“The Misfits” (1961)
Don’t get us wrong, this is a great film that every bit deserves its place on this list. However, with the serious all-star lineup of director John Huston, writer Arthur Miller, stars Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable, Montgomery Clift, Thelma Ritter and Eli Wallach, and the mythology surrounding it being both Gable’s and Monroe’s last completed film, it’s hard not to have unmatchable expectations going in, with the result that actually watching it can be kind of a letdown. It doesn’t help that the storyline is somewhat disjointed, but the intermittent flashes of true filmmaking genius do make up for it – it’s a fittingly world-weary swansong for Gable, features if not Monroe’s best performance, then certainly her least self-conscious, and the black and white photography (it was at that point supposedly the most expensive B/W movie ever shot) is starkly beautiful in every shot. Something about the confluence of story, star personae and context might make you think this should be the most apocalyptically brilliant western ever made; as it is, it’s just very, very good. Oh, and Monroe’s last line, “How do you find your way back in the dark?” is the most goosebump-raisingly apropos grace note that anyone could possibly hope for. [B+]
Honorable Mentions: Like we said, this piece could have run on forever, and any honorable mentions list will obviously be missing some key films as well. Perhaps the most notable absence here was anything by Leone, who is obviously one of the acknowledged masters of the genre. More than anything, it proved too difficult for us to narrow it down to just one Leone film, but we may run an all spaghetti-western feature in the future to make up for it.
We also felt we were running quite heavy on Peckinpah, and, as great as it is, weren't sure if we had anything new to say about "The Wild Bunch," but if you've never caught it, it's certainly a must see. Otherwise, Monte Hellman's "The Shooting," "How the West Was Won" and "The Man From Laramie" were all near-misses, and films we may return to down the line.
While there may not be as many oaters around as there used to be, there've been a few classics in recent memory -- principally John Hillcoat's "The Proposition" and Andrew Dominik's "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford." However, we've covered both at length in the past, and felt that there were better uses for the space. The Korean western "The Good, the Bad, the Weird" is also a heap of fun, even if it is kind of a mess. As ever, let us know your favorites in the comments below.
-- Jessica Kiang, Rodrigo Perez, Oli Lyttelton, Gabe Toro, Chris Bell, Kevin Jagernauth