Even more than Man of Steel, The Lone Ranger is the poster child for our culture’s terminal inability to offer children today heroic role models … I’ve seen many movies that were objectively worse than The Lone Ranger. Very few have made me angrier.
Putting Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford in Stetsons is clearly an excellent idea. Both men have faces made for Westerns, rugged and rough-hewn. There is a sense of stoic reserve and working-class grit about them; neither is the sort of man one can only imagine being an actor, or leading a life of privilege.
The Coens’ film is franker than its predecessor about the violence of the old West and of Portis’s book; it is also franker about the religiosity, from frequent scriptural references to a score shot through with hymnody.
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is the best name for a western of any film in history. It’s the second half of the title that does it — the editorial moralizing, redolent of a 19th-century dime novel or monograph. The kind of thing that boys like young Bob Ford eagerly devoured in their beds at night as they dreamed of being daring and admired like Jesse James.
Although not as nerve-wracking as High Noon, 3:10 to Yuma is even more claustrophobic — the heart of the film is the verbal sparring between Evans and Wade in a second-story hotel room — and the two-character drama is more intriguing than High Noon’s protagonist standing alone.
There’s no spiritual duel, no earned respect and debt of honor. There is just a broken man and a capricious one: one harboring hopeless dreams of being a man again in the eyes of his wife and son but no hope of achieving it; the other larger than life, an implacable force of nature able to kill men and seduce women essentially at will, and who never has any reason to honor or respect the other man, but could conceivably take pity on him and go along with him, if it strikes his fancy.
In the end, in its easygoing, nonpolemical way, Brokeback Mountain is nothing less than an indictment not just of heterosexism but of masculinity itself.
More precisely, it’s a “funny family action film” in the Fantastic Four mold — that is, a movie whose key qualification as kid entertainment is that it isn’t good enough for grown‑ups. Too bad. Our kids deserve better. For that matter, so do we.
Thrilling, heartbreaking, witty, romantic, and largely family-friendly, The Mask of Zorro is possibly the best swashbuckler of its decade, a film at once true to the spirit of the classic period actioners and also thoroughly of its own time.
That the film’s title mentions neither Wyatt Earp or the O.K. Corral is an indication of the lightness with which My Darling Clementine carries the legendary baggage of its subject matter. Unlike such self-conscious later films as Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (or, more recently, Wyatt Earp and Tombstone), nothing about My Darling Clementine betrays any awareness that the viewer is supposed to know these names and events. My Darling Clementine exemplifies the mythology of the old West, but it never feels like an act of myth-making — or demythologizing. As Battleground is to The Battle of the Bulge, My Darling Clementine is to Shootout at the O.K. Corral.
John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart. Two American icons that embody such different ideals that it’s almost inconceivable that they should both play heroes in the same film.
The reputation of John Ford’s The Searchers as a classic but troubling Western in which John Wayne plays an Indian-hating racist is so widely accepted that it’s a bit of a surprise to discover that the film, and the character, are in fact more complex than the reputation suggests.
"It’s not just a dog story," writes Annie Dingus in Texas Monthly, "it’s a rite of passage for American children." She is right. "Who saw Old Yeller?" Bill Murray asks a bunch of American soldiers in Stripes, trying to define our national spirit. "Who cried when Old Yeller got shot at the end? Nobody cried when Old Yeller got shot? I’m sure. I cried my eyes out!" And on NBC’s "Friends," ditsy Phoebe had a sudden unpleasant revelation as she realized that all her life her parents had always turned off the film before the climax, sparing her the film’s heartbreak — but also its life-affirming wisdom.
A mounting sense of dread and inevitability hangs over Fred Zinnemann’s grim, downbeat Western classic High Noon, a black-and-white anti-spectacle about an aging lawman who receives a series of nasty shocks on the day he tries to hang up his gunbelt and begin a new life.
Stagecoach is not the greatest Western of all time, but has been called the first great Western, and played a key role in the status of the Western as the quintessential American genre.
If the Western is the quintessential American mythology, Shane (Alan Ladd in his best-known role) is the Western’s great knight–samurai archetype: stern in battle, mild with women and children, siding with the wronged, honoring marriage.
In place of Ford’s iconic but Indian-hating cowboy hero, Howard gives us two white protagonists who are each, in their own ways, the antitheses of the John Wayne character.
The brief story is as simple as it is tragic. Recent incidents of cattle rustling have a small Nevada town jumpy, and news that a popular local rancher has been murdered has the townsfolk up in arms. In the absence of the sheriff, a self-appointed posse forms under the leadership of an ambiguously disreputable ex-Confederate officer, despite the ineffectual protests of some, including the town judge.
Oklahoma! was the first of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s musical collaborations, and it changed the face of musical theater.
James Garner brings a variation on his "Maverick" persona to this classic satirical Western that, even more than Destry Rides Again, does for Westerns what The Princess Bride did for fairy-tale fantasy, at once spoofing and honoring the genre’s conventions and clichés.
You haven’t seen Zorro until you’ve seen Douglas Fairbanks Sr. as Zorro in the 1920 silent swashbuckling classic.
Powers can’t match the original Zorro’s astonishing acrobatics and doesn’t try — but the rousing climactic duel against Basil Rathbone’s villainous Captain Esteban, one of the best swordfights ever filmed at that time, almost makes up for it.
Gunplay is largely restricted to a single, lengthy sequence; and, where in a typical action movie thousands of bullets might be expended without anyone in the audience batting an eye, in this film every bullet counts, and the viewer feels its impact.
A classic satirical action-comedy Western, Destry Rides Again pits mild-mannered sheriff’s deputy Jimmy Stewart a reverse type of the typical John-Wayne two-fisted straight-shooting cowboy hero against a lawless town full of swindlers and murderers where sheriffs tend to wind up dead.
A strangely grim indoctrination into the politics of victimization, Spirit apparently expects kids to slog willingly through scene after scene of this stuff, not because it’s all such fun to watch, but because the filmmakers are so sure it’s Good For You.
By the time the credits roll, we’ve had a whirlwind tour of virtually everything you can do in a Western. There are shootouts, standoffs, ambushes, jail breaks, posse pursuits, wagon convoys, saloon gunfights, outlaw hideouts, family feuds, wounded heroes, bucket-line firefighting, a cattle stampede, and much more.
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.