The hard part is just choosing a few, that is if you consider 13 a few! I suppose you can, considering all the great western movies that have been made in the last 106 years. Which brings me to the first movie on my list:
The Great Train Robbery (1903) was directed and photographed by Edwin Porter, a former Thomas A Edison cameraman. It was a silent film, of course. It is 10 minutes long and has only 14 scenes and was filmed in the rugged wilds of....New Jersey? Of course, they could hardly film it on location since it really was still the wild, wild west at that time! The story was said to be based on actual hold-ups perpetrated by the real Butch Cassidy and his Hole-in-the-Wall Gang, which leads me to.....
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Were Paul Newman's eyes ever bluer? Was Robert Redford ever sexier? Was any western "bromance" any closer...until Brokeback Mountain? I've watched this movie a hundred times and know almost every line. "Are you crazy? The fall will probably kill ya!"
Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Yeah, Tombstone (both Kurt Russell's and Kevin Costner's versions) told more of the background story and they were prettier to look at, but "Gunfight" was an original (My Darling Clementine with Henry Fonda was the first). And you can't go wrong with Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas as Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday...two over-the-top performances that are an impersonator's dream.
Lonely Are the Brave. Kirk Douglas plays a cowboy in the sixties who can't quite adjust to the modern world. He finds out that a friend is doing time in jail for helping illegal immigrants to cross the border, so he decides to get himself arrested to help his friend escape. When he gets inside, he finds out the friend would rather stay and do his time so that he can go home to his family, instead of spending his life on the run. Kirk breaks out with the help of his faithful horse, Whiskey, and is pursued by the sheriff, played by Walter Matthau. ( I know! Walter Matthau as a sheriff? But, it works.) The lovely Gena Rowlands plays his friend's wife. It has one of the saddest endings ever.
The Man from Snowy River. Jim Craig (Tom Burlinson) lived his first 18 years in the mountains of Australia on his father's farm. The death of his father forces him to go to the low lands to earn enough money to get the farm back on its feet. Kirk Douglas plays two roles as twin brothers who haven't spoken for years, one of whom was Jim's father's best friend and the other of whom is the father of Jessica (Sigrid Thornton) the girl he wants to marry. A 20 year old feud re-erupts, catching Jim and Jessica in the middle of it as Jim is accused of letting a prize stallion loose. The scene when Jim rides the stallion down a steep cliff is just breathtaking.
Cat Ballou. The drunkest gunfighter in the West takes on evil Railroad magnate! Jane Fonda plays Cat and she hires Kid Shelleen (Lee Marvin) to kill the S.O.B. railroad man who killed her father. It's really funny and Lee Marvin plays the best drunk ever....hmmmm, maybe he wasn't acting? There's also singing.....which leads me to.....
Paint Your Wagon. Now, tell me, do you think of singing when you think of a Clint Eastwood western? Clint and Lee Marvin (in another funny role) play prospectors who share the same wife (the beautiful Jean Seberg). Believe it or not, this film was written by Paddy Chayefsky, directed by Joshua Logan, and the music was written by Alan Jay Lerner .
The Outlaw Josey Wales has Eastwood as a wanted man. He was a peaceful farmer near the end of the Civil War until a gang of renegade Union soldiers burns his home and murders his family. He vows to destroy the ones who took his "life". He joins up with a band of guerilla fighters after the Confederacy surrenders and sets out on a mission of mayhem and destruction. No matter how much Josey tries to deny it, his persona of peaceful farmer and builder of life comes through and finally he is able to listen to his inner yearnings to be that person again.
Unforgiven has been hailed as one of the greatest westerns of all time, with good reason. This movie is chock-full of great characters and performances by Eastwood, Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman and Richard Harris. Clint Eastwood tells a great story about good and evil and the not-quite-good and the not-quite-evil. The shootout with "Little Bill" Daggett is classic and pure Eastwood.
The Cowboys is my favorite John Wayne movie and you can't mention western movies without listing a few of his films. Mark Rydell, who wrote and directed "On Golden Pond", directed this movie. Wil Anderson (John Wayne) is a rancher who has to get his cattle to market to avoid financial disaster. All the cattle drivers who usually ride with him desert him for the promise of "thar's gold in them there hills". He is forced to resort to hiring young schoolboys. There is only one among them who has any experience, and he is only 15 and the oldest of the bunch. Needless to say, they run into their share of troubles and catastrophes along the way, but none more menacing than a gang of cattle rustlers led by the evil Long Hair (Bruce Dern in a perfectly cast role). These "cowboys" may have started out as greenhorns and little boys, but they ended up as true men of the west.
True Grit. Slap an eye-patch on John Wayne and give him a bottle and you've got "Rooster" Cogburn, a washed-up, drunken, don't-give-a-damn U.S. Marshal with a reputation for getting the job done. Mix him up with a teenage girl, Mattie Ross (Kim Darby), seeking vengeance for her father's death and you've got a match made in Cowboy Heaven. Throw in a little Glen Campbell (what?) and you've even got some cowboy singing. Now that's what I call a western!
"Boss Spearman (Robert Duvall) and Charley Waite (Kevin Costner) freegraze their cattle across the vast prairies of the West, sharing a friendship forged by a steadfast code of honor and living a life unencumbered by civilization. When their wayward herd forces them near the small town of Harmonville, the cowboys encounter a corrupt sheriff and kingpin rancher who govern the territory through fear, tyranny and violence. Boss and Charley find themselves inextricably drawn towards an inevitable showdown, as they are forced to defend the freedom and values of a lifestyle that is all too quickly vanishing. Amidst the turmoil, life suddenly takes an unexpected turn for the loner Charley when he meets the beautiful and warm spirited Sue Barlow, a woman who embraces both his heart and his soul." (from IMDB.com)This is one of David's favorite recent westerns, and he thinks it is a great vehicle for Kevin Costner's talents. And you can't miss with Robert Duvall playing the ultimate cowboy, and that leads me to......
Lonesome Dove is THE greatest portrayal of western cowboy life. Some of you will argue that it isn't a movie, and you would be right, it is a television mini-series. But to me it is a cowboy movie that just happens to be nearly six hours long (on DVD without commercials). The combination of Robert Duvall as Capt. Augustus McRae and Tommy Lee Jones as Capt. Woodrow Call is even better than Newman and Redford. They epitomize the former Texas Rangers turned cattle thieves that they portray. None of the actors who played them in the sequels can compare with their performances. Lonesome Dove has everything that you could want in a cowboy movie: cattle thieving, a cattle drive, lonely women, a prostitute with a heart of gold, beautiful breathtaking scenery, bad men with a heart of gold, bad men who are pure evil, witless bad men who bid the call of a woman who hankers after a bad man, hangings, boys who grow up in the time space of a cattle drive, death, snakes, and the neverending familial love between two men.
One of my favorite scenes is when Gus and Woodrow are getting ready to leave Lonesome Dove for the cattle drive to Montana. Gus insists on taking the wooden sign on which he has written something in Latin....
[referring to the Hat Creek Cattle Company sign]For those of you who have read Larry McMurtry's great book of the same name, you will know that in the book Gus and Woodrow run into a man who does read Latin and translates it for him.
Woodrow Call: ...and if that ain't bad enough you got all them Greek words on there, too.
Gus McCrae: I told you, Woodrow, a long time ago it ain't Greek, it's Latin.
Woodrow Call: Well what does it say in Latin?
[Gus blusters some gibberish]
Woodrow Call: For all you know it invites people to rob us.
Gus McCrae: Well the first man comes along that can read Latin is welcome to rob us, far as I'm concerned. I'd like a chance t' shoot at a educated man once in my life.
Never let it be said that cowboys were politically correct: