Interesting picks and some great films, but I strongly disagree.
The best of the West
By Paul Andrew Hutton | September 30, 2007
The Boston Globe
Any Top 10 list is highly subjective. Excluded are silent films and spaghetti westerns (because they annoy me - although "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly" and "Once Upon a Time in the West" are exceptional). Only the first four films are ranked in order.
PAUL ANDREW HUTTON
1) "The Wild Bunch" (1969) - Sam Peckinpah's masterpiece about honor-bound outlaws running out of time in a changing West shocked audiences when first released. Some see the apocalyptic final bloodbath that kills off William Holden's band as also marking the end of the western.
2) "The Searchers" (1956) - John Wayne was never better than as Ethan Edwards, a man driven by deathless hate and perverse racism to find and kill the lost child taken from his family by the Comanches. A dark and brooding commentary on the stain of American racism filmed against the stark moral universe of director John Ford's favorite locations in Monument Valley.
3) "Shane" (1953) - George Stevens directed from a screenplay by Pulitzer Prize-winning western novelist A.B. Guthrie Jr. and Jack Sher. The lush beauty of Jackson Hole, Wyo., provides the backdrop for the conflict between farmers and cattlemen to control this new Eden. Alan Ladd's Shane must reluctantly strap on his gun to save the homesteaders from that perfect embodiment of evil represented by Jack Palance. This is all seen through the eyes of young Brandon De Wilde.
4) "High Noon" (1952) - Fred Zinnemann's classic was written by blacklisted Carl Foreman and is often seen as a commentary on the McCarthy witch hunts. It so angered Howard Hawks and John Wayne that they responded with "Rio Bravo" in 1959, but their film pales in comparison. Forget the politics, the film works because we can all identify with Gary Cooper's brilliant performance (he received the Oscar for Best Actor) as the lawman, deserted by all, who must face down a gang of killers.
5) "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre" (1948) - Whenever the western heads south of the border the gringo protagonists are sure to find trouble - and never more so than in this film based on B. Traven's novel. Humphrey Bogart's paranoid Fred C. Dobbs is his finest role, but the most memorable moment in the film goes to Alfonso Bedoya's bandido: "Badges? Badges? We don't need no stinking badges!"
6) "Fort Apache" (1948) - Ford's brilliant commentary on military folly was based by screenwriter Frank Nugent on a James Warner Bellah short story. Bellah also provided the source material for the two other films in Ford's superb cavalry trilogy - "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon" (1949) and "Rio Grande" (1950). Henry Fonda plays the Custer-like martinet who in search of glory leads his regiment into a massacre, while Wayne is the wise captain who protects the colonel's name for the sake of the regiment.
7) "Red River" (1947) - Howard Hawks's tale of the Texas cattle drives is a reworking of "Mutiny on the Bounty," with Wayne as Captain Bligh and Montgomery Clift as Fletcher Christian. Magnificent photography by Russell Harlan and a grand score by Dimitri Tiomkin help the film achieve epic status.
8) "Stagecoach" (1939) - Ford's classic is generally credited with returning the western to critical and box office success after a decade of decline. It certainly saved Wayne from budget westerns and set him on the road to iconic status.
9) "Ride the High Country" (1962) - Peckinpah cast Joel McCrea and Randolph Scott as retired lawmen who find themselves reduced to escorting a gold shipment from a distant mining camp to a bank in town. They must battle their own demons and a band of outlaws in order to deliver the gold. The film established Peckinpah, the ultimate cynical romantic, as the inheritor of Ford's mantle, and was the final major film for veteran western stars McCrea and Scott.
10) "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" (1969) - George Roy Hill's perfect blend of comedy, romance, and tragedy is simply too good a piece of entertainment to ignore. William Goldman's masterful script, so full of wit, creates characters the audience can't help but adore, especially when played by Paul Newman and Robert Redford. Released the same year as "The Wild Bunch," this tale of outlaws running out of time could not be more different.
(Also "Lonesome Dove," the magnificent 1989 television miniseries. Bill Wittliff's teleplay romanticized Larry McMurtry's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel into an American entertainment classic. Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones created unforgettable characters under the steady hand of director Simon Wincer.)