By Tom Titus
We now turn our attention to that legendary Hollywood staple, the western. While most of the genre belong on the second half of a Saturday afternoon double bill, several have emerged as somewhat memorable.
I was tempted to list “Blazing Saddles,” but that one already finished second in the list of top comedies. Here, in this writer’s opinion, are the 10 greatest western movies of all time, starting at the bottom and working up.
10. “The Shootist.” John Wayne wound up his career, while battling cancer in real life, as a retired gunfighter facing one last shootout. James Stewart was aboard in a cameo as his doctor.
9. “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.” Wayne and Stewart again, but this time it’s Jimmy’s star turn as a mild-mannered lawyer faced with a psychotic gunfighter (Lee Marvin). When the legend becomes truth, print the legend.
8. “High Noon.” Gary Cooper won his second Oscar as a sheriff who chooses to stand his ground (rather than honeymoon with Grace Kelly; go figure) when some old foes arrive. The music makes this movie a cut above the rest.
7. “True Grit.” The Duke again, winning an Oscar as a one-eyed sheriff helping a young girl (Kim Darby) get justice. Glen Campbell is along for the ride.
6. “Duel in the Sun.” Gregory Peck and Jennifer Jones are the duelees in this spectacular epic. Joseph Cotten provides solid support, as does the legendary Lionel Barrymore.
5. “The Alamo.” In a list of top westerns you’d expect to find John Wayne more than once. Here he’s in a powerful triumvirate with Richard Widmark and Laurence Harvey defending the famed Texas landmark to the death. Oh yes, Wayne also directed.
4. “Red River.” The ubiquitous John Wayne once more, this time paired with Montgomery Clift as cattlemen disputing the herd’s destination. Probably the Duke’s best, although there are a lot to choose from.
3. “How the West Was Won.” Made for Cinerama, this epic adventure focuses on several pioneers on the road to the Pacific. And, yes, John Wayne was among them, as was Jimmy Stewart.
2. “Broken Lance.” Wayne must have been unavailable, so the great Spencer Tracy played the role of an embittered rancher with four grown sons (Richard Widmark, Robert Wagner, Hugh O’Brien, Earl Holliman) clashing over the right of succession. A truly great, and underrated, movie.
1. “Shane.” By far the best western ever made. Director George Stevens captured the sprawling Wyoming countryside and honed in on the simple drama of a former gunfighter (Alan Ladd in his best role) trying to settle down. Top performances emerge from Van Heflin and Jean Arthur as homesteaders, Brandon DeWilde as their young son, Emile Meyer as a villainous rancher and Jack Palance as his hired gun. The “showdown” between Palance and Elisha Cook Jr. is a classic scene.
There they are, this corner’s choices for the western movie hall of fame. Next time we’ll take a shot at the top military-themed pictures.
– tt –