Western

THE LONE RANGER

In 1982, Rex Allen, Jr. released a single entitled “Last of the Silver Screen Cowboys,” in which he bemoaned the way Western heroes in the movies had become “a fast dyin’ breed,” and how the days of folks like Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, and their ilk, when “we knew good would win in the end,” were being rapidly supplanted by the sort of shady fella who you couldn’t necessarily count on to be “standin’ tall for what he believes is right.” Thing is, that breed of cowboy had actually begun its slow death almost 20 years earlier, and it started, ironically enough, not long after the release of one of the most epic Westerns of all time. 1962’s How the West was Won is the sort of film you just don’t see any more, a sprawling saga which tells a 50-year tale of four generations of a family over the course of 162 minutes and five segments: “The Rivers,” “The Plains,” “The Civil War,” “The Railroad,” and “The Outlaws,” directed variously by John Ford, Henry Hathaway, and George Marshall. In addition to narration by Spencer Tracy, the film also features a cast that includes John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, Henry Fonda, Gregory Peck, Eli Wallach, Karl Malden, Robert Preston, George Peppard, Walter Brennan, Debbie Reynolds, and many other instantly recognizable faces. You see what I mean? “Epic” barely begins to cover it. Yet within a year, the cowboy genre began its first dramatic turn away from the straightforward white hat versus […]

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John Wayne in The Searchers

Looking for any excuse, Landon Palmer and Cole Abaius are using the Sight & Sound poll results as a reason to take different angles on the greatest movies of all time. Every week, they’ll discuss another entry in the list, dissecting old favorites from odd angles, discovering movies they haven’t seen before and asking you to join in on the conversation. Of course it helps if you’ve seen the movie because there will be plenty of spoilers. This week, Cole desperately tries to explain to a skeptical Landon why John Ford‘s monument to Western filmmaking is the best of the genre. But even if The Searchers capably and wondrously checks all the boxes, does that make it the greatest of all time? And why (at #7) is it alone at the top?

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John Ford

John Ford is The Western. Instrumental in elevating the genre and crafting more iconic films than can fit in a saddle bag, the director had a filmmaking career spanning 63 years and managed to make eye patches cool on top of building a legendary resume. Sporting four Oscars (for How Green Was My Valley, The Grapes of Wrath, The Informer and The Quiet Man), Ford saw the work of a filmmaker as a way to make a living, a job not to be seen through romance or puffery. Still, it’s impossible to overstate his influence. If you could ask David Lean, Martin Scorsese, Stanley Kubrick and other masters who inspired them, they’d all bring up Ford’s name. The directors we all look up to, look up to him. So here’s a bit of free film school (for fans and filmmakers alike) from the man who made Jimmy Stewart play Wyatt Earp so audiences wouldn’t go to the bathroom.

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The Proposition

You see, Ray Winstone plays Captain Stanley – and delivers an amazing monologue – in The Proposition, but he’s also one of the dwarfs in this Friday’s Snow White and the Huntsman. Yes, that is a stretch, and it’s not the real reason we decided to cover The Proposition in this week’s Commentary Commentary. It’s the John Hillcoat connection. It’s the fact that the director’s latest, Lawless, played Cannes last week and guess who saw it. We can all torch Simon out of jealousy later. There’s a commentary to get to first. The Proposition, a Western set against the Australian backdrop and a very realistic depiction of life at that time, was Hillcoat’s first feature film collaboration with Nick Cave, singer, songwriter, screenwriter, rustic harbinger of death. Friends call him Nicky. The film is every bit as somber and depressing as you would expect from the head of the Bad Seeds. The Proposition is so melancholic, you half expect Lars Von Trier to throw a planet in its general direction. You also can’t wait to see what went on with the making of this movie. And that’s where we come in. So sit back, crack open a Foster’s – which no decent Australian would be caught dead drinking. – and have a gander at all the wonderfully tenebrous and fly-ridden items we learned from listening to Hillcoat and Cave talk about The Proposition.

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Culture Warrior

A genre nearly as old as filmmaking itself, the western thrived throughout the years of the studio system but has zigzagged across rough terrain for the past forty or so years. For the last fifteen-ish years, the struggling, commercially unfriendly genre was either manifested in a neoclassical nostalgic form limited in potential mass appeal (Appaloosa, Open Range) or in reimagined approaches that ran the gamut between contrived pap and inspired deconstructions (anything from Wild Wild West to The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford). But last December, True Grit – a bona fide western remake that relied on the opportunities available in the genre’s conventions rather than bells, whistles, or ironic tongues in their respective cheeks – became a smash hit. Did this film reinvigorate a genre that was on life support, as the supposed revitalization of the musical is thought to have done a decade ago, or are westerns surviving by moving along a different route altogether? Three westerns released so far this year – Gore Verbinski’s Rango, Kelly Reichardt’s Meek’s Cutoff, and, as of this weekend, Jon Favreau’s Cowboys & Aliens – suggest mixed directions for the dusty ol’ genre.

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If this has been the summer or the year of the “good, but not great” movie, Cowboys & Aliens stands just a bit taller than most. It wears its spurs a little prouder. It slings its gun a little faster. Whichever metaphor you prefer, Jon Favreau has crafted a loving new vision of the Western genre that delivers far better on character than the average summer blockbuster. At the very least, it works more on making the people on screen matter, even when sci-fi spectacle could have (and maybe should have) taken the reins. Jake (Daniel Craig) wakes up in the desert having lost his memory but gained an alien weapon strapped to his arm. When he’s arrested in the town of Absolution alongside Percy (Paul Dano), the sniveling son of wealthy landowner Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford), the pair are ready for transport when the community is attacked by beings from another world. Their kin are taken, and they round up a posse to get them back.

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So what do you do when the law gets close to arresting you for bank robbery? You grab your bicycle and head to Bolivia. The pairing of Paul Newman and Robert Redford here in George Roy Hill’s classic is a potent one, and Katharine Ross rounds out the ensemble with a way about her that won over both men (and audiences). Like most films, it went through its share of casting changes. Jack Lemmon almost played Sundance. So did Marlon Brando. In fact, the film was going to be called The Sundance Kid and Butch Cassidy when Steve McQueen was set to star, but he dropped out, and Paul Newman’s character took over top billing. There’s something sweet about a movie that features Burt Bacharach singing about raindrops falling on his head and a body count of 30. Plus, you can see a great tribute to The Treasure of the Sierra Madre involving a brand and an ass near the end of the film.

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With the entire original run of The Twilight Zone available to watch instantly, we’re partnering with Twitch Film to cover all 156 episodes. Are you brave enough to watch them all with us? The Twilight Zone (Episode #26): “Execution” (airdate 4/1/60) The Plot: An outlaw from the Old West is saved from the noose by a scientist who gets in way over his head. The Goods: The funny thing about time travel is that if you invent it, you want to use it yourself. On the other hand, if it’s untested, you might want to see if you can grab an unwilling volunteer (which is an oxymoron, I know) to make sure people come out the other side with all their parts in the right places. In this episode, Professor Manion (Russell Johnson) uses his time-bending invention to pull a man from the 19th century, and it just so happens that Joe Caswell (Albert Salmi), the unwitting traveler, was a nanosecond away from shuffling off his mortal coil at the end of a rope.

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Not too long ago I was all abuzz at the possibilities of a grumpy old Arnold Schwarzenegger returning to acting and taking on all of the roles that Clint Eastwood wouldn’t be able to after taking a step back from acting. One of the more promising projects he had on his plate was a western directed by I Saw the Devil’s Jee-woon Kim called Last Stand. Schwarzenegger would play the role of an aging sheriff who gets in over his head dealing with a dangerous drug cartel and decide whether or not to rise to the occasion in order to protect his town. Unfortunately, soon after word of this project came out, Schwarzenegger’s personal life erupted into very public scandal, and he pulled out of all the acting gigs he had been dancing around. What a difference a couple of months make. Schwarzenegger has laid low, he let the heat die down, and now he’s ready to take a second stab at that acting comeback. What this means for fans of action legends and Jee-woon Kim is that Last Stand appears to be back on. Lionsgate has picked up the project and it looks to be starting in September. This will be Kim’s English language debut and the first starring role for Schwarzenegger since 2003’s Terminator 3. I’m giving myself permission to get re-excited about this movie. I just hope that Arnie doesn’t knock up any gardeners or pool girls before it can get off the ground. [Deadline Beclabito]

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Burt Lancaster. Lee Marvin. Robert Ryan. Woody Strode. Jack Palance. Ralph Bellamy. Claudia Cardinale. An incredible line-up was utilized to the fullest degree possible (117 degrees in the desert heat) in Richard Brooks’s The Professionals. It’s a stellar men-on-a-mission story where a group with 100 proof women, 90 proof whiskey and 14 carat gold on its mind gets rounded up to save a young wife from the marauder that’s taken her across the border into Mexico.

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With a high profile list of black actors like Will Smith and Idris Elba (but somehow without Jaleel White), the casting process for Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained has been a guessing game that played out like casting roulette with a loaded gun of disappointment for fans looking forward to something gritty and exploitative. Will Smith’s name dropping off created a sigh of relief (because the guy couldn’t even suck it up to play a superhero with limp penis problems), Elba going to Pacific Rim meant a great choice became unavailable, and now there’s one name on the list left standing. Deadline Tombstone is reporting that Jamie Foxx has only to sit across the table from Tarantino and sign some papers before becoming the freed slave who learns to kill from a German dentist-cum-bounty hunter (Chrstioph Waltz) and seeks out revenge on a cruel slave owner (Leonardo DiCaprio). Foxx is the kind of actor who has serious chops and barely ever gets to use them. Who could have guessed that he and Jim Carrey would make an honest stab at dramatic work back when they were goofing of for In Living Color? Foxx playing Wanda playing Django would no doubt be the high point of any thespian’s career. Even though everyone on the planet was hoping to see Tarantino resurrect Cuba Gooding Jr’s career, this casting is just about as strong as it gets. Besides, if there’s any disappointment here it’s that Tarantino is taking on Leone instead of doing a […]

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John Wayne was not only King of the Western but also King of the Comedy Western when the need arose. McLintock! may be one of the best in that regard, but if you watch the trailer, it seems like the entire movie is about people sliding down a hill into a pile of watery mud. But this is far more than just a big brawl in a muddy hole. This film is actually a kind of remake of “Taming of the Shrew” which sees Wayne going toe to toe with Maureen O’Hara for the fourth time in their acting career. The Quiet Man might be their most famous work together, but this is probably their funniest. Plus, yeah, there’s a big fight in a pile of mud. And it’s pretty awesome.

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John Ford did Westerns the way Michael Bay does explosions. With a remarkable amount of power and skill. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance unites John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, Vera Miles and Lee Marvin all under the directing prowess of the master, and the result is a hell of a ride through a dry gulch with one bullet left in the chamber. Is it a fantastic movie? Yes. But it’s also notable for being the first time that John Wayne ever calls someone “Pilgrim,” on screen, and that’s reason enough to celebrate right there.

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Regardless of individual opinion, no one can say that AMC doesn’t have one of the most diverse line-ups on television. With the adult, contemporary drama Breaking Bad, the murder mystery The Killing, the horror/thriller The Walking Dead and the period drama Mad Men, there’s no doubt that the network loves their genre work. And they are about to make another addition to that slate with a western… yes, you read that right. AMC is doing a western titled Hell on Wheels. And here is the first trailer (via Screen Rant):

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Proven by science to be the funniest movie of all time, Blazing Saddles gives the entire western genre a spanking while Cleavon Little asks where all the white women are at. I love that the opening of the trailer plays it perfectly straight, as if any minute John Wayne or Robert Ryan are going to ride into frame, chew on some tobacco and spit out a line worth remembering. Instead, we get Mel Brooks in dressed as a Native American. Most know that Richard Pryor was supposed to star in this flick, but no one would finance the film with him in the lead. However, most don’t realize that workhorse actor Gig Young actually started the production as The Waco Kid but got too drunk (it’s called method acting) to continue, so Brooks fired him, and Gene Wilder came in the next day to take over. This movie, even more than most, could have been completely different than the one we all know and love. Can you imagine this movie with Pryor and Young leading the charge?

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You know what I love about Cowboys & Aliens? That someone took that silly little comic book and took it seriously enough to make a huge movie out of it. That, instead of going the cheap route, Jon Favreau and company saw the potential in the story, in the Western element and in the Sci-Fi and decided to grab themselves by the saddle bags and just go for it. So far, all of the results have been astonishing. Strong visuals, great Western storytelling, and an extra-terrestrial menace. This new trailer gives a much better look at the alien equipment, the narrative and the action. Check it out for yourself:

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Your weekly fix of great movies made before you were born that you should check out before you die. This week’s Old Ass Movie goes line for gritty line down the Western Genre Rules and twists them all up with a one-armed stranger, a Japanese farmer, a conspiracy, and a handful of deadly secrets. It’s Noir in the desert. Director John Sturges takes all of it and works it into a sweat out in the southwest at the tail end of WWII. As a silent, enigmatic man gets off a train that never runs, everyone is in for a Bad Day at Black Rock.

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Every day, come rain or shine or internet tubes breaking, Film School Rejects showcases a trailer from the past. In the Western tradition, a stranger comes to town. In the Noir tradition, he’s snooping around to find answers and wearing a black suit with a skinny tie. In the tradition of 127 Hours and The Fugitive, he only has one arm. The townsfolk are in for a bad day, ensured by director John Sturges and star Spencer Tracy, in this 1955 spin on dusty conventions. Think you know what it is? Check the trailer out for yourself:

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Gore Verbinski’s Rango is not a spoof or satire of westerns. It is, in fact, a genuine western. Keeping that in mind, Verbinski hasn’t made an animated film with modern “of-the-moment” pop-culture references and a wacky hip soundtrack. Rango is no Shrek or Madagascar. The archetypes, the story, the score (courtesy of Hans Zimmer) and style is done in an old-school fashion, but with a slight twist. This isn’t Verbinski’s first western outing. The Pirates of the Caribbean films are total odes to the western and even some of Verbinski’s smaller-scale films – such as The Weather Man and The Mexican – feature the stampings of the genre. As for the realism, Verbinski wanted to keep his animated feature as grounded in live-action filmmaking as much as possible. Here’s what the soft-spoken eclectic director had to say about not making a western spoof, avoiding perfection in animation, and the meta aspect of Rango:

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Meek’s Cutoff hit the festival circuit hard and received a strong amount of praise for its visual style and its look at lives on the line in the desert of 1845 Oregon. Michelle Williams leads a fantastic cast including Paul Dano, Bruce Greenwood, Zoe Kazan, Neal Huff, and Will Patton in what appears to be Oregon Trail: The Movie if everything went wrong and you couldn’t trust the person you depended on the most. Check out the trailer for yourself:

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