Only a handful of fanatics have seen every western produced in the 1940s. I’m not one of them. A few thousand were made, ranging from cheap hour-long programmers to big-budget Hollywood epics. Choosing 25 is sufficient to address the quantity and quality of the best 1940s westerns, but it also means leaving out a lot of good, smart, well-made and entertaining westerns. The top 25 are just the tip of a vast iceberg. By the 1940s the western had achieved a level of sophistication to rival the best films ever made by anyone anywhere. In fact, many American westerns are among the best films ever made. This list counts the years from 1 to 10, beginning in 1941 and ending in 1950 which marked the endcap of the decade and the transition into the next decade.
Of my own personal favorites, I would be hard-pressed to choose between Ford’s My Darling Clementine and Wise’s Blood On the Moon. The latter comes out on blu-ray later this year, and then everyone will “discover” it. It’s reputation will go up like a skyrocket. I also know that Red River, Treasure of the Sierra Madre and The Gunfighter are about as flawless and perfect as movies can be. So to is Anthony Mann’s Devil’s Doorway, a gut-wrenching social commentary atypical of, if not at odds with the studio system from which it emerged. How could that movie have happened? Did no one notice the rebuke because it was a western and by this time everyone was taking westerns for granted?
1941 They Died With Their Boots On (WB) directed by Raoul Walsh.
1941 Western Union (Fox) directed by Fritz Lang.
1943 The Ox-Bow Incident (Fox) directed by William A. Wellman.
1946 Canyon Passage (Universal) directed by Jacques Tourneur.
1946 Duel In the Sun (MGM) directed by King Vidor, mostly.
1946 My Darling Clementine (Fox) directed by John Ford.
1947 Angel and the Badman (Republic ) directed by James Edward Grant.
1947 Ramrod (Republic) directed by Andre de Toth (Luke Short story).
1947 Sea of Grass (MGM) directed by Elia Kazan.
1948 3 Godfathers (MGM) directed by John Ford.
1948 Blood On the Moon (RKO) directed by Robert Wise (Luke Short story).
1948 Coroner Creek (Columbia) directed by Ray Enright (Luke Short story).
1948 Fort Apache (RKO) directed by John Ford.
1948 Four Faces West (Republic) directed by Alfred E. Green.
1948 Red River (United Artists) directed by Howard Hawks.
1948 Station West (RKO) directed by Sidney Lanfield (Luke Short story).
1948 Treasure of the Sierra Madre (RKO) directed by John Huston.
1949 Colorado Territory (WB) directed by Raoul Walsh.
1949 She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (RKO) directed by John Ford.
1949 South of St. Louis (Republic) directed by Ray Enright.
1950 Ambush (MGM) directed by Sam Wood (Luke Short story).
1950 Broken Arrow (Fox) directed by Delmer Daves.
1950 Devil’s Doorway (MGM) directed by Anthony Mann.
1950 The Gunfighter (Fox) directed by Henry King.
1950 Wagon Master (RKO) directed by John Ford.
1950 Winchester ‘73 (Universal) directed by Anthony Mann.