(This series is a challenge for all film nerds. I call out the film genre and five favorites, and then you tell me what I missed. Let’s see see if we can come up with a definitive catalog. Ready?)
Genre Blast: Westerns
The western genre is one that has long passed its due date but refuses to die. It has been serialized, romanticized, mocked, and reinvented so many times yet remains the staple genre for displaying stories of noble intentions and rugged individualism.
To qualify, the film must have a clearly defined good guy(s) and bad guy(s) – preferably within the proximity of a horse and/or some prairie grass and grand vistas. The pioneer spirit is paramount and the stakes are high, with some form of justice – or injustice –just over the horizon.
Here we go, and in no particular order:
McCabe & Mrs. Miller (Robert Altman), 1971
Altman’s revisionist western turned the genre inside out, but the basic formula of the little guy vs. “the man” remains true. John McCabe and Constance Miller take on corporate spread to the strains of Leonard Cohen. Divine.
Red River (Howard Hawks), 1948
The daily travails of the cattle drive up the Chisholm Trail – and there are many – are made worse by tensions between the boss (John Wayne) and his adopted son (Monty Clift). The fact that Wayne and Clift hated each other in real life likely added to the authenticity. Hawks’ film is the pinnacle of the classical period of the genre.
The Wild Bunch (Sam Peckinpah), 1969
Peckinpah was fed up with how violence was portrayed on the screen, especially in westerns, so he made a film to examine, among other things, what it was like to get shot. It’s 1913, the Old West is on its way out and it isn’t going quietly. A landmark of poetic carnage.
Little Big Man (Arthur Penn), 1970
Jack Crabb’s satiric and tragic odyssey through many of the legendary events in the West was also one of the first films to move the needle of favoritism in the direction of Native Americans, culminating in the Battle of Little Big Horn. Changing social conscience and the Vietnam War permeate the tone of Penn’s film.
Hell or High Water (David Mackenzie), 2016
Who would have thought that a film from 2016 would make this list? All the classic elements are present in this timely tale of two brothers making one last stab at saving their family ranch while being pursued by two Texas Rangers. With its themes of oil rights, reverse mortgages and deeply embedded, matter-of-fact racism, it’s the new Western for the 21st Century.
This is a huge genre with thousand of possibilities. OK, I’ve shown you mine; now you show me yours. What are your favorite Westerns?