Top 5 Favorite Westerns (That Aren’t The Good The Bad and The Ugly)
3.) “True Grit” (2010)
“True Grit” is one of the very few remakes of a classic film that not only works, but is better than the classic version. The original has John Wayne in the role that won him his only Oscar for Best Actor. For many people John Wayne is THE cowboy actor, but I personally never liked him as an actor (or person). Still I have to admit the original is very good as is Wayne’s performance. It’s the kind of movie that doesn’t really need a remake. However, when you have master filmmakers like the Coen Bros making the film you get a remake that’s more than worthy. Even if it wasn’t a remake it would still be a fanatic movie and adaptation of a great novel. Both versions are pretty close, but when you line up all the changes to the book they add up to about the same. What’s interesting is the two versions are really similar, but the changes in one zig where the other zags. Meaning one version will add something in one part and the other version keeps that part like the book, but then will change a different part of the story.
One of the most important changes are the endings. The original is basically a typical John Wayne ending, the new one ends like the book. Not to spoil anything, but the ending to the book and this movie have something more interesting to say about the nature of revenge. To me what’s most important is that an adaptation captures the spirit of a book. Well even when this version adds in new scenes it FEELS like the book. It even adds some extra depth with the characters. I already went over how great Haliee Steinfeld is in the LEAD role in another article. Jeff Bridges really creates an unique take on the character of Rooster Coburn. It’s one of the rare cases of two sets of actors being nominated for playing the same character. My only complaint is that he keeps using this weird voice that was so interesting at first in any film where he plays someone old or country. Needless to say that’s a lot of his movies now.
Yeah, you knew Clint Eastwood’s masterpiece would have to be on this list. Written by David Peoples (co-writer of “Blade Runner”) in the 70s it was picked up by Clint Eastwood. He loved the script, but knew he was far too young to play the lead. So he sat on the rights until he was finally old enough to play William Munny. Now in my personal opinion Eastwood should have stopped acting after this film. Not because I dislike him as an actor. Far from it, he’s one of my favorite actors of all-time. In fact, I think he still had some damn impressive roles after this like in “Million Dollar Baby.” However this film and this role in particular would have been the PERFECT final film for him. His career got started with westerns and this film perfectly deconstructs them and revenge in particular.
The story is about a famous killer who years ago reformed and started a family. An aspiring gunslinger convinces him and his old (also reformed) partner to go on one last mission to catch some cowboys who cut up a prostitute’s face. A subplot revolving around the sheriff of the town played by Gene Hackman in one of his best roles is great. At first it may seem disconnected, but just go with it and I think you’ll find it really works. I’ll tell you what I really like about it. From a certain angle Gene Hackman’s character would be a traditional hero in another western. Ya he takes a little too much pleasure in punishing criminals, but they’re still criminals that are breaking the law. It just so happens that we’re following the story from Eastwood’s point of view instead of Hackman’s. The ending is chilling it delivers an exciting climax for a western. While at the same time making Clint Eastwood the scariest he’s ever been. Full of great lines like “deserves got nothing to do with it.”
1.) “The Gunfighter”
I suppose the best way to discuss this film would be to explain how I originally came across it. I was reading some trivia about “High Noon” (another great western) on IMDb. One was about how Gregory Peck was originally offered the main role. It was one of his few professional regrets. What was the reason he turned it down at the time? He thought it was too similar to another film he made. That made me curious about this and I had to watch it. “The Gunfighter” is about an outlaw named Jimmy Ringo. Forgive me for this minor detour, but you may recognize that name if you know your famous cowboys history. Johnny Ringo was an outlaw who fought Doc Holiday and Wyatt Earp. Like the entire OK Corral gunfight he’s often blown out of portion. “Tombstones” makes him into a psychopath. Nobody knows for sure the circumstances of his death. So why is the main character of this film named so similarly? I don’t know! Some of his exploits sound vaguely similar, but the ending of this film does not match up with history so I guess it was just a reference. I found it a little distracting, but that’s really my only complaint with the film.
Right away the film subverts your expectations. There are two types of bad-guys in westerns. The main ones, these are typically corrupts officials or leader of a group of bandits. Then, there are the little cocky jerks. Typically they’re only in one scene towards the beginning. Basically they exist to annoy the cool badass hero and pick a fight to allow us the audience to see how fast they are at the draw. They rarely have anything to do with the rest of the film. Well here it seems like that at first until they mention that the little squirt that Ringo killed is the younger brother to a group of cowboys who’ll want revenge. Ringo heads to a small town to try to see his ex-lover. All the years on the road, never being able to stay somewhere, always being challenged to a gunfight has changed him into wanting to settle down and leave that horrible life behind him. Sadly it seems too late as too many people recognize him and have friends and family that have been hurt by Ringo in his youth.
Still it helps when you have famous good-guy actor Gregory Peck playing your lead. You really feel like he’s cursed, but has changed into a better man. The film is told in real-time which amplifies the tension of if he’s going to get what he came for from the town before that group of cowboys arrive. The film never feels slow while watching. You may have sensed a pattern with a lot of entries here. I tend to really like films that take a honest, adult view of the nature of revenge. There’s a reason most heroes in film are motivated by revenge. It’s very simple to get across to the audience. However, most view it as simply as good-guy is hurt by bad-guy, good-guy gets their revenge and suddenly everything is better. I think most people are well aware that doesn’t work like that in the real-world, revenge may for a time make you feel better, but it tends to do more harm to the survivors than good. Westerns by their nature really work for revenge stories so I’m always glad to see a film take a long hard look at it.