The Western is probably the most enduring and most popular genre in film history. Westerns have literally been made since the very birth of cinema and are still being made and reinterpreted today. So here are three different very different answers to the question, what is your favourite Western.
Tim from Not Now, I’m Drinking a Beer and Watching a Movie writes:
The John Wayne starring Stagecoach (1939), directed by the great John Ford, is my favourite of all classic Westerns. It many ways it is an archetypical example of the genre. All of the iconography is present – the semi-desert landscape of Monument Valley, Native Americans, coaches, horses, big hats, guns, sheriffs, gambling, damsels in distress – not to mention the presence of the most iconic Western star in history. But this is B movie iconography elevated to an A level standard.
There are a number of aspects that make this film stand out. Firstly the script. A lot of time clearly went into the screenplay and it shows. This allows the simple story of nine very different people on a fraught coach ride to end up being a whole lot more. Characters which are initially simplistic ciphers, gain depth as the film progresses and believable, complicated relationships are built between them. Ford also throws in some social commentary to boot as part of the main thematic concerns of the film. At the beginning of the film two characters, a prostitute and a drunkard doctor, are run out of town by the puritanical powers that be. Wayne’s character The Ringo Kid though cuts through all of this judgemental bluster accepting them all, especially Clair Trevor’s Dallas on their own terms as fellow travellers. There are also some potshots at big business and it appears that greedy criminal bankers were as big an issue in the late 30s as they are today.
The final standout feature of the film is the fine performance of John Wayne in his breakout role as a big Western star. His raw physical stature is backed up by some serious acting chops. His introductory shot as he waves down the coach, rifle in hand is a fantastic one and from there on in he is really at the core of the whole film. Toward the end of the film is an incredible large scale action set piece as the coach is chased down at full pace by the dreaded Apaches. It is an incredibly shot, actually quite lengthy sequence. It also features one of the most famous stunts ever committed to film. Stuntman Yakima Canutt, playing one of the of course nameless Apaches, falls down in between six horses and between the wheels of the coach rocketing along at full pace. It is quite stunning and more than a little death-defying too.
This is a cracker of a film, unfortunately somewhat hard to come by these days, but if you are a Western fan make the effort to track it down (although it is on Criterion Collection so if you are a major Western fan you can fork out for that). Here’s the fantastic theatrical trailer to whet your appetite in any case.
Tim Hoar is the creator and writer of this here blog you are reading. If you like it, then be sure to like it on Facebook here.
James from Film Blerg writes:
So maybe this is an odd choice, but I’m certainly not the first person to claim that Paul Verhoeven’s Showgirls (1995) is in fact a Western. Saige Walton first planted the seed in my head in a Censorship class at Melbourne University, the arguments of which can be found here. Walton surmises the Western genre and narrative conventions very succinctly: “Nomi travels from east to west, to the frontier city of sin; she mediates conflict, has her showdown with the bad guys and leaves town with order restored… wearing a cowboy hat.”
Nomi Malone (Elizabeth Berkley) arrives in the city of sin with a knife in one hand and steely determination in the other. Quickly landing a job in a mediocre stripclub, Nomi cunningly makes her way to the Stardust Casino, eventually understudying for Cristal Connors (Gina Gershon) after pushing her down the stairs, success rushes to Nomi’s door. The film takes a dramatic turn when Nomi’s close friend Molly is brutally beaten and raped after meeting a rock star idol. Not one for taking crap from anybody, Nomi puts on her bad ass boots and kicks the shit of the rock star abuser.
As Walton mentions, Showgirls sees Nomi in a place of ultimately maintaining order in a hostile and cutthroat frontier land of Las Vegas strippers. Exhibiting many masculine qualities while expertly displaying her physical (and tirelessly sexual skills), Nomi is subject to barroom brawls and catty fist fights of sheer willpower. Meeting her match in Cristal (her antagonist good vs bad opposite), Nomi sizes up the competition and then breaks it down, proving her alpha dog status.
Intently made to provoke audiences with an NC-17, Showgirls was the first major studio film to receive such a rating and still be released on a fairly mainstream level. Despite this, it tanked at the box office. Thanks to the allowances of VHS, Showgirls went onto have a fruitful cult afterlife and is considered by many to be trashtastic.
Showgirls can be best enjoyed with an audience, whether it is in a small group, or a class cult screening on the big screen. Drinking games accompany the film with shots raised when Nomi slaps somebody or when a pelvic thrust manically thrashes around in a pool.
If you’ve seen the film, then you can speak to its trashiness. Whether or not you enjoy the subtle levels of satirical exploitation within each dramatic body thrust or the campy fierceness that Gershon spews out with every line of dialogue is beside the point. It is simply put, an undeniable Western.
James Madden is the Editor of Film Blerg. He is currently undertaking a Master of Arts and Cultural Management at the University of Melbourne and is a Screen Editor of Farrago Magazine. James has contributed to countless student and online publications including Portable, T-Squat and Upstart.
Jon from The Film Brief writes:
There are so many reasons I love Sergio Leone’s The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly (1966). It’s a masterpiece from the first frame of the opening credits, which combines Ennio Morricone’s score (the best film score ever written, to my mind) with a brilliant, blood-spattered vignette that has since gone on to inspire any number of film-makers, perhaps most notably Quentin Tarantino.
It’s a masterpiece from the opening scene, which sets the scene magnificently in the barren, desolate landscapes of the old West (actually filmed at the Cinecittà studio in Rome). Early on in the piece, the story is framed as a battle of wits and brawn – not so much a good vs. evil battle (the man with no name is far too morally enigmatic to represent good) as a document of Darwinian survival of the fittest.
The film is the third and final chapter of the “Man with No Name” trilogy, directed by Italian auteur Sergio Leone. Upon its release, it redefined the Spaghetti Western in a way that its predecessors, A Fistful of Dollars and A Few Dollars More did not. I like the first two films of the trilogy, but The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, despite its still-shabby edges, is that much more crisp, that much more precise in its story-telling.
It is difficult sometimes to look past a film’s status as a genre-definer, and a must-watch for any even semi serious cinema buff. I watched The Good, the Bad and the Ugly for the first time nearly 40 years after it was made. Stratospheric expectations aside, this is an enduring masterpiece for the most basic reasons – a strong script with complex and well-drawn characters, and a master behind the camera who knows just the right way to capture his subject material. You simply must see this movie.
Jon Fisher is the creator and editor of The Film Brief and host of The Film Brief podcast which you can find on iTunes.
Marlon Brando is one of film history’s most iconic stars. When you think of him you may think of his iconic early work in films such as in A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), Julius Caesar (1953), On the Waterfront (1954), or as Superman’s old man, or most likely as Don Vito Corleone in The Godfather (1972). You probably do not envisage him as a gunslinger in a Western. But that is exactly what he is in One Eyed Jacks (1961). Not only that, he also directs, taking over from Stanley Kubrick who was originally slated for the gig.
The film opens with Brando’s Rio involved in a bank heist with his partner Dad Longworth in Mexico. Dad betrays the Kid which leads to Brando’s character spending five long years in a Mexican jail before escaping. Once he does so, the Kid only has one thing on his mind – revenge. This whole early Mexico-set section is extremely exhilarating, with a lot of gunslinging style action. Of course once Rio tracks Longworth down, things get a little complicated. Firstly by the fact that Longworth is now the local sheriff in Monterey California and Rio and his new mates have their hopes set on robbing the local bank. Secondly, and more importantly, because Longworth now has a gorgeous stepdaughter who Brando’s character has an immediate connection with. The murder of a beloved stepfather is generally not the way to a lady’s heart. The setup is brilliant, and the film’s rather lengthy running time (two hours and twenty minutes) allows time to explore all the possible narrative ramifications fully.
Thematically this film is extremely dense for a genre piece such as a Western. The film is all about justice; how it should be administered, miscarriages of it and how to respond when you do not get it. There is an early explicit reference to the scales of justice which make this clear. This exploration of justice morphs into something much more. Whilst the notion of a hero having to choose between the girl and an act of violent vengeance is not an original one, this handles it really interestingly. Rio has mulled over getting back at Longworth for five long years. Not only that, the Sheriff gives him many a reason throughout the film to deserve a good slapping. And underpinning all of this is the broadest of themes, one that underpins most films and certainly a vast majority of genre film – good vs. evil and the many shades of grey in between. This all feeds into one pertinent phrase of the Rio’s as he justifies what he intends to do to Longworth: “It ain’t murder, that’s just standing up”.
Brando’s central performance in this film is incredible, illustrating why he is considered one of the greatest film actors of all. If there is an actor with better delivery than him, I have not seen them. He makes you feel every word and every emotion, from seething to heartfelt. The dialogue in the film is excellent, none of the cringeworthiness often associated with the genre. There is plenty of ‘tough talk’ between the cowboys, which is where the cringe usually comes in, but here it is both well written and especially well delivered. The audience is made to feel that these are some truly tough blokes who would have no qualms about taking the course of action they threaten. Brando is not alone in delivering a fine performance though and he is especially well supported by Karl Malden as Dad Longworth. The first meeting between the two after Rio escapes from jail is extremely tense, and the two fine actors keep the audience right on edge about how events are going to play out. Malden’s Longworth also grows into quite the arch villain by the end of the film. For much of the film it is difficult to read the character’s intentions, but when he goes full tilt bad guy, it is great to watch and offers the perfect foil for Brando’s brooding Rio. Also massive credit to Pina Pellicer as Rio’s love interest Louisa. The love story subplot is well handled and offers a big shot of emotion to a film that could have been too rough and tumble without it. With a poorer actress than Pellicer filling the role, this part of the film would not have been as engaging and would have brought the whole film down with it.
Not only does this film show off Brando’s well known acting skills, it also proves that he was a very fine and very clever director. There are a number of sequences which show this starkly. The first of these comes early on in a big set piece on a mountain where Rio and Dad battle the Federales. It would have been hard for a novice director not to get carried away, but the epic scenery of the desert hills are balanced well with the close in shooting and fighting. In fact the whole film shows that Brando is adept at shooting fight scenes, with some good hand to hand combat in the necessary barroom brawls. The other big set piece that shows Brando’s skill behind the camera sees his Rio being publicly whipped painfully and embarrassingly. The camera starts head on to Brando which makes the whipping look incredibly realistic and painful. The shot is then alternated with close-ups of both Rio’s face, and Dad’s who is doling out the punishment. This allows the gamut of emotions to be shown from Rio’s pain and embarrassment to the the joy and release that Dad is getting from the turn of events. Based on the evidence on display here it is disappointing that Brando would never direct another film after this one.
This is an unforgiving and dare I say it masculine film which is right up there with my absolute favourite Westerns. I’m talking Stagecoach (1939) and Shane (1953) level quality. This is widely available so if you are looking for a cracking Western, or even just an incredible Marlon Brando performance you have not seen, you cannot go past this.
Verdict: Longneck of Melbourne Bitter
Luckily, as with many great films of yesteryear, this can be watched in decent quality, for free on Youtube. Check it out here: