Excellent web article on Westerns

Discussion in 'Archived Threads 2001-2004' started by Dave Hahn, Jan 18, 2002.

  1. Dave Hahn

    Dave Hahn Second Unit

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    Came across this article at MSNBC.com and thought I'd share it. I don't agree with everything Mr. Schulian has to say, but this is very good commentary of one of my favorite genres.
    It can be found here: http://www.msnbc.com/news/687616.asp?pne=11947&cp1=1
    John Schulian
    MSNBC.com
    Jan.15 — In a perfect world, Hollywood would still churn out western movies and actors would get enough work playing cowboys to spare me from worrying that they’ll fall out of the saddle. Things are at such a sorry turn, however, that even when somebody tries to do right by a genre that has all but ridden into the sunset, they make a hash of it.
    AS EVIDENCE, I offer a magazine poll that purports to identify the 100 best westerns ever and neglects to mention even one of Budd Boetticher’s hard-bitten masterpieces starring Randolph Scott. You better smile when you do that, stranger. And don’t think about stopping if you’re going to similarly ignore Richard Brooks’ “The Professionals,” or include misplaced TV claptrap like “Dallas,” or — gravest sin of all — try to tell me “The Wild Bunch” isn’t first on your list.
    By no means are those all of the raging injustices that Cowboys & Indians magazine inflicts on the unsuspecting public in its January issue. Nor should the critics, actors and readers it polled be let off the hook just because they played it safe and made “The Searchers,” “Stagecoach” and “Shane” their top choices. Trained chimps could have done that.
    When insight and inspiration were needed, the voters put on blinders. Why else wouldn’t they have seen through Gary Cooper’s lack of backbone in “High Noon” and the new-age twaddle of “Dances With Wolves”? Those overrated Academy Award-winners finished eighth and ninth respectively, and a pattern was established: Go with big names, go with something you’ve seen recently on cable. Thus “Destry Rides Again,” Jimmy Stewart’s weakest western, soared to 12th and “The Alamo” crept in at 81 despite being so bad that I’d rather watch John Wayne, its star and director, play Genghis Khan.
    BLAME TELEVISION
    But it is TV that does the greatest damage to this ill-conceived poll. No matter how much you love small-screen westerns — and I grew up on “Gunsmoke,” “Maverick” and “Have Gun, Will Travel” — they should have been considered in a category of their own. “Dallas,” if you’re wondering, shouldn’t have been considered at all. Geography does not a western make.
    Only “Lonesome Dove” deserves special dispensation, because it really was a movie. And if it had been released theatrically, it would have won Oscars, starting with one for Robert Duvall in the performance of a lifetime. That wasn’t to be, of course, so there it is in Cowboys & Indians, the lone representative from TV that doesn’t deprive a worthy movie of a tin star on its chest.
    The glaring omissions are piled so high that I’m surprised the voters included Roy Rogers (“Trail of Robin Hood,” No. 88) and Gene Autry (the serial “The Phantom Empire,” No. 98). After all, there’s no room for any of the other movie cowboys who built an appetite for the genre with cheap, double-bill fare made for Saturday matinees. But in the 1930s and ’40s, Tim McCoy, Hoot Gibson, Ken Maynard, Johnny Mack Brown, Ray “Crash” Corrigan, and Wild Bill Elliott cast long shadows. And when I caught up with his old movies in the ’50s, I was goggle-eyed at the sight of Tex Ritter doing a 180 in his saddle at full gallop so he could blast away at the varmints chasing him.
    SCANDALOUS CONTEMPT
    Westerns with loftier, or at least funkier, aspirations receive equal disdain. Hence the absence of the anarchic “Johnny Guitar,” with its catfight between Joan Crawford and Mercedes McCambridge; the poetically violent “The Long Riders,” with four sets of Hollywood brothers playing the brothers in the James Gang; and the stoned “Rancho DeLuxe,” with Slim Pickens hot on the trail of modern-day cattle rustlers Jeff Bridges and Sam Waterston.
    But the urge to press criminal charges doesn’t hit me until I come to the absence of “The Professionals,” which never fails to remind me just how much fun a western can be. Written and directed by craftsman Richard Brooks, it sends Burt Lancaster, Lee Marvin, Robert Ryan and Woody Strode chasing after Claudia Cardinale and the bandit chieftain who has run off with her, Jack Palance. The dialogue crackles with wit, the action quickens the heartbeat, and Ms. Cardinale’s low-cut peasant blouse defies the laws of gravity.
    I’d go pop “The Professionals” on my DVD player right now if I weren’t so vexed by the even more scandalous contempt shown Budd Boetticher, whose death at 85 last November robbed us of our last great western director. Working on budgets of less than $500,000 and shooting his movies in a couple of weeks, he put a melancholy spin on sagebrush nobility and graced even his nastiest villains with a touch of humanity.
    ESSENTIAL BOETTICHER
    Boetticher’s crowning achievement was the five westerns he made with Randolph Scott between 1956 and 1960. Far more learned observers than I have compared them to “The Odyessy,” “The Canterbury Tales” and the works of Harold Pinter. All I can tell you is, a case can be made to put each and every one in the Cowboys & Indians 100.
    But naturally, the best of the bunch, “Seven Men From Now” — it was also the first — isn’t available on video. I got lucky and saw it two years ago because the UCLA Film and Television Archive restored it to its flinty-eyed, 77-minute glory for a Boetticher tribute. It looked great, thanks to Lucien Ballard’s cinematography, and it unfolded in high style, thanks to Burt Kennedy’s screenplay. The result was essential Boetticher with Lee Marvin reveling in menace as the seventh and last man Scott must make pay for his wife’s murder.
    “I’d hate to have to kill you,” Scott says.
    “I’d hate to have you try,” Marvin replies.
    They’re both lying through their teeth, of course, but that’s how the movie shatters tradition: Hero and villain are two sides of the same coin. For taking that bold step, none but a blockhead could keep “Seven Men From Now” off a 10-best-westerns list. Here’s mine, from bottom to top.
    SCHULIAN’S TOP 10
    10. “Ride the High Country” — Sam Peckinpah gets in touch with his elegiac side as he gives two B-western icons, Joel McCrea and Randolph Scott, one last shipment of gold and one last farmer’s daughter to safeguard. Along the way, McCrea utters what may be my favorite line of dialogue in any movie: “All I want is to enter my house justified.”
    9. “Rio Bravo” — Howard Hawks made it because he couldn’t stand the way Gary Cooper begged for help in “High Noon.” John Wayne plays a sheriff who would never do that, but Dean Martin and Walter Brennan help him anyway. Forget that Ricky Nelson is around, too, and concentrate on Angie Dickinson as a dancehall girl named Feathers.
    8. “The Gunfighter” — Gregory Peck’s time as the fastest gun in the west is running out. This is the movie “High Noon” should have been, unflinching, unsentimental, yet oddly moving.
    7. “Seven Men From Now” — Justice at last.
    6. “Unforgiven” — Proof positive that a great western can be made even in an era as hopeless as this one. Of course, you need a soul, a stirring script and a star as appropriately weathered as Clint Eastwood.
    5. “The Naked Spur” — His nerves frayed, compulsions on display and bloodlust up, Jimmy Stewart is the kind of bounty hunter you would never expect if you had just seen him in “The Philadelphia Story.” But director Anthony Mann knocked Stewart’s aw-shucks image in a cocked hat in five hard-edged westerns, and this is the class of them.
    4. “Shane” — Surely the sound of young Brandon De Wilde shouting, begging, pleading, “Come back, Shane!” still echoes across the drive-in where I first saw this with my parents. Alan Ladd, a small man, stands 10 feet tall as Shane, standing up for the homesteaders and decency and everything else that hired gun Jack Palace would fill full of lead.
    3. “Stagecoach” — With one unforgettable shot of John Wayne outlined against Monument Valley’s majesty as he flags down the stage, John Ford propelled the Duke to stardom and laid the foundation for a western classic. Think of Wayne’s fellow passengers, Claire Trevor, John Carradine and Thomas Mitchell among them — faces like theirs no longer exist in Hollywood. Think of the dialogue that’s as pitch-perfect as the trip to Lordsburg is dusty. Think of the black-and-white cinematography with a grandeur worthy of Ansel Adams. I know I do, and it always makes me wish it were still 1939 at the movies.
    2. “The Searchers” — Here is the older Wayne at his bravest artistically, playing Ethan Edwards, whose bigotry and bitterness drive him on a seven-year odyssey to track down the niece the Commanches have kidnapped. But even after he finds her and overcomes the urge to kill the womanchild he fears has been tainted by her captors, he is cursed to remain what he is. Once again, John Ford finds the perfect image: Wayne standing in the doorway, knowing he can never step inside.
    1. “The Wild Bunch” — The only equal Ford ever had as a master of the genre was Sam Peckinpah, whose self-destructiveness short-circuited his genius. This was his masterpiece, a western unlike any other, brutal and operatic from the bloodbath bank robbery that opens it to the final words that lead bounty hunter Robert Ryan back to the outlaw life: “Well, come along — we got some work to do. It ain’t like it used to be, but it’ll do.” The movie’s perverse beauty is that we end up caring so deeply about William Holden and his gang, killers and thieves who never forsake each other even as time and the odds against survival catch up with them. There are those who call “The Wild Bunch” the cinematic equivalent of “Moby-Dick.” I just know there has never been a better movie, not “Citizen Kane,” not “Casablanca,” nothing. And having said so, I can enter my house justified.
     
  2. Robert Crawford

    Robert Crawford Moderator
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    Dave,

    A big thanks for the article but I must admit my disappointment that your thread received no responses and very few viewings. Sometimes, I'm perplexed as to whether HTF is really made up of film buffs or people just interested in contemporary films. Anyhow, in his reference to "The Professionals" I've always felt that this Richard Brooks film was one of the most beautifully films ever shot and it's dialogue makes it one of the best written films I've ever seen. Richard Brooks was a very underrated director whom I might write a thread about just to espouse some of his film accomplishments. By the way, the only director who I feel is on Brook's level as a screenwriter was John Huston.

    As far as his top ten list, I found very little I can disagree with, however I don't remember ever seeing "Seven Men From Now" which means I won't rest until I do see this film. Also, is there a link to the top 100 westerns the article refers to?

    Crawdaddy
     
  3. george kaplan

    george kaplan Executive Producer

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    I agree with some of the problems this guy has (e.g., including tv shows), but disagree with others (High Noon not deserving? [​IMG]). But mostly I think, the problem is that there is a lot of different opinions about what makes a good western, and I find it interesting that my top 10 westerns include exactly 1 of his (Unforgiven). I wouldn't be shy about defending my top 10, but I'd hate to have this guy write about it without a chance to respond. [​IMG]
     
  4. SteveGon

    SteveGon Executive Producer

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    Dave, thanks for bringing that article to our attention. Dallas? [​IMG]
    Nice top ten list you have there - I'd like to agree with it completely, but alas, I haven't seen Seven Men from Now...
     
  5. Cees Alons

    Cees Alons Moderator
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    One doesn't have to fully agree with the choices, to like this article.
    As a matter of fact, from his top-10 I have the ones that are available on DVD, in my collection.
    He really made me interested in Seven Men From Now, which I really cannot remember having seen.
    Cees
     
  6. Michael Dueppen

    Michael Dueppen Stunt Coordinator

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    Thanks for posting this article.
    It reminded me again just how much I love good western movies.
    I just ordered four of the titles. [​IMG]
     
  7. Jim_K

    Jim_K Executive Producer

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    It sure seems that Mr. Schulian knows his Westerns, which is a rare trait. I’ve known about Seven Men From Now for a while and have been seeking it out on cable it seems like forever with no luck.
    BTW I’m almost afraid to see this list the article is referring to.
    If anyone reading this considers himself a Classic Western buff but has only seen the usual suspects in the genre (Red River, Searchers, High Noon, Shane, etc.) you are doing yourself a disservice if you don’t seek out the works of directors Budd Boetticher, Anthony Mann, Sam Peckinpah & Delmer Davies.
    Jim
     
  8. Robert Crawford

    Robert Crawford Moderator
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  9. Jim_K

    Jim_K Executive Producer

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    I found the list.
    http://www.cowboysindians.com/articl.../westerns.html
    I don't know where to begin with this. I did find out that their most noted "film critic" that was polled was Leonard Maltin. That could explain many things here.
    I won’t even touch on how they are ranked but here goes:
    They have 13 TV series which I have a problem with.
    Dallas?!!! Did they poll High Times magazine readers?
    Blazing Saddles is a Western spoof not a WESTERN. C’mon, is Spaceballs a Science Fiction film then or is Young Frankenstein a Horror film?
    City Slickers #32?!! Good lord!
    Oklaholma! & Annie Get Your Gun - Musicals are not Westerns.
    Junior Bonnor is included but no Ballad of Cable Hogue or Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid?!!!
    Tin Star - Anthony Mann’s weakest Western is included but no Man of the West??!!
    As already noted no Boetticher film’s on the list.
    No Broken Arrow?!!
    No Professionals!!!
    There’s so much more to pick apart but I’m getting a headache from this so I’ll just stop here.
    Jim
     
  10. Mike Broadman

    Mike Broadman Producer

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    Wowie, Westerns!

    Yeah, any list with Dallas and Blazing Saddles should just be ignored.

    I'd love to see all of these movies you people are talking about. I wish rental stores would carry more older DVD titles. I really don't want to buy all of them.
     
  11. Robert Crawford

    Robert Crawford Moderator
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    Yeah, as expected I along with many of you have some serious issues with this list, so let the games begin............

    Crawdaddy
     
  12. Allen Hirsch

    Allen Hirsch Supporting Actor

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    Well, it may be a flawed list by including so many TV series on a movie list, but it sure brought back memories. As a kid, I LOVED Saturday mornings for the Westerns on TV (Lone Ranger, Sky King, My Friend Flicka, etc.) And two of my favorite evening TV series growing up were Bonanza and High Chapparral.

    I'm more than a little surprised to see the original critic of the list trash High Noon, too - can anyone shed light on why he'd think Gary Cooper "had no backbone", as I think he put it??
     
  13. David Dennison

    David Dennison Second Unit

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    I was also a bit surprised to read the part about High Noon. I thought it was a critical favorite. I'm not a big western fan for whatever reason, but I have seen half of his top 10 movies. I do agree with The Wild Bunch as #1. That was one of the best movies (not just western) I have ever seen, and I will be soon adding it to my dvd collection.
     

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