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22 Classic Westerns We Love

The Playlist By The Playlist Staff | The Playlist December 22, 2010 at 6:01AM

There are two genres that every filmmaker wants to tackle: the musical and the western. Having flirted with the latter a number of times, the Coen Brothers, undoubtedly one of the foremost filmmaking teams of their generation, have finally delivered their first full-flung oater with "True Grit," a second adaptation of the Charles Portis novel made famous for winning John Wayne his only Oscar the first time around.
23

“My Darling Clementine” (1946)
Director John Ford’s take on one of the most notorious stories of the frontier era -- the gunfight at the OK Corral -- is notable today not just for being marvelous entertainment, but also for inspiring other directors. Most impressively, Sam Peckinpah, himself no slouch in the western department, cited it as his favorite film in the genre. And indeed, there are times here when what you’re watching is no less the establishment of genre archetypes -- low angles picking out the Earp brothers from far away through the deserted town, or the utterly iconic shot of Wyatt (Henry Fonda) alone and fearlessly centered mid-frame as he walks deliberately to the showdown. Taking immense liberties with the real story, Ford’s version still somehow feels definitive and the almost-a-buddy-movie arc of the central characters Earp and Doc Holliday (Victor Mature) has never felt fresher. ”Tombstone” it ain't. [A-]

"The Ballad of Cable Hogue" (1970)
Consider us a little more than shocked when it was discovered that Sam Peckinpah's personal favorite was not the unbelievably well-edited "The Wild Bunch" or the tense thriller "Straw Dogs," but the bouncy comedic tale of an abandoned middle-aged man who exploits his discovery of water in the desert. It makes sense considering its successful experimentation, including abrupt tone changes and an abandonment of traditional narrative. There's not much in terms of action, instead are plenty of amusing vignettes and fan-service courtesy of a perverted reverend, but not all of it works. It’s also his most romantic film and the titular character is played by the excellent Jason Robards, ever so lovable and able to ground things when the comedy gets a bit too silly. [B]

"Django" (1966)
Even though things are a bit dull until about halfway through (save for the always-amusing ear dismemberment and the subsequent ear snack), once "Django" hits its stride, it never lets up. Frank Nero (in a Man-With-No-Name attitude) saves a prostitute from being killed by not one gang of corrupt men, but two, and rides her into the adjoining ghost town where only a bar/brothel survives. It's soon discovered that he wasn't just out getting Vitamin D: the man who is responsible for the death of his wife, Major Jackson, operates in the area. Even though he walks a mysterious coffin like a pet dog, interest in the secret wears thin and the reveal, while totally badass, only leads to a disappointing 30-second action scene. Nero doesn't have the power or immediacy to carry the feature through its many extraneous expository dialogue scenes, but once the director throws him into large action set-pieces, such as the raid on a Mexican army fort, energy is high and Nero holds his own. Chances are you've seen the similar and superior "A Fistful of Dollars," but those who stick it out will eventually be pleased despite its inconsistency. Special recognition goes to the final scene, which is both excruciatingly tense and rewarding in its pay-off. [B-]

This article is related to: Films, Feature, True Grit


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