There have been hundreds of great western movies created over the last 80 years. Western movies peaked in popularity during the 1950’s and 1960’s. Over the last 10 years, fewer westerns have been made and it is rare to find them playing in the cinema. Most of the greatest actors and many notable actresses have appeared in western movies. In many ways, western movies are some of America’s most unique historical depictions.
Many westerns were loosely based on fact. Others were infused with congruent references to life in the wild, wild west. Western movies portrayed rugged characters in all mannerisms. They were true reality shows. The land itself, hostile Indians, weather, disease, starvation, lack of water, and numerous “bad guys” all contributed to the defeat of many settlers and travelers.
Western movies often introduced us to the vastness of the scenic old west. Life was often tedious much of the time. However, the characterizations of all types of individuals would often lead to a masterful story. The best western movies were mostly fictional, but they never lacked for coherent identities.
Many western movie buffs would consider The Wild Bunch as the best western movie ever made. The story takes place in the early 1900’s, at the very end of western savagery. Bank robbers are pursued into Mexico by a hired posse after a failed robbery, set up by the bank’s owner. The thieves display a fearless bonding while the posse is made up of inept recruits. Despite the rollicking final gun battle, the adventurous characters in this film leave their mark. Through a series of complex events, the thieves become entangled in the Mexican revolution. In the end, it is the revolutionaries who end up killing the bandits. Their bloody last stand turns the final page of the story known as the great taming of the west.
In similar fashion, in a far away land, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid meet the same fate. This time the bank robbers are finally outsmarted buy a relentless posse. This duo, along with their female accomplice, end up in Bolivia. Butch and Sundance meet their end at the hands of the state’s army. This is not before they are chased halfway across the western expanse by a posse determined to never give up. Faced with the possibility of death, these two contemplate every method of suddenly going straight. They have gone to far over the line and discover they can’t turn back.
The Magnificent Seven features a made-up gang of gunslingers that are hired by Mexican farmers. The farmers have be ravaged for years by a famous Mexican bandit. They decide to hire some guns and learn how to fight for themselves. Offering a pittance of $20 for six weeks of work, the farmers are able to persuade a notorious gunfighter to fight for their cause. This gunny is able to find six other gunmen to join him. The battle rages back and forth with each side appearing to win out. Finally, the gunmen are able to kill off the bandits with the help of the farmers. Several of them meet their death during the final engagement.
A magnificent western called Shane, features a drifting gunfighter who ends up in the middle of a battle between a rancher and homesteaders. The rancher has been trying to drive off the farmers using non-violent tactics. The drifter goes to work with one of the homesteaders as he tries to give up his gunfighting ways. It works for a while, that is until the rancher hires a gunslinger of his own. The battle continues to heighten until finally the two gunmen square off face to face. The drifter soon discovers that it is not so easy to give up his guns.
The movie Warlock is a complicated masterpiece that eventually comes down to friends fighting against friends. A gang of rustlers has been coming to town and killing off sheriff after sheriff. The town hires a special “peace-keeper” who brings his long time friend to help him clean up the town. Meanwhile, the territorial marshal hires a new sheriff who turns out to be one of the rustlers that decides to quit the gang. In the end, the professional peace-keeper ends up killing his long time partner. The new sheriff eventually faces off with the gang of rustlers. It is friend against friend as the sheriff finally confronts the hired peace-keeper.
Two old-time outlaws join a young gunman on a bounty hunt in The Unforgiven. A reward has been put out by a group of harlots after one of them is abused by a paying customer. The young gunman persuades the older outlaws to help him kill the cowboys responsible for the attack. The hunt goes fairly well until the town sheriff interferes. After the cowboys are killed, the sheriff captures one of the old time gunmen and proceeds to kill him. The remaining old-timer goes after the sheriff and his posse seeking his revenge.
It was a common practice for many Indian tribes to capture white children and turn them into slaves. The western movie titled The Searchers, gives a vivid account of young white children being captured. The subsequent search for the captives drags on year after year. As time goes by, the complexities of bringing back long time captives presents many problems. It is a known fact that many prisoners were assimilated into the tribes that took them from their homes. They often chose to continue to live as Indians rather than go back to civilization.
The way this western movie deals with this process of abduction is closely related to actual known events.
Many a western story revolved around the railroad. In the movie, Once Upon A Time In The West, the entire theme is entangled in the building of a new railroad station. This brilliant saga mixes several factions into a war for the land that has what the railroad needs, water. The battle is waged between a widow, an outlaw gang, a railroad kingpin and his hired thugs, and a stranger out for revenge. As scene after scene plays out, it becomes more uncertain as to which party will win the prize.
A retired sheriff faces off against four killers in High Noon. This fine western movies masterpiece starts out slowly and picks up the pace as the minutes tick by. Unable to recruit any help from the town, the sheriff is left to fend for himself. The gunslingers are out for revenge and will stop at nothing to see their antagonist shot down. As the hour of noon approaches, the situation grows ever so tense. Out-gunned, the sheriff has no means of escape.
His final fate has been delivered; or has it?
The list of western movies equal in stature to those previously mentioned is long. Films such as Dances With Wolves, Rio Bravo, Gunfight At The OK Corral, True Grit, Silverado, The Far Country, The Big Country, The Oxbow Incident, Ride The HighCountry, Open Range and The Good, The Bad and The Ugly all tell quintessential tales of the old west. It was a time of expansion in an ever-changing landscape for a country struggling to become whole. Western movies portray the battle between good and evil like few other’s can.
Western movies are often violent, passionate and surreal. The wild west was all that and more. It took a tough breed of adventurers to tame an unforgiving land. Western movies are a breed all their own.