F is for Films and here I continue my list of the best Westerns films – not the best everseen, but the best Western films never seen. I previously listed numbers 6 through 15, so here are the 5 Best Western Films I bet you’ve never watched.
5 Hondo (1953) – The screenplay from Hondo was loosely taken from the Louis L’Amour short story The Gift of Cochise. It stars John Wayne and Geraldine Page with a fine cast of supporting players. I think the film suffered, when released, from being an early 1950s, 3D undertaking. The 2005 DVD cut leaves little of those overt 3D frames intact. John Farrow, the director, is more famed for his daughter Mia than for his directing career, but a little known fact is that an un-credited John Ford directed much of the best footage. The real quality here lies in the simple story of truth, bravery, and self sacrifice demonstrated in high caliber performances from both Wayne and Page as their characters, against all odds, fall in love.
4 The Shootist (1976) – The Shootist, a Novel by Glendon Swarthout, faithfully serves as the story for this Don Segal directed film with John Wayne as JB Books, James Stewart as “Doc” Hostetler, Lauren Bacall as Bond Rogers, and Ron Howard as her son Gillom. The story itself is compelling, the demise of the aging gun fighter completely re-imagined. Books is not a fading gunman hunted by those who see him slipping. Instead he spreads rumors of his own diminishing skills. By this he lures in enough gun hands to assure his own death before the cancer eating away inside can kill him. Worse than the gunmen who try him, are his supposed friends and admirers, who want to pick his bones clean before the carcass is cold. Books is left alone in the end, saved only by the kindness of a stranger, the widow Bond, and the admiration of her son. Don’t miss these stars’ performances in their twilight years.
3 Ride the High Country (1962) – Two more aging stars in their last lead roles, Randolph Scott and Joel McCrae, star in director Sam Peckinpah’s second film. Scott, as Gil Westrum, and McCrae, as Steve Judd, guard a gold shipment coming down from the Sierra Nevada. It’s a tale of redemption for Westrum, who tries in vain to enlist his old friend Judd in his plan to take the gold. In the end during a faceoff with Judd, Westrum must find his moral compass or lose his honor forever. This is no gore fest such as Peckinpah would become known for in later efforts. The film is never clichéd as it could have been in a lesser director’s hands. I found the performances top notch.
2 Hombre (1967) – From an Elmore Leonard Novel of the same title, this film features Paul Newman as Apache half breed, John Russell. It is the story of an outsider’s contempt for society and its hypocritical conformists. But it transcends the “heard it all before” story it could have become and presents a lead character who we are never sure will do the right thing up to the final moment. Once the climactic scene arrives, I wonder how I could ever have doubted him – Paul Newman at his best.
1 Open Range (2003) – Lauran Paine’s Novel, The Open Range Men, serves as narrative for what I believe is a finer film than director, Kevin Costner’s, acclaimed Dances With Wolves. The film is firmly grounded in its sweeping landscapes and never apologizes for being a Western. Robert Duval as Boss Spearman gives a performance that stands toe to toe with his work in Lonesome Dove. Annette Bening is elegant and understated as Sue Barlow. Maybe the film’s strongest asset is the script which never shies away from the western themes or dialogue which bring to life the land and people of the 19th century. The pacing of the rising action and impact of the final gun battle are perfectly played out. All this and the film is a visually stunning bit of cinematography as well.
That Open Range was snubbed while Dances with Wolves won 7 Oscars, says more about the politics of the Academy of MPAS than about this film. I believe that with time it will be considered a classic along the lines of Red River or High Noon. Don’t miss it.
So there is my list of the five finest Western films you may never have seen, but should. Hope you like them. Leave a comment and let me know what you think of these films or tell me what your favorite western film of all time is.
Kevin Costner Interview
Short clip from the film
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