::Literate Blather::
Wednesday, January 30, 2008
Cowboy Up!

10 Westerns That Make You Want to Saddle Up

There’s one thing you’ll notice about our picks – most of them star either Clint Eastwood or Kevin Costner. These are two actors who understand the rugged individualism, fast violence, and morality of the old West. So faster than you can draw your pistol, here are DaRK PaRTY’s picks for the Best Westerns Ever Made.


Synopsis: A retired outlaw named William Munny struggles to run a hog farm after the death of his wife. A young gunslinger makes him an offer to hunt down two cowboys who cut-up a prostitute in a saloon in Big Whiskey. Unable to resist the lure of easy money, Munny coaxes his old partner, Ned, to join him and the gunslinger. They get more than they bargained for when they run into Sheriff “Little Bill” Daggett who uses violent tactics to keep the peace in Big Whiskey.

Release Date: 1992

Big Name Stars: Clint Eastwood, Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman, and Richard Harris

Director: Clint Eastwood

Best Scene: A chilling scene where Munny stalks into the saloon after Little Bill and his posse has killed Ned and propped his dead body in a coffin outside the entrance. Little Bill is in the middle of a toast when slowly the entire saloon realizes that William Munny stands behind them with a loaded rifle. Munny asks: “Who owns this shithole? You, fat man, speak up.” The bar owner stutters and Munny tells the men around him to clear out and then he shoots him down in cold blood. Little Bill screams: “You just shot an unarmed man!” Munny stares at him and says: “Well, he should have armed himself if he’s gonna decorated his saloon with my dead friend.”

Best Line: “Hell, I even thought I was dead 'til I found out it was just that I was in Nebraska.”

Weird Fact: Richard Harris was allegedly watching “High Plains Drifter” when Eastwood phoned to offer him a role in the film.

In a Nutshell: “Unforgiven” blurs the lines between good and bad by making the mass murdering William Munny a likable sort and Sheriff “Little Bill” Daggett as cold hearted and ruthless. One of the best Westerns ever made and deserving of its Best Picture Oscar in 1992.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

Synopsis: The two leaders of the Hole-in-the-Wall gang are the visionary idea guy – Butch – and the man-of-action gunslinger, Sundance. When they rob one too many trains, a special posse is formed to track them down and bring them to justice.

Release Date: 1969

Big Name Stars: Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Cloris Leachman

Director: George Roy Hill

Best Scene: Butch is losing his influence with his gang and is challenged to a knife fight by the enormous Harvey. He’s got no chance to win so he interrupts and says he needs to get the rules straight with Harvey. Incredulous, Harvey says: “Rules? In a knife fight?” Butch proceeds to kick him in the nuts and then punch him when he’s down. One of the other gang members rushes to Butch’s side to tell him how he was rooting for him the whole time. Butch puts his arm around him and replies: “Thank you, Flat Nose. That’s what sustained me in my time of need.”

Best Line: “Think you used enough dynamite there, Butch?”

Weird Fact: Jack Lemmon was offered the role of Sundance, but turned it down because of a conflict with another movie.

In a Nutshell: This movie gets panned by many “critics” because of its light hand. But the key is watching the movie as a comedy (in a bumbling sort of way). It’s damn amusing even if it does a grave disservice to history.

Dances With Wolves

Synopsis: A burned-out Union lieutenant named John Dunbar is assigned to an outpost on the western frontier after the Civil War. The post is deserted, except for a lone wolf. Dunbar befriends the creature and then becomes friendly with the local Sioux tribe. He falls in love with a white woman adopted by the tribe as a child. Soon he finds himself relating more to his Indian friends than the white society he came from.

Release Date: 1990

Big Name Stars: Kevin Costner, Mary McDonnell, and Graham Greene

Director: Kevin Costner

Best Scene: The buffalo hunting sequence when a herd of rampaging buffalo thunders across the prairie with dust billowing in the air and Kevin Costner as Lt. Dunbar rides over a ridge and his cowboy hat flies off his head. Riding his horse with the Sioux Indians they begin the hunt. A young Indian hunter wounds a buffalo, but falls off his horse. The buffalo rears up and charges at him. Dunbar turns, assesses, and begins to shoot at the charging bull. One shot. Two shots. Both misses. With a final shot, Dunbar kills and buffalo and it drops dead at the boy’s feet.

Best Line: “Turned injun, didn't ya!”

Weird Fact: Graham Greene’s character, Kicking Bird, is the step-father of Stands With A Fist even though Mary McDonnell is older than Greene in real life.

In a Nutshell: “Dances With Wolves” is Costner’s best film and while it gets heavy on its criticism of manifest destiny, it is one of the most emotional and impactful westerns ever made.

High Plains Drifter

Synopsis: A lone, unnamed gunfighter rides into the town of Lago. He is hired to kill three outlaws who were just released from prison and want revenge on the town for betraying them. The townspeople are embezzling money from the nearby gold mine and when their sheriff discovered the crime they hired the three outlaws to kill him. Then they turned them in and they went to prison. The stranger, however, has more than a passing resemblance to the dead sheriff. The stranger gets his revenge – on the outlaws and on the townspeople.

Release Date: 1973

Big Name Stars: Clint Eastwood, Stacey Bridges

Director: Clint Eastwood

Best Scene: After riding into Lago – the townspeople gazing at him with fear in their eyes – watch the stranger enter the barber shop. The nervous barber slathers cream on the stranger’s whiskers and covers him with a white sheet. Three toughs from the saloon, bored, approach the stranger looking for trouble. They get it when they spin his chair and the stranger shoots all three of them – one of them falling back through the shop window.

Best Line: “You're going to look pretty silly with that knife sticking out of your ass.”

Weird Fact: The names on the tombstones in the Lago graveyard bear the names of directors that Eastwood had worked with in the passed including Don Siegel, Brian G. Hutton and Sergio Leone.

In a Nutshell: “High Plains Drifter” is all western and part ghost story. It’s the tale of a sheriff betrayed by the people he was hired to protect. Coming back from the dead, he gets his revenge on everybody.

Open Range

Synopsis: A group of free grazing cattlemen end up in the town Harmonville and run into trouble with a corrupt lawman and the rich rancher he works for. The cattlemen don’t want trouble, but are pushed to the edge. And finally, the rancher murders one of them and severely wounds another. The two remaining cattlemen, Boss Spearman and Charley Waite, end up in a murderous showdown with the rancher and his minions. But not before Charley falls in love with Sue Barlow, the town’s doctor’s sister.

Release Date: 2003

Big Name Stars: Robert Duvall, Kevin Costner, Annette Bening

Director: Kevin Costner

Best Scene: In the open street of town, Charley and Boss face off against four bad guys. As they stand sizing each other up, Charley stalks toward the murderous, bowl-hatted Butler (the toughest of the bad guys) and says: “You the one who killed our friend?” The Butler, with a smirk, answers: “That’s right. I shot the boy, too. And I enjoyed it.” Without another word, Charley shoots him from point blank range right in the forehead. The Butler drops like a sack of bricks.

Best Line: “Men are gonna get killed here today, Sue, and I’m gonna kill them.”

Weird Fact: Costner gave up a role in “Kill Bill: Volume 1” to film “Open Range.”

In a Nutshell: Open Range” was a sleeper that somehow failed to do well at the box office. It’s a shame because the movie a mortality play focused on Charley – an ex-gunslinger who regretted his passed to live in harmony and freedom on the open range. When pushed, however, he has to tap into his skills as a gunslinger to save himself and his friends. The movie features one of the most intense and violent gunfights ever (see above).

The Magnificent Seven

Synopsis: A ruthless band of outlaws terrorize a Mexican village. The town fathers tire of the violence and decide to hire a group of gunmen to fight for them. They end up with seven gunslingers who decide to defend the village for various reasons. They train the village to fight off the gang of more than 100 bandits.

Release Date: 1960

Big Name Stars: Yul Brenner, James Coburn, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, Robert Vaughn and Eli Wallach

Director: John Sturges

Best Scene: When the bandits ride into the village to get food for the winter they are confronted – one by one – by the seven gunslingers. At first, the bandit leader, Calvera, seems more irritated than concerned by the boldness of these strangers. But then the shooting starts and he starts to see his men drop and his irritation turns to rage.

Best Line: “We deal in lead, friend.”

Weird Fact: This legendary western is a remake of the Japanese film “The Seven Samurai.”

In a Nutshell: Has there ever been a more star-studded western? The beauty of “The Magnificent Seven” is the direction of John Sturges who utilizes his all-star cast to perfection.


Synopsis: A group of old friends end up together in Silverado for various reasons. The town is in the hands of a corrupt sheriff and his men. Finally, the friend band together and fight the bad guys and bring peace and justice to Silverado

Release Date: 1985

Big Name Stars: Kevin Kline, Scott Glenn, Kevin Costner, Danny Glover, John Cleese, Brian Dennehy, Jeff Goldblum, Rosanna Arquette

Director: Lawrence Kasdan

Best Scene: It doesn’t get much better than the open two minute of this film. The camera drifts over the cramped and dirty confines of an old cabin – sunlight sluicing through the cracks in the walls. It’s dark inside and you can hear a crow squawk in the distance. A horse whinnies and then the door bursts open and a cowboy begins firing two guns. Emmett fires back, killing him. Then bullets tear through the walls followed by beams of sunlight. Emmett dives to the floor. He ends up killing three men – one of which falls through his roof. Emmett creeps outside of the small cabin and into a panoramic view of the mountains and canyons of the old West (see below).

Best Line: “We're gonna give you a fair trial, followed by a first class hanging.”

Weird Fact: Kevin Costner received one of the starring roles because director Kasdan ended up cutting all his scenes from the movie “The Big Chill.”

In a Nutshell: Another star-studded western. “Silverado” had a throwback flavor to it and helped revive the western for mainstream audiences.

The Outlaw Josey Wales

Synopsis: A farmer who had his family murdered by Union soldiers joins a group of Confederate raiders during the Civil War. After the war ends, he travels west and becomes an outlaw. He seeks vengeance of those who killed his family, but even through his violent ways, Josey Wales yearns for peace.

Release Date: 1976

Big Name Stars: Clint Eastwood, Sondra Locke, John Vernon

Director: Clint Eastwood

Best Scene: Josey rides on a raft to the other side of the Missouri River when a dispatch of Union soldiers shows up on the other bank. Rather than run, he takes a short nap as the raft loads up with soldiers to pursue him. The soldiers expect Josey to try and pick them off, but instead he shoots the tow lie of the raft and the raft and soldiers go whisking off down the rapids.

Best Line: “Yeah, well, I always heard there were three kinds of suns in Kansas, sunshine, sunflowers, and sons-of-bitches.”

Weird Fact: “Tonight Show” host Johnny Carson called “The Outlaw Josey Wales” the greatest western of all time.

In a Nutshell: “The Outlaw Josey Wales” was Eastwood’s coming of age as a director. The plot is often convoluted, but the consequence of violence that became a major theme in his future movie making gets its first try out here.

Pale Rider

Synopsis: A preacher rides into a gold mining village in California. The miners are being forced out of their stakes by a rich landowner intent of stealing their claims. The preacher steps in to protect the miners from the landowner, his corrupt sheriff, and his thugs.

Release Date: 1985

Big Name Stars: Clint Eastwood, Michael Moriarty, Carrie Snodgrass, Chris Penn

Director: Clint Eastwood

Best Scene: A young girl is recited a passage from the Bible to practice her reading as she sits in the kitchen with her mother. Horse and horsemen begin to ride into the village. The girl pauses and her mother urges her to continue reading. She recites a passage from “Revelations” about the fourth horseman of the Apocalypse – Death riding on a pale horse. As she says the words, the Preacher rides into view on a white horse.

Best Line: “Nothing like a good piece of hickory.”

Weird Fact: Eastwood pays homage to the movie “Shane” through “Pale Rider.” Many of the scenes and plotlines echo the older movie, including the end when the girl shouts “I love you” to the departing preacher.

In a Nutshell: Another ghost story and western combination by Eastwood. This one, however, is spiced with religious undertones that give the movie incredible depth and mystery.

The Searchers

Synopsis: Confederate soldier Ethan Edwards returns to Texas after the war hoping for peace at last. But when his niece is kidnapped during a Comanche raid, he becomes obsessed with finding her. He searches for years until his nephew begins to realize that Ethan’s hatred for Indians is driving him more than his love for his niece. After the girl has become an Indian – Ethan’s quest changes to become one where he will kill her instead.

Release Date: 1956

Big Name Stars: John Wayne, Natalie Wood

Director: John Ford

Best Scene: A group of cowboys walk out of the fog and through a moor carrying rifles. Crickets chirp in the night as they slosh through the water. They come upon a cold campsite where the Indian kidnappers had recently been. Ethan, with a scowl, glares at the man next to him. “Any more orders, captain?” he says with disdain. “Yes,” the captain says. “We’ll keep on going.” They hear a bird and swing their guns into action, but it is a false alarm. “Well?” Ethan says. The captain, annoyed, says: “You want to quit, Ethan?” Ethan answers, “That’ll be the day” and stalks off.

Best Line: “Figure a man's only good for one oath at a time; I took mine to the Confederate States of America.”

Weird Fact: John Wayne named his son Ethan in honor of his role as Ethan Edwards in the movie.

In a Nutshell: The western that all other westerns are compared to. It is that good. John Wayne as the racist old soldier turns in his finest performance ever.

Read why "3:10 to Yuma" would never ever make this list

Read "Our Man Clint" about the 5 Best and 5 Worst Clint Eastwood movies

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Blogger SQT said...
First off, I have to say I love that you included "Silverado." I love that movie and it's one of the only films where Kevin Coster doesn't essentially play the same character as in all his other films.

Personally, I think I would add "Lonesome Dove," though maybe you were going for big screen westerns. "Lonesome Dove" is my all time favorite western. I bawled at the end (though I won't say why for those who haven't seen it).

I also have alwasy liked "Tombstone." I don't know if it qualifies as great cinema, but it sure as heck is enjoyable.

Blogger GFS3 said...
Funny, I loved "Tombstone" the first time I watched it, especially Val Kilmer's role as Doc Holliday. But on subsequent viewings, I didn't like it as much.

And, yes, "Lonesome Dove" didn't make the list because it first appeared on TV.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
Hi. Just found your blog and I think it is great. Your list of westerns is way too serious, though - no "Blazing Saddles"?

Blogger GFS3 said...
Hi Linda:
You're right -- I didn't include any "real" comedies (if you discount Butch and Sundance).

My favorite line from "Blazing Saddles":

"You've got to remember that these are just simple farmers. These are people of the land. The common clay of the new West. You know... morons."

Thanks for stopping in Linda!

Blogger Dave Zeltserman said...
What about "The Man Who Shot Libery Valance", "Little Big Man", and the greatest Western of all, "The Good, The Bad & The Ugly"???

Blogger GFS3 said...
Hey Dave:
When your you born 1930? But I will give you "The Man Who Shot Liberty Vance." It's a great movie by Ford and Wayne and Stewart were fantastic.

I was wondering when someone was going to notice no "Good, Bad and Ugly" or, in fact, anything by Sergio Leone. I respect him for his trailblazing themes and how he "redid" the western -- but I find his films long, uneven and boring.

I'm actually going to write a longer post on that topic soon -- with better supporting evidence.

I won't even comment on "Little Big Man."

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