Wednesday, June 19, 2024


I know we have a lot of western movie lovers here—heck, we love just about ALL THINGS western, don’t we? Today I thought I’d talk a little bit about some western movies that are wonderful (for all kinds of different reasons) and one that, though it was highly acclaimed, is not among my favorites. (Please, hold the rotten tomatoes, and be kind!)

No one is ever going to agree with everyone about what makes a movie “great” or more meaningful, because viewers look for different concepts when they sit down and watch a movie. Some values, and “points to ponder”, are more meaningful to some than to others. There is no right or wrong here, just a fun discussion, so y’all chime in and don’t be shy!

I really don’t have a particular order for these except my favorite, and I’ll start with that one. I would definitely have to say my favorite is The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, starring John Wayne, James Stewart, Vera Miles, Woody Strode (as Pompey) and Lee Marvin—who was absolutely perfect for the Liberty Valance character. I realize that not everyone has seen all these movies, so will try not to give any spoilers. It’s very rare that I enjoy a movie more than the book it was taken from, but The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is one of those for me. It was taken from a short story by Dorothy M. Johnson. Although the actors who were slotted in the key roles were much more “mature” than they were in Johnson’s story, I can’t help but think of those portrayals as more realistic—probably because John Wayne’s Tom Doniphon and James Stewart’s Ransom Stoddard were embedded in my mind long before I ever read the short story.

An idealistic lawyer, Ranse Stoddard (Stewart) comes west to bring some law to a place that has none. Tom Doniphon (Wayne) generally pokes fun at him and the naïve way he handles himself. Stoddard changes Doniphon’s opinion as he shows the courage and backbone he’s brought with him to accompany his law books. At first, Doniphon faces down the ruthless Liberty Valance (Marvin) to protect Stoddard, but Stoddard learns how to use a gun and in the end, goes out on the street to face Liberty Valance in a fight he’s sure to lose. As the Gene Pitney song goes: “When the final showdown came at last/A law book was no good.” But…who really shot Liberty Valance? This is a movie you will not want to miss.

Another favorite is Purgatory—the story of outlaws who have died going to a place where they must be good for the length of their “sentence” if they ever hope to make it to heaven. So…what happens when some ruthless outlaws who are NOT dead find the town of Refuge? Is there any way the inhabitants can defend themselves without voiding the time they’ve spent there trying to do good?

The final showdown between both groups will have you on the edge of your seat. Now, bear with me. This sounds hokey, in a way, but it’s really a very interesting movie with a premise that I would not have thought of in a million years. Stars include Sam Shepard, Eric Roberts, Randy Quaid, Donnie Wahlberg (a few years before Blue Bloods) and musician/songwriter J.D. Souther, one of my favorite singer/songwriters, and one of my favorite characters in this movie. I hope if you haven’t seen this one, you’ll give it a chance—it is very entertaining and different.

Another classic, The Magnificent Seven—starring heavy hitters such as Yul Brynner, Robert Vaughan, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, and James Coburn—also makes my list of best westerns. A group of mercenaries band together to protect a small Mexican village from a marauding outfit of outlaws who will stop at nothing to take over. But…there are only seven of them and they must stand against what looks to be unbeatable odds.

Although it’s somewhat predictable, it’s one you won’t want to miss. Realistic, but avoids a lot of gore, and it’s well worth watching if for no other reason than the beautiful score by Elmer Bernstein. (Well, and who DOESN’T want to watch Yul Brynner in anything he’s in!)

John Wayne has made a LOT of western movies, but one of my favorites is El Dorado—probably because I really enjoy seeing Robert Mitchum in just about anything. This flick also includes James Caan in one of his very early appearances on the silver screen. In a nutshell, Cole Thornton (Wayne) is a hired gun who comes to the aid of an old friend, J.P. Harrah (Mitchum), a sheriff who has become a laughingstock because of his drinking. A wealthy cattle baron is determined to steal water from another ranching family, the MacDonalds, and hires his own gunfighter, Nelse McLeod, (Christopher George), an old nemesis of Thornton’s.

Is there any way that Thornton and Harrah can protect the McDonalds? It’s been common knowledge for years that Thornton and McLeod are evenly matched in their shooting abilities, and Thornton has a bullet lodged near his spine that sometimes affects his ability to draw and shoot—a secret he must hide if he has any hope of surviving and saving the MacDonalds.

As for western movies that didn’t make it to my “favorites” list, probably my number one pick for this week would be, surprisingly, a John Wayne movie that he often said was his own personal favorite—The Searchers. Many readers will disagree with me on this, I know.

Ethan Edwards (Wayne) returns to his brother’s home after an eight-year absence. In a nutshell, his brother’s daughters, Debbie (Natalie Wood) and Lucy, are abducted by Comanches. The Comanches have killed almost everyone else in the family and burned down the house.

Edwards goes in search of the girls, finding Lucy murdered. When, five years later, he and Martin Pawley (Debbie’s adopted brother) find Debbie, she refuses to leave with them. Edwards tells Debbie he’d rather see her dead than living as a Comanche and tries to kill her! Martin saves the day, and in the chaos, Edwards is wounded by a Comanche.

There’s a lot more to this before the end of the movie, but I don’t want to give away the last part of it. The main reason I don’t enjoy this one is because of Edwards’ obsession with finding Debbie, even to the point of wanting to kill her because she’s chosen to stay with the Comanche. Also, it just seems like this entire movie goes on and on and on…That being said, there’s no denying that I’m definitely in the minority. The Searchers won many awards and is filmed beautifully, and it’s hard to say anything bad about any movie John Ford directed. It’s a masterpiece, but it’s not my cup of tea, mainly because I was so disappointed in Edwards.

We’ll do more on this next month! I have really enjoyed revisiting these movies and I always see something I never saw before when I watch them. Hmmm…maybe I better give The Searchers another chance…

What’s your least favorite western movie and why?


  1. I couldn't get into "Monte Walsh". It may be a great movie, and in many respects it is, but...
    I love the 'Magnificent Seven" and the Kurosawa film "The Seven Samurai" that it is based on. The Kurosawa film...just love it and will watch it even if it has subtitles. LOL Doris

    1. Doris, I really didn't like Monte Walsh, either. It was really sad and boring. I wanted to be entertained, and that was not it. Love The Magnificent Seven, too. One of my very very favorites!