The western keeps on truckin’

Posted by · 12:27 am · June 19th, 2008

It’s no real secret that yours truly is in the tank for the western genre.  Being brought up on the films of Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwood tends to make an impact in a young man’s life.  I watch Charles Bronson square off with Henry Fonda on a daily basis.  I’m knee-deep in research on the genre for a grad school thesis.

I dig it, okay?

The resurgence of saddles and spurs on the big screen has been moving steadily through the industry.  I don’t think anyone expects a return to the 1950s, with pistol-toting heroes plastered on every television screen and nearly every silver screen across America, but I see these efforts taking on more introspective subject matter, perhaps giving way soon enough to the neo-western.  And it is, after all, time.

Today I see that screen tests may have been revealed of Thomas Jane in the upcoming DC Comics adaptation “Jonah Hex”  The film is set to be directed by the team behind “Crank,” Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor.  This might be real, might not, since the duo is filming “Crank 2” in Los Angeles at the moment.  But I can’t say I’m loving it…seems quite amateurish.  Regardless, “Hex” is a hell of a property with some storylines that just sing, and seeing it on the big screen will do this western fanatic a lot of good.

Meanwhile, of course, Ed Harris is set to release “Appaloosa” later this year, formerly under the New Line Cinema banner and now, presumably, as another in a long tradition of genre entries from Warner Bros. Pictures.  Harris stars along with Viggo Mortensen and Renee Zellweger.

These efforts are coming on the heels of a tweak in the genre as of late, with the more abstract works of Cormac McCarthy making their way to the screen (“No Country for Old Men,” “The Road” and, soon, “Blood Meridian”) and David Milch showing in the sadly cancelled HBO series “Deadwood” that the genre could be taken to levels almost Shakespearean.  Meanwhile, a revamp of “The Lone Ranger” is looking like a go, with the team behind the “Pirates of the Caribbean” films hoping to bring an element of sensationalism into the mix.

After a solid and humble return in 2003’s “Open Range,” the twisted storytelling of 2005’s “The Proposition” and the one-two punch of last year’s “3:10 to Yuma” and “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford,” it is a great time to be a western nut.

Finally, it’s worth mentioning that the American Film Institute recently revealed it’s list of the top ten westerns of all time, which ended up being one of the only reasonable lists from it’s recent 10 Top 10 series.  Here’s how things shook down there:

1. “The Searchers”
2. “High Noon”
3. “Shane”
4. “Unforgiven”
5. “Red River”
6. “The Wild Bunch”
7. “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”
8. “McCabe & Mrs. Miller”
9. “Stagecoach”
10. “Cat Ballou”

I can find myself agreeing with maybe seven of those.  I can’t say I love what Sam Peckinpah did with the genre, nor do I subscribe to Robert Altman’s treatment of it.  And the tenth slot was obviously playing devil’s advocate on the part of the Institute — strange seeing as the AFI is nothing if not conventional.

I’d much rather have seen “Once Upon a Time in the West” (the greatest of the genre, though an Italian film, so I assume ineligible), “The Ox Bow Incident” (a near masterpiece), “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” (the one film of the genre that seems to be a work of reflexivity) or “Winchester ’73” (the best of the early Jimmy Stewart westerns).

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14 responses so far

  • 1 6-19-2008 at 1:05 am

    Jonathan Spuij said...

    Heh looks like we’re on the same page here Kris. I recently wrote a small paper on how A History of Violence is influenced by the Western genre.

    It’s kinda been a new love for me in the past few years. Discovering all those classic Westerns for the first time and deeply impressing me. But also the newer stuff.
    Open Range, 3:10, Jesse James, Proposition and of course Deadwood one of my favorite shows of all time. I love the romanticism and the yearning for an America that never really was.

  • 2 6-19-2008 at 2:22 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Funny, outside of The Searchers (unimpeachable), McCabe and Mrs Miller is probably my favourite film there. (I won’t say ‘best’ – for most of the list, we’re comparing diamonds with gold.)

    I wonder how broad their definition of the genre was? I would love to see ‘Hud’ there, for instance.

  • 3 6-19-2008 at 2:38 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Totally forgot to toss Deadwood in there, my favorite show — pretty much ever.

  • 4 6-19-2008 at 7:04 am

    mike said...

    I couldn’t agree more that Once Upon a Time In the West was missing from the list…

    on a side note, Par needs to release that in Blu-Ray!!!

  • 5 6-19-2008 at 7:32 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    I just want my own print. I’d project it on my bedroom wall if I could.

  • 6 6-19-2008 at 9:53 am

    JeffGP said...

    ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST is Italian, not American. It don’t count for the AFI. It is the best flat-out Western though. If we went Italian… jeez, I’d insiste on GOOD BAD, THE GREAT SILENCE and THE BIG GUNDOWN.

    But, as they only mean “old-timey” American Westerns I would argue for PAT GARRETT, RIO BRAVO, MY DARLING CLEMENTINE, LIBERTY VALENCE to replace the spots of CAT BALLOU, UNFORGIVEN, BUTCH CASSIDY and SHANE.

    MCCABE and RED RIVER are my faves.

  • 7 6-19-2008 at 10:44 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    As I said, it likely wasn’t eligible. But at least we agree that its the best.

  • 8 6-19-2008 at 11:46 am

    alexander zarate said...

    Greetings from Spain…I’d only agree with Wild Bunch, The searchers or Red river…Unforgiven is excellent as Stagecoach as well…The other i consider far away to be in 10-list…I’d add Rio bravo, Man of the west, The hanging tree, Rio Conchos, Yellow sky, Heaven’s door and The professionals…Not forgeting Pat Garret and Bily the kid, My darling clementine, Eldorado, Winchester 73, The naked spur, Ulzana’s raid, Cowboy, Dead man or The man who shot Liberty Valance…And i’m sorry to diagree…I dont like Leone’s spaguetti westerns…It’s like if Stanley Kubrick would have done a western…Too much boring, too much pretentious, too much overrated both of them…Well, another point of view…By the way, i write about movies in my own blog, although is in spanish…A pleasure to enjoy this page

  • 9 6-20-2008 at 11:13 am

    John Foote said...

    The Searchers is the greatest western ever made, with a towering performance from the Duke that should have won him an Academy Award. Never before was he so raging and terrifying on the screen. Some recent fine westerns were Open Range, with a great Duvall performance and some fine Costner direction and the great mini-series Lonesome Dove, again with Duvall. True Grit is another, with Wayner at his heroic best as an old one eyed marhsall, who when outnumbered four to one, does he back away? Nope. He twirls his rifle and boldly marches ahead to do battle. Only in a western, the greatest of genres.

  • 10 6-20-2008 at 11:32 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Ugh. I hate True Grit.

  • 11 6-20-2008 at 1:08 pm

    John Foote said...

    Too bad…he’s terrific in it and it is a wonderful adaptation of the book. Beautiful language.

  • 12 6-20-2008 at 1:57 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Actually, I hate his performance too. Never could subscribe to ole’ Rooster.

  • 13 6-20-2008 at 6:28 pm

    John Foote said...

    Too bad, I love it.