In this post I am continuing my list of the best Westerns. We all know the best Western films ever seen, but I wanted to share a list of the best Western films never seen. So, having listed numbers 15 through 11 already, I am counting down numbers 10 through 6 in this installment of my fifteen favorites.
These are Westerns that are both timeless and little known. They couldn’t show up on any top 15 list I found, and they couldn’t be a Western wannabe such as Gallowwalkers or Dead Man. So here are numbers 10-6 of the finest western movies you have probably never seen and why I love them.
10 Monte Walsh (1970) – This is the original theatrical film, directed by William A Fraker and taken from the Jack Schaefer novel of the same name. (But Tom Selleck’s portrayal of the title character in 2003’s TV movie is noteworthy.) Lee Marvin stars in the role of an aging cowboy running out of opportunities to ride the range as the Wild West is slowly tamed. Marvin loses all the people who are important to him as the story unfolds, turns down fortune to preserve his quiet dignity and finally tracks and kills a friend as a matter of simple, dispassionate honor. But through it all Walsh maintains an ease and vulnerability which is endearing without ever slipping into sentimentality – a great performance by Lee Marvin.
9 The Professionals (1966) – From the novel A Mule for the Marquesa by Frank O’Rourke this film is directed by Richard Brooks, who either directed or produced such classics as Blackboard Jungle, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Elmer Gantry. Once again Lee Marvin stars, this time with Burt Lancaster and co-star Robert Ryan. The professionals of the title are a band of mercenary veterans of the Mexican Revolution hired to free an American rancher’s kidnapped wife who’s been taken to Mexico by bandits. Nothing is as it seems, and in the end the mercenaries defy the rancher and free the bandit leader. For this insult their employer calls Marvin a bastard, which leads to the film’s most memorable line, Marvin’s reply: “Yes, sir, in my case an accident of birth. But you, sir, you are a self-made man.”
8 The Gunfighter (1950) – Gregory Peck stars as Jimmy Ringo, a gunman worn out by his reputation and searching for reconciliation with his estranged wife and son. Directed by movie pioneer Henry King this film explores how a man’s reputation marks him for tragedy both within his family and in society at large. Ringo can have what he desires most only by paying the ultimate price. Peck’s performance is good and Karl Malden is outstanding in his return to film following a five year stint on the stage (The following year he would win an Oscar for his role in A Streetcar Named Desire.)
7 The Missing (2003) – Start with a great novel, The Last Ride, by Thomas Eidson. Add direction by Ron Howard and a cast which pairs Tommy Lee Jones with Cate Blanchett. This is a beautifully filmed Western story of a father who has abandoned his family. As death approaches, he seeks reconciliation with his adult daughter even as they take up the hunt for her own daughter, stolen away by raiders. The cinematic shading is dark and rugged like the setting and action. Fine supporting roles are turned in by Aaron Eckhart and Val Kilmer. Why domestic Box office receipts failed to return half the film’s budget is a mystery.
6 The Naked Spur (1953) – Jimmy Stewart’s portrayal of Howard Kemp, a man haunted by betrayal and seeking to redeem what he’s lost with blood money earned in bounty hunting. Robert Ryan is Ben Vandergroat, the object of Kemp’s hunt. This is a psychological play in which things are never straight forward. Danger is within as well as without. Vadergroat attempts to persuade Kemp’s companions of his own innocence and of Kemp’s devious plan to cheat them of their share of the bounty. Black Feet Indians and the rugged Rocky Mountains ad threat as well. The film, directed by Anthony Mann, is visually stunning and Stewart’s performance is riveting.
So there you have the next five Western films you may never have seen but should. Hope you have the chance to check some of these titles out. I’ll continue with the next five films next week. Leave a comment and let me know what you think of these films or any of the last five I listed, and try to guess what the number one best Western you’ve never seen will be.