring Tom Mix).
1932 Law and Order (Universal) directed by Edward L. Cahn.
1932 The Rider of Death Valley (Universal) directed by Albert S. Rogell.
1932 Robber’s Roost (Fox) directed by Louis King.
1932 The Rainbow Trail (Fox) directed by David Howard.
1934 Viva Villa (MGM) directed Jack Conway, Howard Hawks, William A. Wellman.
1935 The Arizonan (RKO) directed by Charles Vidor.
1936 Three Godfathers (MGM) directed by Richard Boleslawski.
1936 The Robin Hood of El Dorado (MGM) directed by William A. Wellman.
1937 The Plainsman (Paramount) directed by Cecil B. DeMille.
1939 Jesse James (Fox) directed by Henry King.
1939 Man of Conquest (Republic) directed by George Nichols, Jr.
1939 Stagecoach (United Artists) directed by John Ford.
1939 Union Pacific (Paramount) directed by Cecil B. DeMille.
1940 Arizona (Columbia) directed by Wesley Ruggles.
1940 The Mark of Zorro (Fox) directed by Rouben Mamoulian.
1940 North West Mounted Police (Paramount) directed by Cecil B. DeMille.
1940 The Westerner (Samuel Goldwyn Co.) directed by William Wyler.

Well said, a true connoisseur!