Well, I’ve given myself another tough task here. Having tried something similar with actors before, I thought I’d have a go at the men behind the cameras. Once again, the sheer number of westerns produced, especially during the classic era, means that almost every director of note made a few. As such, picking my top ten represents something of a challenge. I decided to stick as far as possible with specialists, those whose names tend to be closely associated with westerns, or those who made a significant contribution to the genre, either stylistically, thematically, or through their work with particular stars. The first half-dozen or so are easy, more or less picking themselves. The problems start to become apparent further down the list though, resulting in a bit of soulsearching on my part to determine who would and wouldn’t make the cut. Anyway, for what it’s worth, here’s my selection.
Clearly, the man who identified himself as a maker of westerns has to occupy top spot. It’s truly impossible to overstate the importance and influence of the extraordinarily complex old Irishman. So much of the imagery popularly associated with the genre stems directly from Ford’s films. From myth maker to myth buster, Ford dominated the development of western filmmaking like no one else before or since.
Starting out in film noir, Antony Mann brought some of that dark ambiguity to the western. His series of movies throughout the 1950s demonstrated how the genre was the ideal vehicle for the examination of tortured and flawed personalities. If Ford placed his characters in an iconic landscape, Mann went a step further and merged that landscape with the characters themselves.
Boetticher’s reputation has grown over the years, to the point where the Ranown cycle with Randolph Scott must be regarded as an essential component of the canon. Those beautifully crafted films fold into one another, their lean directness providing a masterclass on how to produce high art on a budget. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that Boetticher was making these mature little gems at the point when the western was just reaching its peak.
More than anyone else, Peckinpah exemplifies the western’s transition from the classic to the modern era. Tales of his battles with the studio bosses and his own inner demons are legion, but the result was a handful of masterpieces of cinema. Maybe we didn’t always get to see exactly what Peckinpah had originally intended, and the emphasis on his depiction of violence tends to cloud the appreciation of the man’s artistry. However, he kept the western moving forward and pushed it in new directions at a time when it was threatened by stagnation.
While I remain ambivalent about the spaghetti western in general, my respect and admiration for Leone is unshakeable. He tends to be popularly characterized as the man who brought about a sea change in the way the genre developed, a new broom if you like. I’ve argued before that I don’t believe that’s entirely true – he was steeped in the mythology of the western and owed a huge debt to Ford, paying unashamed homage to the old man in his greatest works. If you take the time to look, there’s clear evidence that the western was already starting to move towards the place that Leone ultimately took it. Nevertheless, he did reinvigorate the western and his influence on filmmaking continues to be felt.
A recent post of mine led to a long and fruitful discussion of Eastwood’s contribution to the genre. A variety of opinions ended up being expressed but the one thing everybody seemed to agree on was the fact that the western would be a lot poorer without Eastwood. Personally, I feel he’s owed a huge debt of gratitude for almost single-handedly keeping the genre I love the most alive during its leanest years.
The man who gave John Wayne his first big break, and according to some stories even gave him his name, returned to the western again and again throughout his career. Walsh tends to be regarded primarily as an action specialist, and there’s no doubting his flair for that aspect of the job. However, he also understood the importance of strong characterization and knew how to fully exploit the potential of his actors – he managed to draw the best out of Errol Flynn for example.
The best directors seem to have a knack for hitting their stride at the just the right time. John Sturges was an unquestioned master of widescreen composition and took full advantage of that skill just as the process was becoming established. I guess Sturges’ best known western is still The Magnificent Seven, and that’s nothing to be ashamed of. Personally, I tend to prefer his smaller, tighter efforts from the 50s – even if he’d only ever made Last Train from Gun Hill, he’d still be on this list.
I mentioned the spaghetti western earlier, alluding to the fact that such developments don’t just spontaneously appear. Hollywood could be said to have first glanced furtively in that direction in 1954 when Aldrich made Vera Cruz, but the genre wasn’t yet at a point where a leap into fully fledged amorality was either desirable or possible. Still and all, it can be argued that Aldrich had laid the groundwork.
My final pick is a man whose work has risen progressively in my estimation over the years. I’ve come to deeply appreciate what I regard as the essential optimism that permeates his westerns of the 50s. His finest films contain moments of understated intimacy that are enormously powerful and unashamedly poetic.
So there you have it. I doubt if anyone would seriously argue with the inclusion of the first six names on my list. As for the others, I’m sure they won’t meet with everyone’s approval. There are strong cases to be made for directors like Hathaway, de Toth, Wellman, Tourneur, Ray and Hawks. Ultimately though, I had to whittle it down to ten and it was inevitable they couldn’t all make the cut. Feel free to drop in and add your own thoughts.
134 thoughts on “Ten of the Best – Western Directors”
Good to see your choices, Colin. I can’t make that leap from 40s/50s westerns to Peckinpah,Eastwood and Leone so my choice would simply be the directors of my favorite westerns! William Wellman for Yellow Sky,Ox-Bow Incident and Westward The Women; Henry Hathaway for Garden of Evil and Rawhide; Edwin L. Marin for half a dozen Randolph Scott westerns including Fort Worth, Sugarfoot and best of all , fighting Man of the Plains.
And I can’t leave out George Stevens,just for SHANE.
Of course Boetticher , Delmer Daves and Mann would be on my list too.
All good, sound picks there.
I wanted to try to connect all the stages of development within the genre with my own picks as far as possible, hence the wider range. In truth, settling on just ten from the classic era is tough enough in itself.
BTW, I really like your new gravatar.
Great list I thought Hombre was well directed
Thanks, Patrick. I like Hombre quite a bit myself – I wrote a piece on it here some time ago – and I agree that Martin Ritt did solid work directing it.
Excellent choices as always Colin.
Thanks Vinnie. It was a bit of an effort to pare it down in the end, but fun for all that.
Such a wide-ranging list, so thoughtfully nailed. Thanks much. Placing Daves and Sturges on the list, good for you, Colin!
I’ve always felt there’d never have been The Wild Bunch (a favorite) without The Professionals (another favorite), and no Professionals without Magnificent Seven (see previous), and no Magnificent Seven without the granddaddy of them all — Vera Cruz (yup!) — which you cited.
Cheers John. Daves and Sturges are two very underrated directors and I wanted to acknowledge the fact they made some high quality contributions to the genre.
Can’t complain about nary a one your picks, Colin. I read through and nodded every time with each. Wonderful list, my friend.
Thank you Mike. It’s good to know we ended up pretty much in agreement.
Great post, Colin! Some of these directors are familiar to me, others not so much; I might have seen their films without knowing they directed them. I liked the way you tackled the theme without really referring to or analysing some of their most notable films; not an easy thing to do. My pick would be Sergio Leone for the sheer entertainment he provided to an average movie watcher like me.
Thanks Prashant. I reckon I’ve spent enough time over the years waffling on about the films these guys made and I wanted to highlight the people themselves, and touch on the way so many of them are linked in terms of driving the genre on.
I’m sure you have seen a lot of the films they made, even if the names aren’t always so familiar.
It really is a great list full of worthy men. I’m sure people could argue for some of their favorites, but honestly all of these directors are worthy of this honor. Their accomplishments in this greatest genre are undeniable. Thanks for the good read- now I’m in the mood for a ton of great western films.
Cheers Paul. The only problem is that there are so many worthy of mention that it sometimes feels a little unjust to have to exclude some of them.
I like a man who likes to live dangerously! Great list Colin – don’t I would disagree with any of those choices .. except (yup, here it comes) with the possible exception of Aldrich – he did make at least a couple of notable entries but if you are going to stick with specialists for this list then he just didn’t make enough notable entries for me so would have gone for Wellmann or Hathaway instead probably or maybe the underrated Henry King – great stuff Colin, loved reading the list and mulling it over.
Thanks Sergio. I know from past conversations that you’re not a great fan of Aldrich, so your choice isn’t all that surprising to me. I don’t think of him as a western specialist, certainly not in the way that most of the others are. I wanted him on the list though mainly for Vera Cruz as I think it’s a significant movie. The fact he also made the terrific Ulzana’s Raid didn’t hurt his chances either.
Your list chum, and it’s a really great one (so good to see Daves there) – I think Aldrich made some incredible films like Kiss Me Deadly and The Longest Yard so truly it was only because I couldn’t think beyond two main titles (God, 4 for Texas is sooo bad) that I quibbled!
True, best not dwell on 4 for Texas any longer than absolutely necessary. Of course Aldrich also made Apache and The Last Sunset, so he does have a reasonable showing in the western genre.
Well, The Last Sunset I could live without frankly … Give me Attack! any day 🙂
Yes, I have mixed feelings about The Last Sunset myself. I wrote about it some time ago here, and I thought it was something of a flawed piece and a missed opportunity. Of course I haven’t watched it in a while so I can’t say if I’d feel any different now.
That’s my list, pretty much, except I would substitute Henry Hathaway for Clint and perhaps de Toth or Hawks or Marin for Sergio. Sergio brought on a sea change, but I’m not sure his ambivalence and nihilism were healthy for the genre. I take that back, I am absolutely sure his ambivalence and nihilism did the genre more harm than good in the long run. Paul is right though, they are all worthy men.
Fair enough points there Richard. However, seeing as I did want to emphasize the evolutionary nature of the genre, I felt both Leone and Eastwood had to be there. What they brought to the western may be not to everyone’s taste, but I think their importance had to be acknowledged.
Whipped off my comment before thanking you for saluting Last Train From Gun Hill. A very underrated film; beautiful to look at, terrific Tiomkin score, Douglas and Quinn at the top of their game, etc.. Is it possible it never received the acclaim it deserved because it came so close on the heels of 3:10 to Yuma? Both have the same hook, the man and his prisoner waiting on a train.
I’m honestly not sure why it hasn’t received more widespread acclaim John. Still, among genre fans, the film is very highly regarded. In fact, I don’t believe I’ve ever heard anyone who’s seen it having a bad word to say about it.
Super list. Anthony Mann my fave but can’t quibble with any, so much great work is represented here. I was just discussing the other day that Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West was his best picture, but for each of these, if you really want a brain teaser, pick just one movie.
Kristina, I also think Once Upon a Time in the West is Leone’s best movie, but I rate A Fistful of Dynamite very highly too.
As for trying to settle on just one film for each director, that would be incredibly difficult.
Through my viewing of Westerns, I love John Ford’s films, but have really grown to also appreciate Boetticher’s. So glad he made your list!
Jenni, Ford was always going to occupy first place. Aside from their importance, his films are just such beautiful pieces of work. Boetticher of course had to be there, and high up too. The Ranown films are a fantastically compact and rich little body of work. I honestly think it would be impossible to call oneself a western fan and not like them.
I would add Howard Hawks, Frank Capra and Ingmar Bergman. But I don’t disagree with any of your choices.
Hawks came within a whisker of making the cut here, and I did struggle with the fact that I couldn’t find a place for him. As for the other two, I guess you’re mixing up my reference to “western” as a genre as opposed to your own concept of “western” in terms of world cinema?
I doubt anyone would disagree with your discerning choices. I have always enjoyed the westerns of Sturges, Daves and Boetticher. Best regards.
Hi Chris. Understandably enough, not everyone is comfortable with the inclusion of the more modern directors. There is a marked difference in style and tone between the two eras, and it’s natural for that not to work for everyone. I wanted to take as wide a view of the genre as possible and that’s why such stylistically different directors have been mixed in.
Fun list Colin….yet another interesting subject for us all to chip in with our own versions.
Cannot really argue with any of your choices, especially with your top three.
Of course I am sure if Blake Lucas reads this he will fight George Sherman’s corner
as I would do myself. You probably expected me to say something regarding Lesley Selander
so here goes
Actually its quiet interesting that such esteemed writers like Laura and Toby have recently
given Selander quiet a bit of credit highlighting several of his movies.
The fact that Selander made so many B series Westerns, programmers and T V work draws
attention away from some of his very best films – SHORT GRASS, STAMPEDE, PANHANDLE, DAKOTA LIL, WAR PAINT and SHOTGUN.
Actually Laura has just mentioned the fast and furious YELLOW TOMAHAWK but sadly that
film only exists in black and white these days. What I love about Selander’s best work is that
the guy had such a terrific “feel” for the West.
Actually it was renowned cineaste, and later screenwriter Chris Wicking who turned me on
to Selander many decades ago. I must admit at first I wondered what he was going on about
so I thought I would go see for myself and liked what I saw.
That was of course in those far off days when there were plenty of Selander’s films still
going round the fleapits of London!
Of course Selander has made more than his share of bad films but then so have most of
the directors in Colin’s list.
Actually I watched Ray Nazzaro’s THE DOMINO KID the other night and was amazed how
creative the direction was especially from someone generally regarded as a bit of a hack.
Its nice BTW to see a couple of comments championing people like Edwin L Marin.
My list would like to go beyond 10 so that I could bring people like Ray Enright and Gordon
Douglas into the mix. Of course some of Colin’s choices would not make my top 10, well maybe
one or two; but its a great list because all have made significant contributions to the genre.
Cannot resist yet another name-drop for the amazing Laura but she has just reviewed an
excellent Gordon Douglas Western FORT DOBBS which should be far more well known than
it is. I have not liked every Western Douglas made but when he was good (DOOLINS OF
OKLAHOMA, YELLOWSTONE KELLY, RIO CONCHOS….) he was pretty darn good!
Lots of food for thought there John. Sure, an expanded list would allow the inclusion of some worthwhile names you mention. Sherman is a guy I dearly wish I could have made room for – he’s a director who deserves much more credit than he’s generally given.
I did think you would be championing Selander, and I won’t argue with that. He made enough good films to rate consideration.
Finally, I’m glad you brought up Gordon Douglas. Again, there’s plenty of mediocre efforts sprinkled throughout his filmography, but there are some very strong movies too. I too feel he’s been underrated.
As an afterthought of course I should have mentioned Wellman and Hathaway but as others
have have made strong cases for them I thought I would bring other directors into the mix.
It’s interesting because the aforementioned Chris Wicking was a huge Wellman fan and arranged
a great retrospective of his work at the National Film Theatre in London in the early Seventies.
Mr Wellman was interviewed before a live audience and had some amazing stories to tell.
One audience member was obviously very fond of one of Wellman’s lesser known films
THE HAPPY YEARS but an apologetic Wellman could not even remember making the film!
Again, Wellman and Hathaway were two very big hitters in the genre and the fact they’re not in my list here shouldn’t be taken as an implication that I don’t rate them. I think Wellman was a very innovative and progressive director who is actually one the more important figures in cinema generally. Hathaway was perhaps less of an innovator, but his body of work, and it really is high quality stuff, speaks far more eloquently than I can of his unquestioned talent.
Colin’s list covers a broad subject. Perhaps the most influential directors are no longer relevant because their antique films are no longer seen by the masses and they have faded from memory. Henry Hathaway started out at Paramount directing Zane Grey adaptations during the transition into sound with his young star Randolph Scott. Together they remade Zane Grey silents for a new audience. Hathaway continued directing an occasional western into the modern era, with TRUE GRIT being his crowning achievement. At Fox, directors Hamilton McFadden and John P. McCarthy were doing the exact same thing with George O’Brien, who was also a member of the John Ford stock company. Ford was influenced by their work, and bundled their films together into a hybrid called STAGECOACH. The more silent westerns and early 1930s westerns I watch the more I learn about John Ford’s influences. Joseph Kane and William Witney were profoundly influential directors in the USA, as was Lesley Selander. Their programmers about cowboys who do good deeds created a role model and cinematic mentor for millions of little boys growing up in America in the 1930s and 1940s. There’s been no trend on the screen anywhere near as powerful as that was. Edwin L. Marin, Ray Enright, Charles Haas, and Ray Nazarro were also busy and influential western directors up through the early 1960s. During that transition period Colin refers to, in the 1960s and 1970s, Burt Kennedy and Andrew V. McLaglen were among the most influential directors to specialize in westerns. Kennedy started out writing for Boetticher before creating the TV series COMBAT and then moving into directing western features. He started out serious and segued into comedy and then back to serious again. He and McLaglen were enormously popular at the box-office, and they both did Eurowesterns as well. Howard Hawks made only four westerns, but RIO BRAVO (1959) is such a favorite of Americans, and so influential and widely known, that it puts him in the pantheon. The same situation applies to Henry King and King Vidor. Something really strange happens with the arrival of Sergio Leone and the spaghetti western. I’ve been studying the genre, have gathered about a hundred titles so far. Perhaps I’ll come to terms with it, one of these days.
Richard, you’re certainly more familiar with the early years of the genre – the silent era and the transition to talkies – than I am. Having said that, there are plenty of familiar names you’ve mentioned.
Hathaway had an extraordinarily long and successful career, and he made an awful lot of westerns of that time. Personally, I’d probably put Garden of Evil or From Hell to Texas ahead of True Grit, but that’s just my preference.
Guys like Enright, Nazarro, Witney and Kane do arguably deserve more recognition for the work they did in the genre, and it’s good to see a number of people have brought their names up.
Can’t argue with that. Boetticher is my favorite. As for Hathaway and Wellman, you just need a longer list.
Thanks Ron. I guess a longer list is really the only answer. As for favorites, I could probably tell you right now who that is – the problem is that tomorrow I’d just as likely name someone else.
Nobody could argue that these guys shouldn’t be listed among the best and most important Western Film directors.
And I agree with what you say about Budd Boetticher. I was really surprised when I saw how good his work was.
I really don’t know much about Raoul Walsh though – so will have to check him out.
Thanks JC. I recommend you check out Raoul Walsh’s work. Like all the guys on that list he worked in a variety of genres, and his career (first as an actor before losing an eye) stretches back to the early days of cinema. Films like They Died With Their Boots On, Pursued and Colorado Territory are just excellent. I’ve written about a number of his movies on this site here.
Its really great that this thread has brought lots of generally unheralded directors into focus.
I’ve already gone on about my liking of Lesley Selander over on Toby’s blog, perhaps too many
times. I will just state that what I really enjoy about his films are the strong, strident female
characters and the often flawed males who always seem to be on something of a learning curve.
I do hope that you get to see SHORT GRASS Colin; one of Selander’s very best.
The build up to the stunningly brutal fight between Rod Cameron and Jeff York is one of the most
powerful scenes I have ever seen in a Western. Laura has promised to review this film at some
point and I await her views with great interest.
I guess William Witney has more “cult” status than some of the other guys especially with the
likes of Tarantino getting on his case. In KILL BILL 2 when Uma Thurman finally tracks Bill
(David Carradine) down she finds him watching one of Witney’s Roy Rogers Westerns. Film also
has a dedication to Witney as well. I am pretty aware of much of his A or B+ pictures but would
like to see a lot more of his B Series Westerns.
Joseph Kane is another director that moved up from Bs to bigger budget films and I have been
watching lots of his films of late. Kane certainly knew what the West was all about and this shows
in his films. A few of the really good ones worth tracking down are SAN ANTONE,BRIMSTONE,
RIDE THE MAN DOWN and ROAD TO DENVER.
Interesting that Richard refers to the earlier era and cites the guys that influenced Ford. This is a
bit out of my comfort zone but one of those early directors that I find very interesting is Lambert
Hillyer. Some of those early Westerns starring the likes of Buck Jones are excellent
Hillyer showed what a creative director he could be outside of Westerns with the cult Universal
Horror favorite DRACULA’S DAUGHTER.
Another guy who goes way back to the silent era is Louis King, again a very interesting director.
We could go on and on…..have we left anyone out?…you bet!
There is Nathan Juran and Jesse Hibbs who deserve special mention for their fine Universal
Fifties Westerns alone.
Finally I would think all the directors in Colin’s ten have received their fair share of kudos for their
contribution to the Western so its been great fun to give the other guys a moment in the spotlight
“I would think all the directors in Colin’s ten have received their fair share of kudos for their
contribution to the Western so its been great fun to give the other guys a moment in the spotlight
I quite agree, and I’m very happy to see people like Hibbs and Juran, along with others already mentioned, being talked up.
Short Grass sounds great John, and I very much hope I do get the opportunity to see it.
John, your kind words are so greatly appreciated. Thank you!
” I will just state that what I really enjoy about his films are the strong, strident female
characters and the often flawed males who always seem to be on something of a learning curve.”
Yes! I have a review of STAMPEDE which will be ready to post later today and you describe that aspect of the film so well. I mention in my post that I appreciate the strong female characters of both STAMPEDE and PANHANDLE; thought STAMPEDE was very good and PANHANDLE is one of my favorite Westerns seen this year. After seeing these two films I certainly look forward to SHORT GRASS.
Following this discussion with great interest — 10 directors isn’t slots enough for me to narrow down a personal list (grin) so I’m just enjoying everyone’s thoughts on the topic!
Glad to see you popped in Laura. I look forward to reading your impressions of Stampede, a film I have yet to see myself.
This would be a tough list to put together. I’d be tempted to include George Sherman, but I’m not sure who I’d remove to get him in the 10. Same goes for Andre de Toth. His Scotts may not be great films (especially compared to the Boetticher ones), but Day Of The Outlaw (1959) certainly is.
And to hop on the bandwagon with John, you could make a strong case for guys like Lesley Selander, Joe Kane and William Witney. If you can include Eastwood largely for keeping the genre alive, these guys helped make it so popular to begin with.
Also, it pains me to leave out Howard Hawks, who directed my favorite Western of all, Rio Bravo (1959).
Why is it so much fun to debate this stuff?
“Why is it so much fun to debate this stuff?”
For myself, a lot of the fun comes from seeing what suggestions or amendments others come up with and/or their justification for doing so.
“If you can include Eastwood largely for keeping the genre alive, these guys helped make it so popular to begin with.”
You know, I really like that line of thought – it’s direct, to the point and makes as good a case as any for the inclusion of so-called “lesser” directors.
Anyway, your suggestions for alternative candidates highlight the problems I faced myself when I was compiling this thing. In the end, the only way round it was to establish a kind of rationale for my choices and just go with that.
Oh, I forgot to mention your comment on Sturges and Last Train From Gun Hill. You’re right — that one’s good enough to get him on the list.
I’ve loved that film since I saw it as a kid, and it’s great to see it getting some appreciation these days. I’d love to interview Kirk Douglas about it. It’s been almost completely skipped over in all his books.
BTW, for those who missed it, here’s a link to the podcast you did a while back singing the praises of Last Train from Gun Hill. It’s well worth a listen.
Hi Toby,so glad that you could join in the fun.
Regarding De Toth as you probably know I am a huge fan of MAN IN THE SADDLE in fact it
is my favorite De Toth Western. Scott and De Toth hit the ground running with this one but
sadly the later films that they made came nowhere near that standard. I think that we have
talked about the film before over on your blog.
Off topic slightly but still regarding De Toth the new Blu-Ray of HOUSE OF WAX is a total stunner.
These Blu-Rays certainly give some of these old movies a new lease of life.
Watched the Blu of JOE KIDD the other night;not the greatest Sturges Western but well worth a
re-visit. Certainly the landscapes and beautiful compositions are among the very best in any
John, that’s one of the things I love about Sturges; even when he wasn’t at his best his eye for composition and framing is still a joy to witness.
If I taught a film class, and sometimes I wish I did, when I got around to the topic of widescreen cinematography, all I’d do is run a Sturges picture.
It’s not a Western, but the way he uses the width in The Great Escape is incredible — the long roads, the fences, the line of people at the train station. That expanse helps him show the terrible odds these guys face from sequence to sequence. And the long shot where Donald Pleasance Richard Attenborough are gunned down — that’s where a lot of its power comes from, sheer composition.
VistaVision isn’t as wide, but he is just as impressive in OK Corral and Last Train From Gun Hill.
Yes, that’s a good example of Sturges’ skill and storytelling abilities with the wide lens. Lots of directors worked competently and even very well but Sturges ranks among the greatest in this respect.
A few years ago, when I was looking at Bad Day at Black Rock, I made the following remarks:
Sturges’ camera uses the wide lens to excellent effect, the dearth of close-ups serves to keep the characters at a distance and accentuates the isolation of both them and the setting. Despite the high proportion of outdoor shots, there’s still a claustrophobic atmosphere about the whole thing. It’s as though the frontier has shrunk and this western drama is played out within the stifling confines of a town that has ceased to look outwards and has turned its gaze in upon itself. The only time a sense of space is apparent is during the credits sequence, and when Macreedy drives out to the ruins of the Japanese property – the railroad and a murdered foreigner representing the openness that was once the mark of the west.
A solid list, Colin, and it led me to the thought of what it must be like to be a director of the Western today. The above directors, if not working directly within the “Golden Age” of the 1950s (e.g Leone), had a chance to experience and study the genre during a decade marked for both quantity and quality. Even Eastwood, who did help keep the genre relevant into the 1980s, enjoyed the Western boom of the 1950s with the Rawhide TV series and Peckinpah himself wrote Western TV series scripts during those years.
Is it harder to be a Western director today when the genre has come down from a height of cultural popularity that it will likely never touch again? Conversely, is there greater freedom? As you know, I am a fan of the AMC Western series Hell on Wheels (2011 to Present) and with that series, a range of directors get to try their hand to bring their own approach to the genre. The list of guest directors on the show has been interesting……playwright and director, Neil LaBute, and Catherine Hardwicke, who directed the uber-successful Twilight (2008). Additionally, a frequent director on the series is David Von Anken, who directed the 2007 Western film, Seraphim Falls.
It seems that the resurgence of quality television (particularly on the cable networks) is creating the opportunity for directors who may be new to the genre to bring their own vision to the Western at a time that it rides quietly….but louder than in the 1980s and still solidly, in my view.
Some interesting thoughts there Chad. I think it must be much harder for directors of westerns these day. In addition to the knowledge that they’re working in a genre that no longer enjoys the same popularity, it appears to be much more difficult to even get a western green-lighted today. And then there’s also the problem of having a far smaller pool of people with any meaningful experience of working in westerns around one.
I’m surprised you left Hawks off your list — but glad. I think RED RIVER is a flawed classic and RIO BRAVO is overrated.
I like Hawks’ westerns a lot, although Rio Lobo cab be a bit of a struggle. Red River came up in discussion elsewhere recently and I found myself agreeing with some of the criticisms leveled at it – it’s an important movie, great and highly admirable in many respects, but lacking the lightness of touch that Hawks customarily brought to his pictures. Rio Bravo is a film I’ve always loved, and as I get older, I find I appreciate its gentle humor and celebration of companionship even more.
… I think it must be much harder for directors of westerns these
days. In addition to the knowledge that they’re working in a genre
that no longer enjoys the same popularity, it appears to be much
more difficult to even get a western green-lighted today. And
then there’s also the problem of having a far smaller pool of
people with any meaningful experience of working in westerns
This is so true, Colin, you have no idea. The audience demand is greater than the supply. Many support service companies specializing in props, wagons, gear, period firearms, costumers, wranglers with horses and cattle, ranchers with land for location shooting, professional re-enactors who come with their own outfits — everywhere there are people wanting to make westerns, but there are no westerns getting financed despite the fact that actors want to make them. Period western streets from the 1960s and 1970s are falling into disrepair because noone leases them. Everybody complains about the work going to Canada. I could rent one of the best westerns period towns in New Mexico for a song right now, and it would come complete with generic interior saloon and jail set, costumes and props, horses and cattle, all for a fraction of what they used to charge. Right now there are a number of credit-card westerns being made by individuals who can’t afford any of the above. Perhaps the best of the recent low-budget indys is DEAD MAN’S BURDEN (2011). Everyone should check it out:
The LOVE COMES SOFTLY franchise, produced by the Michael Landon Jr. organization on $2-million budgets in California seems to be doing very well, however,. These are Christian-based, female-lead stories adapted from the books by Janette Oake which are devoid of hostilities and bloodletting. No violence. The productions are not unlike a Masterpiece Theater or BBC costume drama. If one can adjust to that they are all good westerns. I recommend them. Here’s a bundle of the first three films:
Interesting. It certainly appears that, with the exception of the occasional studio backed foray into the genre, the western today is largely kept alive by low budget, independent efforts and television. I wonder how that will play out in the long run – will the independent aspect actually result in a growth in creativity for example?
As a fairly regular contributor I do want to participate in this discussion so am trying to get my thoughts together about Colin’s list but this is a big subject so I’m trying to get both time and energy to do it. Also, Colin has graciously told me to go ahead and post my own list if I want to (the one I referred to in earlier SADDLE THE WIND discussion that John Knight asked about) and so I’m feeling I probably will, at least the top tier (which is 12 directors rather than 10).
But what I’ll say more briefly here is just about Robert Aldrich, one of the directors on which I’m very much in accord with Colin, and possibly with even less reservation, which I’ll explain.
With most of my favorite directors of Westerns, a Western will be at the top of my list of their films but this is a case where it isn’t. I think KISS ME DEADLY is his masterpiece, but VERA CRUZ is close and I’m probably just as glad to go back to it. And his three other serious Westerns (APACHE, THE LAST SUNSET and ULZANA’S RAID) are also close so in my half dozen favorites of Aldrich, Westerns take four of six places (ATTACK is the other one I most deeply care about). So he’s exceptionally strong in the Western, even without being a specialist.
On the other hand, I regard 4 FOR TEXAS as his worst movie and THE FRISCO KID close to it–but I like the four serious ones so much these two witless comedies don’t pull him down for me. He’s just not good in that register so I concentrate on the ones I do admire.
But I want to make two comments on those. First, re VERA CRUZ, it is absolutely apt that it anticipates by a good many years the modern Westerns of Italians and THE WILD BUNCH too–and the line someone drew in the comments from Aldrich’s movie to THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN to THE PROFESSIONALS to THE WILD BUNCH is right on too–but I just must add that it’s also greater for me than any of those that followed. So if this movie especially helps give Aldrich a high place for me, it’s less because it is was undeniably influential (the question of how much we should value this is something I want to discuss more) than because I love it and never get tired of it, one of those movies I can go back to almost anytime.
But in any event, Colin and I agree on VERA CRUZ as key for Aldrich being on our lists, and I believe we agree on the merits of ULZANA’S RAID and APACHE too. But I am one of an admittedly small group of people who also loves THE LAST SUNSET and it is evident that Colin is not of them. I want to point out something about this because I read the link to his piece that he posted on 10/27 at 8:26 pm. I thought I was following this blog back when he wrote this but didn’t remember it and maybe if I read it I just let my thoughts go by then.
Colin, there is something very strange about that piece. Carol Lynley is never mentioned, nor is her character of Missy ever mentioned. There is no reference in the piece to the Breckenridges even having a daughter. Yet the O’Malley/Missy relationship is the heart and soul of this movie, and I don’t see how it can be negatively criticized so much if this is not even taken into account. Yes, you say there is a plot twist at the end but no one would have any idea from reading your piece what that might possibly be. So I just think it’s an unfair piece.
For what it’s worth, I’ve seen THE LAST SUNSET many times and in full awareness from the beginning that it is a very flawed movie. But very simply, the first part is great and the last part is great–and it is in these parts, both substantial, that the O’Malley/Missy relationship develops. It seems like the filmmakers felt they wanted some expansiveness between the beginning and end of this, and so that hour in the middle, in which it bogs down, is filled with every cattle drive cliche imaginable, while the simmering melodrama plays somewhat but more in the background and much more between Douglas/Malone/Hudson. But the tenderness and intensity with which the movie gets itself back in that last half hour or so is amazing and it ends so movingly. It really pulls together and so for me is one of those works that I love much more than many more perfect films. I don’t want to give away what it’s all about either, but I will say that this is a subject that I have never seen treated so sensitively in any other movie. To me, it’s no coincidence that it happens in a Western. I don’t think any other genre could have handled it as well.
Well, OK, I’ve had my say, and want to emphasize that I’m used to Colin’s pieces covering the movies he writes about very thoroughly so found the absence of Missy in that one very strange.
Good to hear from you on this subject Blake, and I do hope you get round to sharing that list of yours with the other folks who pop in here – I’m sure many if not all would be keen to read it.
On Aldrich and Vera Cruz, I can’t remember if you were following the site at the time but I wrote about it in the past here and I do love that film.
I’m prepared to admit that I haven’t seen The Last Sunset in a good while and I am prepared to give it another go and see if my opinion of it has altered any in the interim. Reading back over what I posted on the movie back then, I can see what you mean about my apparent dismissal of what I agree is a vital character and plot element. In justification, I think I was trying hard to avoid any spoilers, perhaps too much in retrospect. I think you’re right that it was an oversight on my part, and your comment here does help to redress that somewhat – for that I thank you.
First, thanks for the VERA CRUZ link and I wound up reading ULZANA’S RAID too and glancing back at the other Aldrich pieces. I now think I did read them all at once before but since it’s been awhile was a little vague in the back of my mind, like what I said about your LAST SUNSET piece. In any event, I enjoyed these, your perspective on ULZANA’S especially, as it shared the movie’s own balance and maturity, to me rare in 70s Westerns. I look forward to an APACHE piece when you get around to it, and for that matter, as much as it’s been written about, would enjoy reading what you have to say about KISS ME DEADLY.
Comments in this thread seem to have come to a lull and I appreciate it’s still here. I’ll try to make my further comments as concise as I can and maybe will generate a little more discussion, but this is a big subject and a very important one, no matter which directors are on one’s list.
Thanks very much Blake. I’ve kind of neglected Aldrich of late and really ought to feature his work again – so thanks for the reminder.
Anyway, comment as and when you feel in the mood. The posts here always remain open so anyone can add their thoughts at their leisure.
First, in introducing your own list you wrote “… The first half-dozen or so are easy, more or less picking themselves.” Then, at the end you in effect reiterate this, saying “I doubt if anyone would seriously argue with the inclusion of the first six names on my list.”
Very respectfully, Colin, I strongly disagree with these statements, and moreover, I think that some of the comments that followed back me up. For example, in the very first comment, from Vienna,
she says “I can’t make that leap from 40s/50s westerns to Peckinpah, Eastwood and Leone…” and I think you’ll see others having that same reservation as the comments go on. Let me say at once that unlike Vienna, I can make that leap and give all three directors masterpieces in the genre, but my sympathy is still with what she says because the modernist Western is problematical and even at its greatest, it doesn’t come up to what was done in the 40s/50s (up to 1962 for me) in the genre. And so those three directors are not in my top ten and giving places 4 to 6 to those three is kind of tough to take, and even surprised me a little given your many comments in your pieces about the 1950s being the genre’s inarguable peak.
But let me make clear that I’m not arguing against you making these choices for yourself if these are the directors you want to be there, just your assertion that it’s inarguable. The same six names are often given, and I’ve found it questionable before too. For example, when he finally got around to a longer, revised HORIZONS WEST, Jim Kitses added Ford, who he loves, along with Leone and Eastwood, to his original subjects Mann, Boetticher and Peckinpah (who still had several more Westerns to make when the book was originally written). So, the same six people, but if you read it, even though he asserts these are the key figures, when he gets to Eastwood, he winds up being highly critical of him
The single criteria on which I most disagree with both you and Kitses is the one of who has influenced the genre most. Here, those three modernists are most defensible, because the genre did evolve in their work, but as some above have commented on (re a comment on Leone) has this influence been all for the good? I won’t try to answer that now with each of these people. We talked about Eastwood in SADDLE THE WIND thread, and we’ve talked about Peckinpah before as a rare transitional figure, bridging classicism and modernism, a point you underscored in what you said about him here. As for Leone, like you I’m not much for Italian Westerns, but among all post-classical Westerns ONCE UPON IN THE WEST is my hands down favorite and has held up to that over quite a few years now. But it is a film apart, and as much as Leone might love Ford, Budd Boetticher and JOHNNY GUITAR, it could never be taken for a classical work and lacks classical virtues altogether–instead, he makes an aggressively modernist style work for him even though most of what’s in it doesn’t work well for Westerns as a rule. It’s kind of a magical film.
So where I disagree is in using influence as a criteria in my choices (and I will say the criteria that I do use), behind which I sense the desire to make an objective consideration in which all periods of the Western are of equal importance. I don’t think that’s true. I believe that like all art–like periods in painting, music, theatre, or whatever–there are great classical periods followed by periods of decadence. In cinema, that’s what modernism often is–and that doesn’t mean there are not great modernist works, but genres are corrupted, and the more refined and fulfilled they have become, as the Western had in the 50s, the more evident this “corruption” or “decadence” will be. Even the word “Revisionism” (I try never to use this myself but am using it here to make a point) suggests that these modernists work fail to understand what was great about the greatest Westerns in suggesting that something in the genre needed to be “revised” when in fact it had been perfected.
Let’s look at the other side of this for a minute. Boetticher, who is third on your list, might be said not to be influential at all, but to be the opposite, an artist who arrived (in the Ranowns) at a point of great refinement in the genre, made the Ranown cycle under the radar, and waited years, outside of genre fans and a few discerning critics, mostly in Europe, for its achievement to be recognized. If he is one of the greatest, it’s not for being influential, but for being able to demonstrate, with the great collaboration of Kennedy, Scott and others, how much artistic purposefulness modest, low-budget movies in the genre were capable of–as much as any movies of any kind.
I’d also address, as something not always absolutely clear, who is a “specialist” in Westerns since this was another criteria you used. To me, John Ford rightfully tops your list, but he was not a Western specialist, except in three specific periods of his career, while a few major Westerns were made outside of these periods (STAGECOACH and THE SEARCHERS specifically); an awesome artist for any medium, Ford is an exception to all the rules, so in the 50s, the genre’s best decade, he is mostly not making Westerns but arguably made the greatest one, while over his whole career, his non-Westerns are just as likely to be great as his Westerns. Since I love the genre so much, I don’t mind him being so identified with it, but it’s a little unfair to him given the range of what he did in his films. Where the Western is really important with him is that it shows how an artist as great as Ford could recognize how much this genre could give him as well as what he could give to it.
Apart from choices 4-6, the seven other directors in your top ten are very close to my choices and have no quarrels about them, so it’s more how we make these choices that I am debating. Again, I don’t feel obligated to go to different periods of the Western in naming my own top people as you’ll see from my list, actually a list of 12, and most of their Westerns, especially the best ones, were made in the period 1946-1962, though there are are a few earlier and later ones that I really love as well. As for the modernists, your choices 4-6 are in my top 30, and in the order you have them, though not consecutively and a fourth, Monte Hellman, comes in before Eastwood.
Finally, there is a question of how much someone needs to do in the genre to be on someone’s list. And I’ll make some observations here that bear on your choices. I think four is enough, and you’ll have to agree because that’s how many Eastwood made as a director. But for the record, Robert Parrish also made four, and after just watching SADDLE THE WIND again since your piece I wonder if a pretty good argument couldn’t be made that he cuts a deeper place for himself in the genre. THE SAN FRANCISCO STORY is a relatively weak Joel McCrea movie, it’s true, and though I think Parrish did the best he could with the Italian A TOWN CALLED HELL late in his career when he was somewhat adrift, maybe it wasn’t so much. But the other two Westerns relate to so much that is true of his other best films, and his filmography is small, less than 20 movies, but at least eight are conspicuously fine, and I’m not sure that any modernist could have touched the more subtle and beautiful aspects of SADDLE THE WIND, let alone THE WONDERFUL COUNTRY. Meantime, Howard Hawks, for me and others the most surprising omission from your list made more Westerns than Clint Eastwood. He is credited with five and one might add with an asterik THE OUTLAW since the script was written with Jules Furthman and could have made a good Hawks film, given a few excellent scenes it is obvious he did direct (otherwise, as realized by Howard Hughes, this is admittedly a pretty awful movie, despite its promise). But how about the other five–yes, his last RIO LOBO is weak for him, if not without interest, and though it has much that is wonderful EL DORADO is no match for RIO BRAVO in the end. But the other three are among the great Westerns–RED RIVER is magisterial (and though I long struggled with ambivalence over Hawks’ changes to Chase’s original ending I made peace with this sometime ago and now would not want it otherwise), THE BIG SKY is a sublime Hawks work, and finally there is RIO BRAVO, a very hard Western to beat, and not only the favorite of Toby Roan over at 50 Westerns from the 50s but even of someone so different as Robin Wood, who was long a major critic, and even when he went into his “ideological” phase somehow seemed to only love RIO BRAVO more and considered it his favorite film among all films. Hawks’ filmography is barely larger than Eastwood’s, he made more Westerns, and they are greater overall, so to come back to the original statement you made that I questioned, why is it a given that no one would argue with those first six choices?
This is written with the greatest respect and I wouldn’t even write this much about it if it wasn’t, because your individual pieces on Westerns are so discerning about the genre and always seem to reflect so many things I personally care about in it. I just do have to question whether post-classical Westerns actually deserve equal weight and whether influence should be a criteria. I’m going to post my list and make a few other comments with it but will just say that I think one’s choices for a Top Ten list–any list like this–should be subjective, and I don’t differentiate between what I feel is the greatest and what I myself most enjoy. So confining myself to directors who thrived when the genre was best makes sense to me.
Well Blake that’s one comprehensive reply. You’ve tossed in many good points and asked some good questions too. There;s a whole lot of material there but I do want to try to address a few matters you raised.
Firstly, you referred to Jim Kitses and his selection of directors. I’ll hold my hand up and say that I was strongly influenced by his picks since I found my self nodding in agreement to many of his arguments in Horizons West.
Secondly, to go back the criteria I ultimately decided on. I understand your aversion to using a director’s status as influential as a basis – as you rightly point out, the influence may not always be positive – and I want to make clear that I wasn’t actually thinking in terms of how positive or negative the influence of any of those guys may have been; perhaps I should have taken that into account, but I didn’t. Also, although this is probably evident anyway, I don’t mean to suggest that all of the choices I made represent directors who were influential and specialists in the genre simultaneously – I agree that Boetticher arguably wasn’t especially influential, nor was Ford exclusively a western specialist.
Finally, I guess I am guilty of appearing somewhat presumptuous in stating that the first six names on the list would be widely accepted. Plenty of people have dropped by and very articulately shown that not to be the case. In retrospect, I feel it was a careless assertion to make.
Anyway, thanks for raising these valid points, among others, and contributing with so much depth to the thread.
My own Top Tier of Western Directors:
Pretty close, though I’d acknowledge the first six rate a little ahead of the second six for me. I just realized I didn’t say all my own criteria, and this is important to the dividing line. There has to be at least one Western I consider unequivocally great, and I have to feel with these directors that when they do make Westerns, whether it was a lot or a relative few, those movies will mostly be excellent, allowing anyone can miss sometimes. For me, with these directors, they are–and that’s why some relatively uncelebrated people make it here in a few cases. I know their work and it shows what they could do, even in humble circumstances. So, for example, Fregonese–most people will never even know about him, but genre aficionados know how he handled that quiet yet amazing final scene in SADDLE TRAMP, with its piercing epiphany on the wandering/settling theme that underlies the genre.
I know I wasn’t as concise as intended in my previous post so will only make a few more remarks here that I do feel I need to make. First, apart from Peckinpah, Leone and Eastwood, already discussed before, the only directors mentioned in your own piece I haven’t named are Sturges from your own top ten (and he would be my next choice) and Wellman and de Toth, who both are easily in my top 30. That next eighteen of 30 mostly does include directors who have done a Western that is great, or I mostly love their work in the genre, but don’t need to be as consistent, so one or two really strong works can get them there.
There’s never a fine line of course. So, I’ll just comment on why my next choices, Sturges and, yes, Peckinpah, don’t make the top tier. Sturges in many ways does belong–he is very consistent in the 50s, and I really enjoyed the discerning comments made here about his use of wide screen and the excellence of his visual style. Also, I agree with you and others that LAST TRAIN FROM GUN HILL is especially good (and my close second favorite of his Westerns ESCAPE FROM FORT BRAVO almost as good), more than the crowd-pleasing THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (though paradoxically, and I can’t really explain it, the non-Western crowd pleaser THE GREAT ESCAPE is my favorite of all his films). But for me, his directorial skill is not balanced the way it is in my top directors by as much of an individual sensibility–I think he’s really the best example of someone who benefitted from being a specialist in the Western in the 50s when it was at his peak. His returns to the genre after THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN later are weak except for HOUR OF THE GUN, and generally, apart from his 50s Westerns and THE GREAT ESCAPE, many of his movies are weak and he seems just one more director too much of the time. So, for me, a director emblematic of a great period in Westerns and that accords him a strong place but not as one of the very greatest. As for Peckinpah, easily my favorite of the modernists overall, I have come to love him for his later Westerns, but it was after years of struggle over them and maybe I haven’t quite put that to rest–and tellingly, I do still think that RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY, which is one of my favorite Westerns, is plainly his masterpiece, and was made at the end of the classical era. There’s more to be said about him though. I’ve taken him to heart, just not sure how much.
As for the rest of the eighteen completing my top 30, I won’t list those names too because I’m feeling it’s more likely it might change. For example, I’d hate for Samuel Fuller to fall out of that group–he’s one of the most individual American directors and carved out his own niche with the Westerns he made; they are all unusual and distinctive works. But Gordon Douglas somehow didn’t quite make it into the top 30 (he’s next) and I’m feeling more like he should be these days. His Westerns are a more uneven group than any of the other people I’ve placed above him, but I saw RIO CONCHOS again recently and it’s just so impressive and when you add in his other best ones, like THE IRON MISTRESS and those three with Clint Walker, he just seems to deserve a little better rating than I’ve been able to give him, as others here have already suggested, so that’s something I’m thinking about.
As for 31-50 and a bunch of other names I’ve made note of beyond that for one or two Westerns I admire, that’s always changing and highly variable and this is a treasure trove and I’m still discoveiring a lot. And learning a lot from others, like those who post here too. For example, Lesley Selander is a director I don’t know well–I’ve found the things John Knight, for example, has said about him to be persuasive of a strong individual talent, so now I’m very keen to remedy my relative inexperience of his films, beginning with the three Rod Cameron ones–SHORT GRASS, PANHANDLE and STAMPEDE that seem to come in for a lot of praise.
And oh yes one more thing about my top tier. I allowed Nicholas Ray, though he made only three actual Westerns. I do care a lot about all of them, and JOHNNY GUITAR is the kind of movie that could almost get someone up there by itself. But what was decisive for me with him was a fourth film, one that is not an actual Western but a movie of the contemporary West, THE LUSTY MEN. To me, this resonates so strongly not only with his own Westerns, but within the whole genre (it is one of my favorite movies and I love it as much as any actual Western) that in his case it allowed a kind of poetic dispensation.
A very interesting list there. Perhaps unlike some others, I wasn’t altogether surprised to see Fregonese figure high on your list; we’ve had conversations about his work in the past and I was aware of the regard you have for him.
I was also fascinated to see you explain your reasons for dropping Sturges further down the pecking order. That lack of an individual sensibility is a criticism I have heard voiced by others.
I do find your criteria of interest of too. I think it allows for greater scope than the rather restrictive terms of reference I imposed upon myself.
Have really enjoyed this conversation and especially just enjoyed Blake’s contribution. A great list, and I love the inclusion of Fregonese since SADDLE TRAMP is an old favorite and I really liked APACHE DRUMS earlier this year. And with every Tourneur film I see, I admire him more.
He didn’t make that many Westerns, but I’d have to consider Wellman’s name in a top dozen list, if only for WESTWARD THE WOMEN (many of you here know that’s one of my favorite films) and YELLOW SKY.
I also might have to consider Lesley Selander, if only for the sheer volume of good entertainment he put out, even if he’s not an artist on the level of a Ford or Mann or some of the other greats mentioned here. Selander definitely had a knack for presenting well-paced, enjoyable films — put simply, he made movies that I want to watch, and that’s a talent in and of itself. His PANHANDLE — which I hope you can see soon, Blake! — benefited not just from a good Blake Edwards script but from some really creative staging, such as a shootout in the rain at dusk. Don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like it.
Curiously, I don’t think I’ve seen *any* of Robert Aldrich’s films other than THE FRISCO KID, which I saw when it came out because I was a teenager and it starred the post-STAR WARS Harrison Ford (grin). I can’t say it’s a movie I’ve had the desire to revisit in the intervening years. I do have his KISS ME DEADLY, BIG LEAGUER, and AUTUMN LEAVES all in my “watch soon” stacks near my TV (along with a couple hundred other titles!) so hopefully I’ll become a little more familiar with some of his work soon.
Also hope to rectify not having seen the original 3:10 TO YUMA in the coming months…Blake, Toby wrote me and urged me to see it too! (grin)…I really enjoyed Delmer Daves’ THE LAST WAGON with Richard Widmark. My dad recently saw THE HANGING TREE and strongly recommended it. (As an aside, I just read an interview with Debra Paget from a couple years ago…when asked who she enjoyed working with most she named Delmer Daves, who she said was “very well prepared” as well as “kind and loving.”)
Just a few random thoughts!
Firstly Blake,I had wondered where you were while all this was going on and I am really pleased
that you have finally chipped in with your somewhat “epic” replies.
The thing that has pleased me most about all the comments is how less well known directors have
been brought into the discussion.
The person that we all forgot to mention is Hugo Fregonese who just creeps into your top twelve.
I feel that the very striking UNTAMED FRONTIER is the most overlooked and underrated of his
I am indeed flattered that I have been “name dropped” in all of this mainly because of my
admiration for Lesley Selander. Of course this stemmed from the influence of Chris Wicking
who I knew quite well back in the early Sixties,and he more or less shaped my attitudes towards
Westerns;and oddly enough was only three years older than me. Chris had forgot more about film than I would ever know, plus the fact was a wonderful human being and is sorely missed by all
fortunate enough to know him.Someone told me a story of when Boetticher got off his plane in
London he demanded “I want to meet Chris Wicking” Chris certainly got the ball rolling regarding
Budd’s films as far as the UK was concerned.
Blake,I can certainly say that you are in for a treat if you have not seen the three Selander films
that you mention;all I would say is save SHORT GRASS for last.
Other Selander Westerns to keep an eye out for are FORT YUMA (despite being butchered by
the censor) and two excellent Westerns starring Sterling Hayden: ARROW IN THE DUST and
SHOTGUN.Sadly two of Selander’s best films only seem to exist in black & white versions:
DAKOTA LIL and THE YELLOW TOMAHAWK.
Some of his early Forties films for Paramount are impressive too especially THE ROUND UP.
Finally Blake,many thanks for sharing your most interesting list (also the reasons why certain
people did not make it) with us and thanks again to Colin for thinking up this great thread.
John, can I just say here that if any thanks are being handed round, then it’s I who ought to be sending them the way of all you guys who have taken the time to contribute and, in so doing, turned this into a most stimulating debate and discussion.
Blake having re-ignited this thread; my feeling is………..why stop there!
Interesting comment that JOHNNY GUITAR could alone place Ray on the list;I feel the same
about Don Siegel and THE SHOOTIST.
As many have said before me what a great film for the Duke to exit on.
Arguably the very best Western of The Seventies.
I think if I compiled any directors list I would have to have Siegel on there somewhere!
DUEL AT SILVER CREEK is pretty middling Audie Murphy,but it gets by.
Never could love TWO MULES FOR SISTER SARA but I love the “Western” opening of
COOGAN’S BLUFF. Which leaves FLAMING STAR without a doubt the very best film Elvis
ever made. I am waiting for the Blu-Ray of this film with great anticipation.
Is that the first mention of Siegel here? If so, it’s another illustration of the richness of the genre that a director of his caliber should be neglected up to this point.
FLAMING STAR is my favorite Siegel Western. But I also care a lot about THE SHOOTIST (what John Wayne fan wouldn’t?). Other Siegel Westerns are more variable. I think the urban crime movie was more his forte.
Re Selander, I saw YELLOW TOMAHAWK (in black and white, alas) and liked it very much. And I also have memories, not clear now, of ARROW IN THE DUST and SHOTGUN (very good impression of the latter), but the best Selander I’ve seen so far is WAR PAINT, which was really excellent. I’ve seen others but don’t have a list in front of me–I know I don’t think he did as well on his A.C. Lyles ones but no one did!
Re Fregonese, “creep in” is not how I’d describe his being in my top twelve–competition to be there is intense. Remember, I value world cinema as a whole–at least in the last century–and consider the Western of those best years its absolute artistic peak, so to be in this group is an indication of a director who to me is great. As known from previous discussion, my favorite Fregonese is THE RAID, a Civil War film set in Vermont–so it could be said I stretched a point for him there, but I believe the film is at one with the genre and has its iconography including all of the actors and Fox’s redressed Western town. But in any event, APACHE DRUMS–which Colin also wrote about well–is certainly outstanding too, as well as SADDLE TRAMP as I already said. And although more marginal the early California-set MARK OF THE RENEGADE is a beautiful movie and deserves to be better known. But for that matter, I agree with you UNTAMED FRONTIER is underrated, and so is SAVAGE PAMPAS (though I need to see that in proper aspect ratio). So he is really as consistent as anyone.
Speaking of movies a little outside the genre that influence my choices, I want to make clear re John Sturges that I do consider BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK one of his best films and was not excluding it from my comments regarding the movies of his I valued. It’s contemporary but at one with the values he brought to the Westerns, and has a lot of the tautness and tension of both LAST TRAIN FROM GUN HILL and the climactic reels of FORT BRAVO.
I hope it was clear re Nick Ray that it is THE LUSTY MEN that actually got him on. I do dearly love JOHNNY GUITAR, but I love RANCHO NOTORIOUS about that much and Lang, one of the greatest directors ever for his whole body of work, is a little bit off my list of top guys. I say this because they are so comparable, with one great Western and two others (THE RETURN OF FRANK JAMES and WESTERN UNION for Lang, and RUN FOR COVER and THE TRUE STORY OF JESSE JAMES for Ray, that are also very fine but not on that same level). Tourneur’s place, though he has four strong Westerns, also gains if one considers two other movies, STARS IN MY CROWN and WAY OF A GAUCHO, again not Westerns but they are related.
Colin, thanks for readily acknowledging that you were influenced by Jim Kitses’ choices. In the discussion of Clint Eastwood in SADDLE THE WIND thread, I brought up discussion of Eastwood being compared to the greatest and that was one thing I had in mind. Richard-W in his final comment seemed to think that I agreed he belonged with Ford and Hawks (or at least I read it that way) so if he didn’t read everything I said or I wasn’t clear about it, I hope it’s clear now that I don’t put him on that level at all. And I had been tempted to bring up then my point that in his section on Eastwood, Kitses has handed him one of the six places without really loving him that much. He seems genuinely ambivalent even about JOSEY WALES and UNFORGIVEN. I have to say that I am almost tempted to go back to your SADDLE THE WIND thread now because you made the comparison to UNFORGIVEN initially and I had a very strong feeling why no modernist is going to do some of those kinds of things that are so beautiful and profound in a Western like Parrish’s, no matter what great things they do.
I’m hard on later Westerns, I know–even though I love my share up to UNFORGIVEN and in the next year Walter Hill’s GERONIMO: AN AMERICAN LEGEND. In discussions about the genre, including this one, so many people throw out hope for a “comeback” for Westerns. But I’m not one of them. I wouldn’t care if no other Western were ever made. What’s there is a treasure trove, especially in those peak years, and way more than enough to spend the rest of one’s life with, seeing those movies again as well as occasionally discovering one not known before.
Really, I think the distance between the classical Western as it peaked in the 50s and attempts to revive the genre now is perfectly measured by putting the 1957 3:10 TO YUMA by your own tenth choice director Delmer Daves against the 2007 remake fifty years later by a director who may be one of the worst of all time but also so readily fell into complete misunderstanding about what had made the first version so great, both in the things he tried to copy and the things he changed.
It’s something to think about, at least, isn’t it?
I’ll also throw my weight in behind the recommendation for Selander’s War Paint. And Shotgun is a fine little movie, surprisingly tough and uncompromising in places.
Really, I think the distance between the classical Western as it peaked in the 50s and attempts to revive the genre now is perfectly measured by putting the 1957 3:10 TO YUMA by your own tenth choice director Delmer Daves against the 2007 remake fifty years later by a director who may be one of the worst of all time but also so readily fell into complete misunderstanding about what had made the first version so great, both in the things he tried to copy and the things he changed.
It’s something to think about, at least, isn’t it?
You know, I’m one of those who keeps hoping for a resurgence of the western, although I’m also realistic enough to feel it’s highly unlikely. That quote of yours I’ve highlighted above is depressingly true though. Ham-fisted and wrong-headed efforts like that remake do shake my confidence.
I think it’s fair to say I love the 50s western as much as anyone, and it’s sad to see all the beauty of a great film stripped away in an attempt to make it more relevant and supposedly attractive to modern audiences. I don’t expect current or future westerns to tap into the same mood as the best 50s films (the conditions are no longer the same and one cannot step back and recapture that sense) but I’d like to think that the genre still has something of worth to offer.
This thread just keeps getting more and more interesting. At this point, the main takeaway for me is that while I see the obvious influence of Vera Cruz on so much that came after it, I don’t enjoy it as much as others do. For Colin and Blake to gush over it like they do means I’m missing something. Need to give that gorgeous Blu-ray another spin.
Also, I’m not the Hathaway fan others are. I prefer his crime/noir stuff to his Westerns, though From Hell To Texas is really, really good.
I agree with Blake about Flaming Star. I absolutely love that film. The Shootist is great, too, but as time goes on, it gets harder and harder for me to watch it. (John K, I want a Blu-ray of it, too.)
It was great to see Nick Ray make the list. He’s not thought of as Western director, of course. He only made three — one is one of the 50s best (Johnny Guitar), one is a damn good film (Run For Cover), and one is one of the genre’s flawed masterpieces (The True Story Of Jesse James, which I’ve probably made everyone sick of over at my place). Good call, Blake. The Lusty Men is so great, but I have a hard time putting modern-day Westerns in with the “regular” ones.
The fact that Blake ranks Escape From Fort Bravo above Last Train From Gun Hill in the Sturges department has me wanting to see it again.
John K, I meant that I want the Flaming Star Blu-ray.
Firstly let me say that I loved your review of SHORT GRASS and before that STAMPEDE.
As usual I think that your take on these films is right on the money!
I do hope that (as I am sure they will) Colin,Blake and Toby get to read them.
In a way WAR PAINT,THE YELLOW TOMAHAWK and FORT YUMA form part of Selander’s
cavalry trilogy;all tough little Westerns.
Yes Blake,the Selander A.C.Lyles are not too hot but I do recall TOWN TAMER being the best
of a bad bunch,at least the cast is more stellar than usual..
Good to know that I am not alone in my admiration of FLAMING STAR.
Have we covered everybody? One director on the missing list is Allan Dwan;although
there must be many others.
SILVER LODE alone would get Dwan some sort of kudos,but I must admit that I adore
WOMAN THEY ALMOST LYNCHED.
Hathaway continues to divide opinion,certainly his later Westerns were weak,especially
SHOOT-OUT,but I feel that RAWHIDE is amazing. That is not to knock films like GARDEN OF
EVIL and FROM HELL TO TEXAS,beautiful use of widescreen in both films.
Interesting that Toby refers to RUN FOR COVER as a “flawed masterpiece” its just one of those
films that I love to return to on a pretty regular basis.All those years we only had “off air” copies
until the wonderful Olive Films release in widescreen.
Not too hot on ESCAPE FROM FORT BRAVO………too much flab in the mid-section;would take
LAST TRAIN FROM GUN HILL any day. BTW where is the Blu-Ray of that one?
Poor Colin; must be hard pressed to know what to come up with next when its “list time”
One things for sure this one is going to be really hard to beat.
John, Allan Dwan is a fairly important figure who hasn’t been much mentioned so far (at all?) – the cycle of films he made for Benedict Bogeaus, not all of which were westerns, are all quite wonderful.
And I couldn’t agree more on Escape from Fort Bravo. Overall, I think it’s a fine film, but that middle section does weaken it.
Thanks very much, John! I’ve sure seen a lot of good Westerns lately, including those Cameron films. Now I’ll have to make it a point to watch those Cavalry films. My dad recently lent me his copy of WAR PAINT so I have that to start with.
Enjoyed all the other comments, as always I’m taking notes!
Whoops!……….Sorry Toby,I mis-read your comment re THE TRUE STORY OF JESSE JAMES
being a flawed masterpiece!
Great site! Great comment sections!!! Stupendous posts!!!
We are presently halfway through our Top 50 western countdown at Wonders in the Dark!
We still have not found someone to do the Number 20 title, RIDE LONESOME, due to post on Monday, November 11th. I thought I’d throw that out here, since this is the place to go for such matters. Thank you!
Thank you Sam for the kind words. Somebody may get in touch via the email link you provided and help you out on Ride Lonesome.
If you find yourself stuck, however, and you don’t need a piece specifically written for the occasion, you’re welcome to port over a short piece I wrote on the movie in the past here.
Thanks so much Colin. At least four or five pieces so far were not written for the occasion, so I may indeed take you up on that if someone else doesn’t e mail me. This is quite an incredible thread. I have added you to the WitD blogroll, but I deeply lament not finding this place so much sooner. This place really rocks!
Delighted to hear you’ve been enjoying your visits Sam, and I do hope you’ll be back. In truth, it’s all the people who come along here and share their varied interpretations of and feelings about the movies we all love that keeps the place going.
Some great discussion and points in this thread. For those who have visited my own site, you will hopefully get the sense that I believe the Western genre remains quite relevant as a lens for interpreting issues and understanding the development of North American history. Further, contemporary Westerns, such as the A&E TV series Longmire, offer a window into the West of today.
The 1950s as a linear framework did have a great richness in terms of both quality and quantity. That said, I do not believe that remarkable time period has closed the door on quality Western films. As an example, I would put forward The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007) as a work of art that rewards repeated viewing. Starring Brad Pitt and Casey Affleck in the title roles, directed by Andrew Dominik and featuring the stellar camera work of Roger Deakins and a score by Nick Cave, it is a meditation on a number of themes including that of myth and celebrity. At a meta-level, to have Pitt play one of the the most famous celebrities of the 19th century is something that has great resonance in our social media/celebrity-obsessed age…it could not have been made with to the same effect in the 1950s, in my view.
Finally, my own approach to the genre itself is quite broad….and I include the impact of Western video games such as Red Dead Redemption (2010) in the category. That game has opened up the genre to a whole new generation and is acting as a “doorway” into a greater understanding of Western films, regardless of decade. Each generation gets the Western it needs, as the saying goes, right? 🙂
(BTW…great work Colin to respond to all the ideas! You deserve a pint! 😉 )
Chad, I really admire your enthusiasm for the continuing development of the genre even if I don’t necessarily share that feeling with regard certain aspects, the gaming angle for instance.
As I said earlier, I continue to hold out some hope for a resurgence of interest in the genre, tempered somewhat by my belief that mainstream audiences are unlikely to ever fully embrace the western in the way we saw in the past. I think it was Richard who made the point before that television and independent outfits seem to be flying the flag for the western these days – it will be interesting to see what, if any, effect that ultimately has.
And getting to ride herd on this fascinating and evolving discussion has been a genuine pleasure.
Re William Wellman, my favorite two of his Westerns are the same ones that Laura cited earlier, WESTWARD THE WOMEN (especially) and YELLOW SKY. And I’d say he has a substantial number of films in the genre enough to be a contender for a top tier list (he is not far off of mine). What I feel about him is what I feel about Parrish and a number of others who fall below the top even though they may have made at least one of my favorite Westerns–for me, he is very uneven in the others, though generally at least interesting.. ACROSS THE WIDE MISSOURI can be forgiven because it was probably as extensively tampered with as any movie of the 50s, cut by close to half its length (and it remains an interesting work even so), and in the early 40s, when he was more of a presence in Westerns than a lot of directors, BUFFALO BILL is for me very good. But THE OX-BOW INCIDENT, which Wellman cared more about, is a movie that has always seemed overrated to me, perhaps because I read Walter Van Tilburg Clark’s novel one night high in the Rocky Mountains by a campfire and remember it being much richer than the film, which is a strong anti-lynching statement with a good cast (Henry Fonda, Dana Andrews, Harry Morgan) but not much more and unimpressively stage bound, and while I haven’t read his other Clark adaptation, TRACK OF THE CAT I’ve had too many ups and downs with that movie, a rare Western that might be called heavily portentous and even pretentious, even if its black and white in color experiment is adventurous and stylistically interesting. But I want to add one thing on the subject of Wellman–if Colin had said a week before putting up this list that he was doing it, I would have bet he’d have chosen him, more than Leone, Eastwood, maybe several of the others too. His Wellman pieces have been a consistent, articulate and pretty ardent defense of this director.
There are so many directors of Westerns who have made their mark. I’m sure if we all thought about this we would name many more than we have that we’d want to remember. And I do personally believe especially if an even modestly talented director made a Western in those great years 1946-1962 it was often their best movie or one of their best and they probably look better because of it. I could name so many like that, and so could others here I know. And also, we shouldn’t forget some directors who were plainly non-specialists but found their way with the genre very well. For example, there’s George Cukor’s HELLER IN PINK TIGHTS, a wonderful Western revolving around a theatre troupe out West and one of his best films. RIVER OF NO RETURN (Otto Preminger) has a great deal to recommend it too. Douglas Sirk was a master of Melodrama more than anything else, but he loved Westerns and TAZA, SON OF COCHISE is underrated, while the charming TAKE ME TO TOWN is a gem that I wish would be more widely seen.
I want to clarify that if you look at my original comments about LAST TRAIN FROM GUN HILL and ESCAPE FROM FORT BRAVO, I don’t think it was really confusing that I’m with the consensus on GUN HILL being Sturges’ best Western, having the edge over FORT BRAVO even if it’s pretty close. I’m not sure I understand the complaints about a slack middle of FORT BRAVO since it’s a movie that builds but it is the last few reels when the main characters are pinned down by the Indians where the tautness and tension that the director is capable of are fully in play. Sturges’ 50s Westerns are all movies i like–GUNFIGHT AT THE O.K. CORRAL may be least (if he has a Western that is sometimes slack in this period this surely it’s this one) but it’s hard not to love anyway with the irreplaceable Frankie Laine doing that great recurring theme song). In between, THE LAW AND JAKE WADE, BACKLASH and the contemporary BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK (outside the genre but with ambiance and drama common to Westerns) are all strong for me.
Also, want to make clear one more time that as with BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK, I do not consider THE LUSTY MEN a real Western. I think I acknowledged that even though it isn’t one, I allowed my affection for it to let me break my four Western rule in order to include Ray (one additional reason, though it’s even further away–his turn of the century Everglades movie WIND ACROSS THE EVERGLADES has maybe the most individual, least stereotyped Indian ever in the character of Billy One-Arm, as played by Cory Osceola). But in any event, the thing about one’s own lists is clearly that one can make rules and then break them!
But really, the reasons why I did are profound, at least for me–here’s my concluding paragraph from my Magill’s Survey of Cinema piece (English-Language, Second Series IV):
“To say that THE LUSTY MEN is the best rodeo film ever made does it little justice. Although it treats a modern subject, it evokes the vanished spirit of the West with a more touching fervor than most actual Westerns. Extending the finest tradition of classical American cinema–exemplified by certain films of John Ford, Howard Hawks, and Raoul Walsh–it is no less emotionally reminiscent of some of the music of Aaron Copland and of folk ballads such as “Someday Soon.” It strikes to the heart of the American character, exploring contradictory impulses with grace and lucidity. Only a rare maturity of vision could appreciate so profoundly both the need to wander and the need to settle down.”
Blake, in a way I surprised myself by failing to find a slot for Wellman in the top 10. As I mentioned in the original piece, he was one of about a half dozen names who just got edged out. Were I to make this list again today, and after hearing some mighty persuasive arguments all round, I might even alter my criteria slightly and find a spot for him. I agree his work could be uneven, and the ideas, both visual and thematic, he tried to blend into his films didn’t always come off. However, the fact that he did attempt to add something new and innovative to his filmmaking counts for a lot in my opinion.
To return to Sturges, I understand your point about the build up to the terrific climax in Escape from Fort Bravo. Leaving aside Gunfight at the OK Corral, which does suffer from some pacing problems, his 50s westerns all had a sense of urgency about them which I feel he let slip a little in the middle section of Escape from Fort Bravo. Last Train from Gun Hill, Bad Day at Black Rock, The Law and Jake Wade, and even the frequently neglected Backlash all had a leanness, and a momentum that never seemed to relent.
And I do personally believe especially if an even modestly talented director made a Western in those great years 1946-1962 it was often their best movie or one of their best and they probably look better because of it.
Agreed. Similar comments have been made before in relation to actors working at the time. The western appears to be a genre that drew out the best creative aspects of most everyone who worked on them in those years.
Please accept my personal reassurance that THE LUSTY MEN (1952) is a real western. Oh yes it is. It may be other things as well, but it is most assuredly a contemporary western. It’s as much a western as ARENA (1953), THE MISFITS (1961), LONELY ARE THE BRAVE (1962), HUD (1963), JUNIOR BONNER (1972), JW COOP (1972), POCKET MONEY (1972) or LONE STAR (1996). Any film about life in the American west that is filmed in the American west is a western, whether it be a period piece or a contemporary piece. That is a known fact.
Richard, I’m happy enough to refer to those movies you mention as westerns. But I’d tend to call them modern westerns to distinguish them from those films with an “old west” setting. Mind you, such tags can be problematic too; modern westerns can be confused with films made in recent years that take place in the old west. Is “contemporary western” perhaps a better label?
“Any film about life in the American west that is filmed in the American west is a western, whether it be a period piece or a contemporary piece. That is a known fact.”
Not exactly a fact, Richard-W, but it’s certainly a reasonable assertion. I should have prefaced “not a traditional Western” and I don’t think we’d have an argument about it. All of the films you mention relate to my own ideas and thoughts about the Western and are films I keep in mind, though don’t like them all equally (interestingly, in the 1972 wave of rodeo films that also included THE HONKERS, you left out the one I consider much the best–WHEN THE LEGENDS DIE). Some of the ones I consider marginal to what one thinks of in terms of a traditional Western are very important to me–but if they are contemporary/modern subjects, that is what they are, like some other more marginal works that deserve attention and sometimes do get it in accounts of the Western (THE NAKED DAWN, 1955, set in entirely in Mexico and in modern times, even though the ambiance feels like that of an earlier time, is a good example).
Suffice to say, many will not think of these films as Westerns, but plainly I am willing to consider them not only in a consideration of the genre, but in how I rate directors for what they achieved in the genre. I indicated this also with Tourneur and it applies to others in my top tier as well. In any event, I hope I have a pretty deep idea of what kind of film THE LUSTY MEN is (though I have kept learning more about it as I’ve gone back to it over the years) because if I don’t, I probably shouldn’t be writing criticism. It’s one of my three favorite movies of all time, and I wrote on it not only in the Magill’s piece but also also an entry in DEFINING MOMENTS IN MOVIES and hope to come back to it again.
I am glad you raised the point in any event because I am most inclined to qualify my negative view of Westerns being made now when it comes to contemporary-set Westerns, or those set back in time from the present, but not back into the nineteenth century of the traditional Western. There is some hopefully fresh territory to be explored with those subjects and there have been some good efforts along those lines. A good example of this in this century was BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, set in the 1960s–I’m guessing there are those here who didn’t like it, but I saw it several times, thought it was very good, and in some interesting ways resonant of some of the great Westerns.
The thread that wouldn’t die…………….
Firstly, its interesting that Colin named his list “10 OF the best” NOT the 10 best;just thought that
I would point it out.
Regarding the hope of a really decent Western being made these days; I am glad;
for the moment at least,Tom Cruise has put on hold his intended remake of THE MAGNIFICENT
SEVEN.Even gladder that the Schwarzenegger version of SEVEN MEN FROM NOW (I kid you not!)
never got made.
In the “extras” on the Blu-Ray (2011) of THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES Clint has not totally
ruled out making another Western. I feel only he could truly revive the genre.
As a point of interest THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES is the one film that I have seen more than any
other on cinema screens.
Catching up with these Eastwood Westerns on Blu-Ray has revived my interest in him and I very much regret a comment I made regarding Eastwood vs Glenn Ford on the Saddle The Wind
thread in reply to Richard W.
If Eastwood does not star in another Western he should certainly direct one!
Loads of interesting debate on this thread and a couple of films Blake mentioned I really want to
see: MARK OF THE RENEGADE and TAKE ME TO TOWN two VERY hard to track down films
as far as I am concerned. Blake did you know THE NAKED DAWN will be released by Koch in
Germany next month? I am told that the p.q. on the Sidonis release is well below par which may
explain why Koch have decided not to give it a Blu-Ray release. I will post my opinion of the Koch version either here or over on Toby’s blog.
The really good news,for me at least is that Koch are giving us a Blu Ray of WAR ARROW and
I believe in widescreen……….WOW!
Lots of Nick Ray on this thread and so there should be, and good to hear Blake’s take on
WIND ACROSS THE EVERGLADES. Ray of course never had the final say on the final cut and it
would seem some great stuff was deleted from the released version;having said that its still a
wonderful film. As far as a stranger (s) in a primitive alien community goes the film towers above
DELIVERANCE and THE WICKER MAN.
Just to pick up on your initial remark John, I’m glad you noted the title of the post. That title wasn’t accidental; I used the “Ten of the Best…” tag on previous articles on western and noir stars, and for a very good reason. Making the list was difficult enough but I wouldn’t want to presume to make some kind of concrete assertion as to who I think are the 10 best. This may not seem like a major distinction to some, but it did matter to me and I’m pleased to have the opportunity to emphasize that.
I was going to post the following on Laura’s blog but as the comments there seem to be pretty brief
and the whole site is so darn fast moving I thought I would post the following here as Colin seems
to be pretty tolerant of my rants.
Anyway Laura I loved your comment that Selander makes the sort of films that you want to see
despite the fact they may not be of high artistic merit.
Here are a few to add to your list.
After THE YELLOW TOMAHAWK and FORT YUMA were hacked to bits by the censor Selander
and Bel-Air decided to tone down the violence in their films.
Selander was the main “house” director for Bel-Air.
THE OUTLAW’S SON is a film that Laura I think you may like better than I do.
The leads are very good but the film is let down by a very weak supporting cast.
Dane Clark is very good in this film and tries very hard to make the thing work.
Film also features a rather aged Ellen Drew back after a six year break from the big screen.
Much better is QUINCANNON FRONTIER SCOUT a film filled with wry humor.
Despite what you may have read singer Tony Martin is excellent in the title role.
The MGM MOD is a lovely widescreen presentation.
THE BROKEN STAR is a thriller in a Western setting with Howard Duff outstanding as a corrupt
REVOLT AT FORT LARAMIE is sort of a low budget version of the aforementioned ESCAPE FROM
FORT BRAVO. Films ambitions are hampered by its budget and the whole thing looks rather
rushed,but its great to see John Dehner in a rare lead role.
A couple of Selander non Westerns I have not seen are RETURN FROM THE SEA a romantic
drama with Jan Sterling and Neville Brand;reputedly very good.
There is also the backwoods drama TAMING SUTTON’S GAL one of those B pictures made at the
last days of Republic. The fact that the film stars Jack Kelly and Gloria Talbott makes it a must
see for me. Laura I was very amused by a quote from Barbara Hale over on your blog that Hale
called Talbott a “tiny little thing”……..she always looked pretty tall on screen to me!
Selander also directed the most ambitious of all the Bel-Air films DESERT SANDS a foreign
Legion romp that is hard to resist.This was the only Bel-Air film in true widescreen.
Film continues Selander’s fixation with strong strident women. Second billed Marla English
strides into the film after 45 minutes and for no reason strikes Ralph Meeker across the face with
her riding whip!
At least when Patricia Morison does the same thing in the excellent THE ROUND UP the guy
is trying to physically attack her.
Nothing of course tops the scene with Peggie Castle and Robert Lowery in COW COUNTRY
and I did enjoy both Laura’s and Toby’s take on that film.
Another excellent Selander non-Western is THE HIGHWAYMAN a very fast moving film that
manages to maintain the dark tragic tones of the classic poem on which the film was based.
Interesting to see Selander in a Gothic sort of mood,although the films many chase scenes
do recall his Westerns at times! Sadly this is one of those Allied Artists pictures that Warner
Archive do not own.
Also very keen to see couple of his war pictures:DRAGONFLY SQUADRON and FIGHTER
ATTACK.At any rate with the arrival of the MOD era much of Selander’s films have been much
easier to catch up with.
Finally Laura,I think you mentioned CAVALRY SCOUT a Selander film with Rod Cameron.
In my opinion not as good as the Allied Artists films we discussed earlier but still a fun movie..
John, while your comment was directed mainly at Laura, I just want to reply briefly to you here.
I have two of those films that you mention sitting here unwatched at the moment – Quincannon, Frontier Scout & The Broken Star – and I’ll bump them up the list based on your recommendations.
John, belated thanks for all the great info in this post, I had answered it in my mind but apparently not at the computer (grin). Really appreciated all these tips. I love Dane Clark so THE OUTLAW’S SON does sound as though it would appeal to me.
Was also interested in the comments on Bel-Air films. I’ve enjoyed the couple Bel-Air films I’ve seen (DOUBLE DEAL and EMERGENCY HOSPITAL) yet I think they also made what I rank as one of the couple worst Westerns I’ve ever seen, FORT BOWIE.
TAMING SUTTON’S GAL is a must for me…huge Jack Kelly fan. Interested it also has his then-wife, May Wynn.
BTW John you’re always welcome to post just as long as you like at my site! 🙂 🙂
Thanks and best wishes,
Actually Colin, my comments are for anyone who cares to read them,or ignore them as well.
I just thought I would reply to certain things Laura said earlier.
QUINCANNON is easy going,good chemistry between Tony Martin and Peggie Castle.
Re THE BROKEN STAR….senior law officer officer Addison Richards knows that he has a “bad
apple” (Howard Duff) in his team his expressions tell it all. Wonderful actor.
While neither film can be considered as a great Western I think that you will enjoy the wry humor
in these films.
I’m sure I will John. Generally, I like to approach movies on their own terms and judge them accordingly. Hanging the “great” label on films always seems a little unfair when most don’t even have such an ambition.
Whoops,I almost forgot regarding THE BROKEN STAR and my previous comments regarding
women and whips in Selander’s films its Howard Duff who takes it across the face in this one from
Lita Baron. Lita also warbles a tune in a saloon titled “I hate you” cracking a whip at the same time.
The terrified looking male patrons look on in stoned silence!.
Les certainly had a subversive streak!
You can always rely on me to lower the tone of any blog!
This sounds like one that has to be seen to be believed! I’ll definitely give it a spin sooner rather than later.
Just doing my part to help get this to 100 replies.
Some of the further comments about Selander, especially from John K. jarred me so I finally looked him up and while still missing some key works like FORT YUMA, it looks like I’ve seen most of this 50s films if too few of the others. I don’t know how I had forgotten that just within the past year I watched again TALL MAN RIDING and liked it very much–among Randolph Scott films not made by Scott-Brown it was one of the better ones. Memorably, Selander staged a shootout in an almost completely dark house–at that point in the film, Scott’s antagonist does not want it known that he is blind so sets it up this way to give himself an even chance. I’d only seen the movie in black and white before and this scene especially was unusually effective in color. Of the two women in the movie, I found the fate of the more sympathetic Peggie Castle cruel and it sounds like this ties into John’s ideas about Selander. Also, I saw THE BROKEN STAR a few years ago, and that was very good too, with Howard Duff superbly cast as the corrupt lawman. Also, the Western Channel keeps running REVOLT AT FORT LARAMIE but I just haven’t picked this up though I have meant to–it must be John Dehner’s only lead. I’ll make a point of it now, so thanks for your comments about that one, John.
To support some other comments that may be relevant here–the Western was not sustained on its masterpieces, even if there were quite a few of these, but on so many movies from As to Bs by way of the many programmers that didn’t need to be great to be intensely satisfying simply based on a shared understanding of the genre when it was so popular, not only by the directors, but also the writers, cinematographer, art directors, composers and so many actors and actresses that built up real iconography for the Western through so many Western roles. Jim Kitses was another who also made the point that the genre was good not only for major artists but for more modest talents who could fully realize what gifts they did have in their Westerns.
I had noted Colin said “Ten of the Best” and not “The Ten Best.” The times that I will want to contribute–and I’m sure others here feel the same–are when the book is not “closed” but rather open for discussion, and I assumed he was hoping people would chime in about other directors they especially liked, as with his two Actors threads earlier on. I’m always interested to hear the choices of others as well as sharing my own
Well, it looks like we’ve hit three figures! A significant milestone, and one that’s unlikely to be surpassed on this site. Let me say a big thank you to all who have contributed here – you’ve done the place proud guys!
Blake, you’re quite right that my wording was chosen in order to make it clear that my picks were not the only ones to consider, and that I hoped people would stop by and say who they felt was worth including.
And on the subject of mid-range or “lesser” westerns, I certainly agree that these are the beating heart of the genre. I think the fact that so many of those films are strong, coupled with the high number of genuinely great westerns, goes a long way towards explaining why this is such a wonderful genre, and why its appeal endures for many of us.
Congratulations to Colin for reaching 100 posts in a feedback. The page script ran out at post 87. The screen turns basic black with grey and orange font. Of course some of you may be seeing something different, but that’s what I see.
Regarding terms, I’ve always accepted period western for films set in the past and contemporary western for films set in the present. It seems that a “modern” western is a “new”ly made film that can be set in the past or in the present. But I’m flexible. There may be a better term or a better use of the above terms. For example, since Gene Autry’s STRAWBERRY ROAN (1948) and THE HI-LO COUNTRY (2000) are both set in the 1940s, in the age of telephones and jet planes and automobiles, they are both contemporary westerns.
URBAN COWBOY (1980) and LONE STAR (1996) confront social and political issues about life in Texas head-on. They’re both contemporary westerns because the are set in the present day west. I agree with Blake on THE HONKERS (1972) and WHEN THE LEGENDS DIE (1972) and wish these films were available on DVD, especially the latter. Several made-for-PBS adaptations of Tony Hillerman novels that take place on a reservation that are contemporary westerns, particularly SKIN, DREAMKEEPER AND SPIRIT RIDER .
BROKEBRACK MOUNTAIN strikes me as disingenuous. It’s about confronting one’s homosexuality and coming out of the closet, and the conservative setting of the American west just seems a way to push buttons and stir up controversy rather than being a story that arises out of its location. It could just as easily be set in Central Park, Manhattan or the L.A. Zoo for all the difference the setting makes to coming out of the closet. Personally I love Ang Lee’s work — especially RIDE WITH THE DEVIL which is amazing and an authentic western — but I have no use for BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN. It’s a ridiculous movie.
Trimming back on the post now because the script won’t let it contiue.
Thanks Richard. I think we do need a bit of flexibility when deciding how best to describe some of these films. It can become a little confusing though.
Regarding Brokeback Mountain, I figured the setting was used to emphasize the greater difficulties faced by the characters due to the extremely conservative society they were living in.
I’m not seeing any issues with the display at this point using Firefox. Perhaps what you describe is browser related? I’ll take a look at the settings anyway.
All this Selander talk is terrific. I’m wallowing in his Tim Holt films these days — and knocked out all over again at how much he could accomplish in such a short amount of time with such a limited amount of money.
Thanks John K for bringing up Allan Dwan.
Toby, I reckon that’s one of the big positives to come out of this whole discussion – the way so much attention has been brought to bear on guys like Selander. It’s great to see guys like John, a vocal and enthusiastic advocate of neglected films and directors, raising awareness of such filmmakers.
On my firefox browser this page breaks up as it nears bottom. The “Post” button is buried under a w watermark and other things so we’ll see if this works. I’m going to start a thread about Clint’s Unforgiven and some of these issues over at silverscreenoasis, in the westerns section.
That’s most odd Richard – I’m not getting anything like that at all, nor can I see anything in the settings that may be causing it.
I’ll have to check out that thread you’re going to start.
You know, if we could have this discussion in person someplace — like my backyard, for instance — we could bore our wives, girlfriends, loved ones, etc. to tears!
Tell me about it! One of the reasons I run this thing is to give my girlfriend a break from listening to me waffling on about this stuff. 😀
God bless anyone who puts up with people like us!
My wife, Jennifer, is VERY tired of One-Eyed Jacks by now.
I stumbled across this interesting quote the other day and I thought that I would include it
to justify Colin’s inclusion of Clint in his selected ten;also to argue against those who were opposed to that selection. Also I wanted to highlight this quote to contrast with discussions
on this thread and the previous SADDLE THE WIND thread. Also I am using this quote,if for
nothing else, pure mischief!.
Re: THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES
“When I saw that picture for the 4th time I realized that it belongs with the great Westerns;you know
the great Westerns of Ford and Hawks and people like that” ………..Orson Welles
Certainly an interesting quote John. Welles was capable of expressing controversial opinions, as is clear from this article.
Brilliant link Colin,many thanks for that.
Certainly some home truths scattered among the vitriol.
No problem. It’s easy to see why some of those assertions remained unpublished for so long.
And so it goes on,may this thread never stop!
Poor Orson, if he couldn’t appreciate Rear Window. Maybe a bit of jealousy!
It really has grown into a mammoth thread, hasn’t it? Frankly, I never expected anything like this!
Whatever aspects of Welles’ comments we may agree or disagree with, I think it’s fair to say they offer a fascinating insight into preferences.
Lists like these are great for reading all the comments.
Here’s a thought for perhaps a future column, or additional commentary in this thread: Directors who “get” westerns, even though that is not their primary genre,and directors who don’t “get” westerns, even if they are great in other genres.
This really hit me in 2003 when both “Open Range” and “The Missing” came out. As near-perfect as “Open Range” was, “The Missing” was a completely blown opportunity (based on a really good book). And then in 2007, we had “Appaloosa” (very nicely done), and the “3:10 to Yuma” remake (not so much).
In the first group, I’d include: Kevin Costner, Walter Hill, Ed Harris, Richard Brooks, George Stevens, and William Wyler
In the second group, I’d include: James Mangold, Ron Howard, Sydney Pollack, John Huston, and probably Michael Curtiz. None of these guys seem to have a feel for the genre that the first group does, even if they are very good in other genres.
Do I have a point, and if so, why do you think otherwise good to great directors stumble when they direct westerns?
Hello Tony. That’s a good question, though I think the western tends to bring out the best in many directors rather than the opposite being the case too often. You mentioned Curtiz, who worked in every imaginable genre, and I thought he was reasonable when he turned to westerns. Similarly, Huston did excellent work, in my opinion, with The Unforgiven.
When it comes to more modern directors I guess the lack of opportunity to work within the genre, and the consequent lack of actors and crew who have much worthwhile experience of the western, tends to trip them up. In truth, I’m not sure – I’d need to think this one over some more.
Better late than never, I’ve just had a great time reading through this epic thread – wow! There are too many Westerns that I haven’t seen for me to have an informed opinion on who the greatest directors of the genre are, but I love Ford, Hawks and Wellman, and am slowly catching up with some of the classics that I haven’t seen as yet. There are certainly plenty of suggestions here to return to!
Judy, this one just seemed to take on a life of its own – I couldn’t, and still can’t, quite believe the response the post generated.
There’s such a treasure trove to be discovered once you delve into the western. I know the genre doesn’t appeal to everyone but I often think that it’s so rich and varied that most will find something there which does work for them.
Anyway, I’m delighted to hear you found the thread both entertaining and informative. That means it’s done its job.
Wow – epic thread here, Colin…congrats! Tons of really interesting reading, and really too much to digest to address with any comment of my own, frankly. Suffice it to say that I agree with most of your list (I’d swap out Eastwood for Howard Hawks, for one, as much as I admire Clint’s HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER). If you hoped to provoke some informed, dissenting responses with your carefully-worded “Ten of the Best” post title, it certainly worked a treat! Great stuff…and I hear you and Toby re: the “eye-rolling girlfriends/wives” thing…though to be fair, my wife has come to enjoy westerns quite a bit (she had no choice, I suppose, living with me), especially anything with Eastwood or particularly John Wayne, both of whose comic timing and skill at the reaction shot are often overlooked.
Cheers Jeff. I did hope it might draw out some interesting discussion but it far surpassed anything I might have expected at the start.
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Probably in the minority, but I only rank Boetticher’s chamber westerns as being behind Ford
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I really like that expression “chamber western” and, I couldn’t say whose opinions are in a minority or majority in such matters, I feel the work of Ford and Boetticher has to be up at or near the top of the list, whatever permutations we go with after that.
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I’ll only say that I’m allergic to “Spaghetti Westerns”. I can’t bear watching more than a minute of any one of them. I admit to being prejudice against their aesthetic which seems like cinematic white noise to me. I’m not saying Europeans can’t make good Westerns. I love Tourneur’s “Canyon Passage” and “Witchita” (and although it takes place east of the Mississippi, “Stars in My Crown” as well). Andre de Toth was comfortable with the Western setting — I especially liked “Ramrod”. I liked Fritz Lang’s “The Return of Frank James” and “Western Union”. And Michael Curtiz also made some fine Westerns.
I’d include Jacques Tourneur and William Wellman on my top ten list.
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The spaghetti western really is a very different type of movie. I wouldn’t say I’m allergic to it but I’m highly selective and those I watch I do so with a different eye, if that makes sense.
That said, I’ll stick by Leone. He genuinely is a class apart and deserves to be ranked high among western directors of any description. Once Upon a Time in the West is quite simply a great movie. And I’ll continue to speak up for A Fistful of Dynamite, even if some might argue it’s not really a western at all.
OK. Based on your endorsement, I’ll give “Once Upon a Time in the West” a viewing. I started watching it once but quit after the first five minutes. I’ll view the whole thing with an open mind.
On an entirely different matter, I just watched “Da 5 Bloods”. A mixture of brilliance and sloppy heavy-handedness. It’s obviously partially based on “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre”. There’s a warning near the beginning about what gold does to a man. And there’s actually a “stinking badges” reference. The acting is excellent. The release of the film at this very time is either fortuitous or disastrous depending upon your point-of-view. But one thing I like about your blog is that it stays clear of divisive cultural and political topics and I prefer not to discuss those aspects of the movie. I wouldn’t even mention this movie if this was a current thread. By the way, most American critics love “DA 5 Bloods”.
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Frank, I do hope you get something out of Once Upon a Time in the West. If you don’t like it, then I think it’s fair to say Leone will never be a director for you. It’s not got the flip showiness that the Dollars trilogy displayed for the most part, and that’s its strength for me. Spaghettis tend to be too casual about violence and its meaning and effects, but this movie, while featuring a fair bit of gun-play and killing, never trivializes it. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly had touched on this but even the few short intervening years added a great deal of maturity to Leone’s approach.
I try to discourage overtly political discussion here, Frank. It crops up from time to time as certain movies raise a point that is worth or needs addressing in context. However, I don’t like the it to go too far. This is first and foremost a movie site and the net has plenty of other locations where people can discuss politics exhaustively. t tends to be divisive and I’d like visitors to feel as comfortable as possible when they spend time here. We all have different views and perspectives and that’s fine by me as long as the exchanges remain broadly respectful, which in fairness is usually the case. Mind you, there was a comment posted the other day by someone in relation to appreciation of a Tourneur film that I felt was totally uncalled for. It was directed, I think, more towards me than any other contributor so I let it go, but I wasn’t best pleased.
I keep trying to like your comment on different browsers, but my attempts are in vain.
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These glitches happen from time to time. One of the mysteries of WordPress. 😀