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Genre Blast: Westerns

 (This series is a challenge for all film nerds. I call out the film genre and five favorites, and then you tell me what I missed. Let’s see see if we can come up with a definitive catalog. Ready?)

 Genre Blast: Westerns

 The western genre is one that has long passed its due date but refuses to die. It has been serialized, romanticized, mocked, and reinvented so many times yet remains the staple genre for displaying stories of noble intentions and rugged individualism.

To qualify, the film must have a clearly defined good guy(s) and bad guy(s) – preferably within the proximity of a horse and/or some prairie grass and grand vistas. The pioneer spirit is paramount and the stakes are high, with some form of justice – or injustice –just over the horizon.

Here we go, and in no particular order:


McCabe & Mrs. Miller (Robert Altman), 1971

Altman’s revisionist western turned the genre inside out, but the basic formula of the little guy vs. “the man” remains true. John McCabe and Constance Miller take on corporate spread to the strains of Leonard Cohen. Divine.

JOHN WAYNE & MONTGOMERY CLIFF RED RIVER 01/05/1948 CT1977 Stood half body

Red River (Howard Hawks), 1948

The daily travails of the cattle drive up the Chisholm Trail – and there are many – are made worse by tensions between the boss (John Wayne) and his adopted son (Monty Clift). The fact that Wayne and Clift hated each other in real life likely added to the authenticity. Hawks’ film is the pinnacle of the classical period of the genre.


The Wild Bunch (Sam Peckinpah), 1969

Peckinpah was fed up with how violence was portrayed on the screen, especially in westerns, so he made a film to examine, among other things, what it was like to get shot. It’s 1913, the Old West is on its way out and it isn’t going quietly. A landmark of poetic carnage.


Little Big Man (Arthur Penn), 1970

Jack Crabb’s satiric and tragic odyssey through many of the legendary events in the West was also one of the first films to move the needle of favoritism in the direction of Native Americans, culminating in the Battle of Little Big Horn. Changing social conscience and the Vietnam War permeate the tone of Penn’s film.


Hell or High Water (David Mackenzie), 2016

Who would have thought that a film from 2016 would make this list? All the classic elements are present in this timely tale of two brothers making one last stab at saving their family ranch while being pursued by two Texas Rangers. With its themes of oil rights, reverse mortgages and deeply embedded, matter-of-fact racism, it’s the new Western for the 21st Century.

This is a huge genre with thousand of possibilities. OK, I’ve shown you mine; now you show me yours. What are your favorite Westerns?




  1. Robin Write Robin Write March 11, 2017

    An obvious one for me personally is High Noon with Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly. Classic shoot-outs, law and order, with a real sense of built-up tension.

    Dances with Wolves is a movie that gets more stick that it deserved. It’s both a grand and intimate depiction of two worlds colliding. Getting swept up by it is certainly aided by John Barry’s miraculous score.

    Another one I’ll add for now is John Sayles’ Lone Star, which is somewhat unconventional but definitely fits the genre – especially the back story. A traditional setting and a terrific script by Sayles.

    • Steve Schweighofer Steve Schweighofer March 11, 2017

      This was the most difficult genre in which to choose only five, much to my surprise. It’s not a genre one usually associates with grand cinema – until you take a close look. In Addition to the ones you name, Robin, we have The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid, The Assassination of Jesse James…., The Ballad of Cable Hogue, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, several of the spaghetti westerns, and the John Ford and Howard Hawks playbooks.

      One thing about the Western genre: we get fewer of them now, but, on the whole, I would argue that they are better than most of those that came before. Lone Star and Hell or High Water are examples of intricate writing and complete character definition that rival just about any script from any other genre.

      • Lloyd Marken Lloyd Marken March 13, 2017

        Hell or High Water is an interesting example because it seems more and more Westerns are still made but not in the traditional time period. Hell or High Water is a good example of that and I’d argue Logan and others follow the same trend.

  2. Lloyd Marken Lloyd Marken March 13, 2017

    I love all the films you have cited Steve as they are long established classics of the genre barring Hell or High Water. Which coincidentally is the only one out of the five that I have seen. Of those that I have seen I would say Unforgiven, The Outlaw Josey Wales, The Searchers, Once Upon a Time in the West, The Good, The Bad and the Ugly are favourites. Special note to Rio Bravo which is a classic western in every sense, box office star of the day. John Wayne tender and confused with a love interest and tough and taciturn with the baddies. High Noon maybe the better film for Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly and that well made setpiece at the finale but the comradrie of Rio Bravo is something special and its been remade quite a few times now. The Outlaw Josey Wales may be Eastwood’s finest film, a moving story about the burden of war on nations and it’s people it shows a killer finally owning up to the need for a family and to leave the war behind. Or does it? The Searchers answers that question definitively with a man who can’t be part of society but can protect it. Celebrating everything John Ford and John Wayne liked to believe about America and what made it the greatest country on earth while at a new mature point in their careers re-examining tropes of the Western and men’s pride. Not just a great Western, a classic film by any measure. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is epic western done at the height of Leone’s powers telling a story on a grand scale but always bringing it back to the characters. Cool, badass with a touch of anti-war melancholy. How do you top that? Well Once Upon a Time in the West may not be as well structured but its just an powerful. Allowed to linger in small moments more, double crosses that don’t seem as believable with characters this good nobody cares. A meaningful farewell to the barbarians who survived the wild west before giving way to the civilisation. Finally Unforgiven, twisting every trope of the western and tearing down the mythology of the genre. It endures as the ultimate post modern Western.

  3. Steve Schweighofer Steve Schweighofer March 14, 2017

    Great comments. I think I tried to reach into more non-traditional corners for my 5 choices, with the exception of Red River, which is a traditional oddity in that it rearranges the basic elements of the classic western. It’sa simple genre that, due toits overwhelming popularity at one time, led filmmakers off in all directions, e.g Kurosawa – Seven Samurai. At that, of course brought us back to the Magnificent Seven.

    • Lloyd Marken Lloyd Marken March 15, 2017

      I just saw the Magnificent Seven and all I thought was how much better The Seven Samurai was and is and always shall be. So I will have to check out Red River.

  4. Robin Write Robin Write March 15, 2017

    Okay here are three more. Meek’s Cutoff. No Country For Old Men. And how can we forget City Slickers?

    • Lloyd Marken Lloyd Marken March 15, 2017

      That’s interesting, I never thought of City Slickers as a Western but…

    • Lloyd Marken Lloyd Marken March 15, 2017

      No Country for Old Men a real favourite of mine. Tell me about Meeks Cutoff Robin?

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