On the Samuels Reads blog we've already given you many fine answers to the questions "What should I read?" and "What should I listen to?" Now we want to give our suggestions to the library user who asks "What should I watch?" This list contains a selection of the many fine Western movies available for checkout here at Samuels Library.
High Noon (1952)
Marshall Will Kane (Gary Cooper) is about to set off on his honeymoon with his new bride (Grace Kelly) when word arrives that an outlaw he imprisoned years earlier is returning to town in search of vengeance. Having already turned in his badge, Kane is under no obligation to stay and yet he nobly decides to face this villain and begins seeking the aid of the townsfolk. Taut and fraught with suspense, High Noon is a classic film that is often viewed as a criticism of the Red Scare of the 1950s.
Little Big Man (1970)
Based on a novel by Thomas Berger, Little Big Man is an imaginative and poignant look at the American frontier as told through the remembrances of a 121-year-old man. Jack Crabb (Dustin Hoffman) has lived a long and eventful life: he’s been kidnapped by Indians, earned a reputation as a gunslinger, worked with Wild Bill Hickock, and ridden with General Custer. Initially quite humorous, the movie eventually becomes a heartbreaking critique of our country’s treatment of Native Americans.
Lonely Are the Brave (1962)
One of the best Westerns set in the modern age, Lonely Are the Brave features a magnificent performance by Kirk Douglas in the role of Jack Burns. Very much a throwback to another era, Burns becomes a wanted man when his rugged individualism puts him in direct opposition of the law. The thrilling climax pits the lone cowboy against a helicopter, a standoff which represents the collision of two very different eras.
The Magnificent Seven (1960)
One of the coolest Westerns ever, The Magnificent Seven stars Yul Brynner as Chris Larabee Adams, the leader of a group of seven gunfighters hired by a poor Mexican village as protection against a group of vicious bandits. With a cast that includes Steve McQueen, James Coburn, Robert Vaughn, and Charles Bronson, this movie has a collection of tough guys that puts The Expendables to shame.
Red River (1948)
An immense cattle drive and a family feud between a father and son take center stage in genre-hopping director Howard Hawks’s Red River. When Thomas Dunson (John Wayne) and his adopted son Matt Garth (Montgomery Clift) butt heads in the middle of moving their herd from Texas to Missouri, Garth and the hired hands wrest control from Dunson and proceed without him. Knowing that a John Wayne character will never go down without a fight, you can guess what happens next...
Seven Men from Now (1956)
Cult favorite Budd Boetticher directed this lost classic that has been praised by film critic Leonard Maltin as being “one of the best movies you’ve never seen.” Randolph Scott, in a role reminiscent of John Wayne’s Ethan Edwards in The Searchers (also from 1956), plays Ben Stride, a man plagued by guilt and anger. Joined by a scene stealing Lee Marvin, Stride sets out to find the seven men responsible for his wife’s death.
Western aficionados will always argue over their favorites in the genre—for me no discussion about the best westerns of all time is complete without mentioning Shane, the story of a quiet stranger (Alan Ladd) who comes to a small frontier town and reluctantly becomes involved in a deadly feud between a group of peaceful settlers and the rich ranchers who run the town.
The first masterpiece from the legendary Western duo of John Ford and John Wayne, Stagecoach was Ford’s first film to utilize picturesque Monument Valley and Wayne’s breakout role as a star. The film centers on the interactions of a disparate group of stagecoach riders traveling together through dangerous territory and contains an excellent cast, including Claire Trevor, Thomas Mitchell, Donald Meek, Andy Devine, and John Carradine.
The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (2005)
Tommy Lee Jones starred in and directed this critically acclaimed story about the murder of an illegal Mexican immigrant in Texas and the great lengths an American rancher goes to carry out his dead friend’s burial wishes. Jones, in a performance that earned him the Best Actor award at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival, plays dutiful rancher Pete Perkins, a man who still abides by the Old West’s code of honor in an era of moral indifference.
True Grit (2010)
Fans of John Wayne were skeptical when the Coen Brothers announced their intention to remake his beloved western with Jeff Bridges in the role of Rooster Cogburn, the ornery old U.S. Marshall who helps a young woman search for her father’s killer. They need not have worried—the 2010 version proves every bit as enjoyable as the original. Bridges puts his own stamp on Cogburn, Hailee Steinfeld turns in a tough performance as Mattie Ross, and Matt Damon is especially amusing as the dandyish LaBoeuf.
Clint Eastwood plays with his own image as a Western icon in Unforgiven, a complex and thought-provoking movie that stands as one of the high points in his long and illustrious career. Will Munny is not the laconic, confident tough guy Eastwood usually plays; Munny is an old, tired, and nearly broken ex-gunfighter who reluctantly returns to the profession in need of money for his family.
The Wild Bunch (1969)
A group of outlaws attempt one last heist in The Wild Bunch, a film often cited as the last great western from the genre’s golden days. Fittingly enough, the film’s main theme is the death of the Old West and the frontier culture that spawned a million lawless gunfighters. Director Sam Peckinpaugh jam-packs the movie with every trick in the book, from slow-motion photography and rapid editing to an over-the-top violence that still feels indulgent today.
Winchester ’73 (1950)
Jimmy Stewart kicked off a new, darker phase in his career by playing the revenge obsessed Lin McAdam in Winchester ’73, the first of the five westerns he would make with director Anthony Mann. While searching for the man who wronged him, McAdam wins a rare and highly sought after Winchester rifle, only to have it stolen. The gripping story follows McAdam’s search and the journey of the prized rifle as it switches hands.