The Sons of Katie Elder(1965), directed by Western veteran Henry Hathaway, and starring John Wayne and Dean Martin, is an entertaining, old-fashioned, atmospheric Western in which 4 brothers take revenge on an evil entrepreneur who killed their father and stole their land.
Most famous in John ‘Duke’ Wayne’s filmography for being the first film he made after licking the ‘Big C’- to which he lost one lung and two ribs- “The Sons of Katie Elder” is a middling traditional Western directed by the ever-dependable Western Veteran Henry Hathaway, who has made better movies with Duke- remember “North to Alaska” and Oscar winning “True Grit”. This sometimes entertaining, sometimes meandering, extremely well shot- by the great cinematographer Lucien Ballard in picturesque Mexican locations- and well acted Western has its moments, but never fulfills the potential that its initial portions promised us. But the film still possess some of Hathaway’s trademarks; like the atmospheric use of locations, sets and animals(read horses), as a well as an affirmation of traditional Western values(good triumphs evil, son(s) avenges parents’ death) avoiding the reflection and self-reflection that was creeping into Westerns of the time, with a solid ensemble cast at the center. Hathaway would take this “avenging the parents’ murder” to its bloody extreme with the very violent Steve McQueen vehicle, “Nevada Smith,” which he would make the very next year. I think that film is far superior than this one, though watching John Wayne in a Western and Steve McQueen in a Western are very different kind of experiences, and each provide their own pleasures. After the more rollicking and rambunctious adventures of ‘North to Alaska“, “The Comancheros” and “McLintock!”, “Katie Elder” finds Duke in a more pensive and serious mode (a continuation of his character in “In Harm’s Way“), though the film itself becomes too silly and routine to exploit these facets of Duke’s characterization to its advantage. This two hour long film feels rather too long at times, and though they are psychological undercurrents in the film, it’s not something that would tax an average viewer. But still, the film remains more or less an engrossing watch, coasting on Duke’s charisma and a solid supporting cast. This film is about four (estranged)brothers- Duke plays John, the oldest, a gunslinger; Dean Martin is Tom, a gambler wanted for murder; Earl Holliman is Matt. an unsuccessful businessman; and Michael Anderson Jr. plays the youngest brother, Bud, attending college- who reunite in their hometown of Clearwater, Texas, in 1898 (after a long separation) for the funeral of their mother, Katie Elder. Katie, a widow, who died poor, was much loved and respected member of the community. Katie had been living in semi-poverty since the death of her husband Bass Elder several months previously under suspicious circumstances. Her former ranch is now owned by gunsmith & rising entrepreneur, Morgan Hastings (James Gregory), who is outwardly friendly but worried about John Elder’s presence. He has hired gunman Curley (George Kennedy) in case a showdown with John is necessary.
But John and his brothers have lot more on their plate- particularly, coming to terms with their grief and the regret that none of them have lived up to their mother’s high expectations. On top of that, the townspeople are unfriendly to the brothers for neglecting their pioneer mother- who had nothing but good things to say about her sons till the end; the new deputy sheriff Ben Latta (Jeremy Slate) is also very hostile towards them, especially to John and Tom because of their profession. The Elder brothers are surprised when they come to know that their mother owned nothing when she died; that their father gambled away their rich ranch to Hastings. Their surprise turns to suspicion when they come to know that their father was treacherously shot in the back and killed the very night that he lost the ranch. The Elder brothers decides to do some investigation of their own and they march into town, only to realize that the townsfolk are reluctant to talk to them about the whole affair. Sheriff Billy Wilson (Paul Fix) who had already warned John to keep a low profile, also ask them to drop their investigation, but the brothers persist. A visit to Hastings’ ranch bring them face to face with Hastings’ cowardly and nervous son, Dave (Dennis Hopper), who gets into an argument with John; in the course of which they’re confronted by Latta, who tries to arrest the brothers, but is disarmed by Tom. The brothers decide to give themselves up anyway, but the Sheriff let’s them go.
A rancher named Striker agrees to let the brothers drive a herd of horses from his ranch in Pecos to sell to the miners in Colorado, on credit, a deal he started with their mother. While the brothers are out driving the horses, the Sheriff is murdered outside the Elders’ home by Hastings. Sheriff had started getting suspicious of Hastings’ involvement in the death of Bass Elder. So, Hastings had to get rid of him. Hastings also manages to put the blame of Sheriff’s murder on the Elders. The Elders are arrested on their way from Pecos, but the judge, fearing there might be a mob lynching, orders them to be taken to Laredo for safety, shackled in wagons. On the way to Laredo, Hastings’ goons led by Curly ambushes them on a bridge. Though Latta is not in on this conspiracy, many of his deputies are, and they hold Latta at gunpoint while the Elders are fired upon by Curly and his men. The Elders manage to sneak under the bridge, but Curley plants dynamite under the bridge, and in the explosion, Matt is impaled by a splinter of wood and dies. In the shootout that follows, John kills Curley and Bud is seriously injured. John and Tom manages to beat back the ambushers, and then they return to town to take revenge on Hastings. In town, they take refuge in the smithy, and they tell the Judge- who’s also now the acting Sheriff- that they can prove their innocence in the Sheriff’s murder, and they will surrender only to a U.S. Marshall. As they await the Marshall, Tom, in a daring move, kidnaps Dave- who’s in a state of panic. As he leads Dave to the smithy at gunpoint, Hastings shoots Tom in the back, but Tom still manages to make it to the smithy with Dave. Now Hastings, who has followed both of them, shoots and kills Dave before he could spill anything to the judge. But Dave, though mortally wounded, still manages to give testimony against his father- in the crimes of killing Bass Elder and the Sheriff. Now exonerated of all crimes, and having known the truth about his father’s murder, John madly pursues Hastings, and after a fierce gun battle, John ends up blows up Hastings’ gun shop, with Hastings in it. The film ends with an image straight out of a John Ford movie: Katie Elder’s rocking chair- a symbol of homely comfort- swaying to and fro in front of the fireplace.
“The Sons of Katie Elder”, which mixes human drama, action, mystery, comedy and pathos, with Duke essaying the saintly, larger than life role of the eldest brother devoid of any romantic attachments, is the archetypal ‘John Wayne Western’; though strictly second tier. It’s not bad at any point, and even very good in certain portions, but it does not rise to being remarkable. The middle section of the film is unnecessarily dragged out; the best moments in the film happens in the first act and towards the end of the third. The central mystery of the film is pretty non-existent; we are on it right from the beginning, even when the brothers are running around like headless chickens looking for clues; and it also doesn’t help that Morgan Hastings is a cardboard villain doing the most clichéd things a Western-villain does. George Kennedy, who’s in top form as the intimidating Curly, does not get much to do, and is killed off rather unceremoniously in a crossfire. A real pity, because the character has been built up to such heights, starting with the ‘typical’ Western train station sequence- where the brothers await the arrival of John Elder, and instead it’s Curly-dressed in all-black- that arrives- a scene that proved to be a direct inspiration to Sergio Leone while conceiving “Once upon a time in the West(1968)”; even the names of the towns are similar, here “Clearwater”, there “Sweetwater”. Apart from an amusing scene where Duke belts Kennedy with a two-by-four, and a tense standoff between Kennedy and the brothers in a saloon, Kennedy’s presence doesn’t amount to much. There also appears to be lot of inconsistencies regarding plot development: Katie Elder is revered as some sort of Mother Teresa by the townsfolk, yet they’re fully content in letting her die in penury. Neither do the townsfolk help her when her husband is treacherously murdered and when her land is taken away. The question also remains as to why the brothers chose to return only for their mother’s funeral, and not after their father is murdered. Maybe it was meant to protect the saintly aura around Katie Elder; though never visible in the film, it’s her presence that permeates the entire film. Apart from her, the only other female presence in the film is provided by Martha Hyer as Mary Gordon- the girl who was devoted to Katie in her lifetime- and her role doesn’t amount to much in the overall plot of the film.
The most striking moment in the film is the introduction of Duke’s John Elder; this could be Duke’s most iconic introduction scene since John Ford’s “Stagecoach”- that made him a star. It’s Katie’s funeral, and the three brothers (minus John) along with many townsfolk are present in the cemetery. A massive rock formation overshadows the land,, and as the camera slowly pans towards those massive boulders, a small figure. appears in between two giant boulders, as if he was part of them and has been standing there from time immemorial. And when the camera cuts closer, we see the familiar visage of John Wayne dressed in his usual Western costumes and gear as John Elder, solid and still, observing the funeral from high above. This marriage of man and nature, star and landscape is something director Henry Hathaway does so well, and there’s no better star\actor who can embody this moment better than John Wayne. He has been a Western icon for so long, that he assumes the permanence and grandeur of landscape effortlessly, and the moment becomes mythic. Duke was at least 15 years too old for the part of John Elder. If you look at the dates on his father’s tombstone, you can see that he was either 63 or 64 when he died. Duke was 57 when he played this role. He was also 36 years older than Michael Anderson Jr., who played Bud, the youngest of the Elder siblings, making their surname particularly apt for Duke. But one accept these things without any questions in a John Wayne Western. Another thing we notice is that the action scenes, especially the ‘ambush on the bridge’ and the climax, is more brutal than most Duke movies. The action scenes are well handled though, and proved to be one of the major highlights of the film.
Another major highlight of the film is Elmer Bernstein’s superb score. After “The Magnificent Seven”, Bernstein had been the go-to guy for punchy western scores. Bernstein had given a spectacular score for Duke’s “The Comancheros”, and his score here shares The Magnificent Seven’s brassy exuberance and driving, syncopated backing, and is one of Bernstein’s best scores; it works superbly for both the rousing and somber moments. This film also marked a reunion of Duke and Dean Martin after their very popular pairing in Howard Hawks’ “Rio Bravo”. As in that film, Duke’s screen relationship with Dean Martin is easygoing; there is even a reference to “Rio Bravo” at the end, where we find Duke and Martin holed up in a besieged town waiting for the arrival of the U.S. Marshal. A key figure in the creation of the film was the legendary producer, Hal B Wallis. When he was an executive producer at Warner Bros. in 1930s and 40s, he was behind some of the greatest films made at the studio including “Casablanca”. But after some differences of opinion with Jack Warner, he left the studio and joined Paramount Pictures. “The Sons of Katie Elder” was a project that had been bouncing around the studio since 1955 until Wallis took it up. He had planned it to be one of his super productions on the lines of “Gunfight at the OK Corral“, with John Sturges directing and Burt Lancaster starring as John Elder. But that plan came to naught, when Lancaster rejected the film on the grounds that it was a routine western with unsympathetic characters. Dean Martin was always penciled in for the second lead, but everybody from James Stewart to Charlton Heston was considered for the role of John Elder until Duke signed on.
But days before shooting was to start, Duke found out that he had lung cancer. He requested Wallis to recast the picture with Kirk Douglas, in case he did not survive the surgery. But Wallis was adamant that nobody else but Duke would play John Elder. So, while Duke battled cancer, Wallis held firm in his determination to make The Sons of Katie Elder with Duke and nobody else; this is despite the pressure from the studio and his production-partner to proceed with Robert Mitchum or William Holden. For someone regarded as an old-Hollywood cold-blooded movie-mogul, Wallis demonstrated a remarkable degree of personal integrity and loyalty to a star with whom had no prior professional or personal relationship. Once Duke survived the surgery, and was declared fit to work, he cut shot his recuperation period and immediately went before cameras for the film. But Duke was not in peak form, he was overweight; the added pounds and the overall weakness, as well as constantly being out of breath at such high altitude, made it a very difficult shoot for him. On top of that, Henry Hathaway- whom Duke referred to as “the meanest son of a bitch in the business” didn’t show him any leniency; He worked him like a dog, forcing him to do most of his stunts himself- but somehow he got through the tough shoot. He knew his future in Hollywood depended on his completing this film, and though he hated Hathaway for what he put him through, he was ultimately grateful to the director, because it proved that He was still the same old “John Wayne.” Katie Elder was the first of Duke’s movies filmed in what would become his favorite western setting, a series of sets and locations in Durango, Mexico; and most of his film from hereon will be shot there.
The Sons of Katie Elder opened July 1, 1965, to good reviews and great business. The film placed number 15 on that year’s top-grossing films. It was also in the top 10 of the most successful Westerns of the 60s. Much of the success was mainly due to the publicity generated from Duke licking Cancer. In the beginning, Duke’s cancer was kept a secret from the public, but after successfully beating the disease, Duke decided to make it public; so as to provide hope for millions of people afflicted by the dreaded illness. The Mexican sets of “Katie Elder” had been swarming with press throughout the shoot; everybody eager to cover Duke’s first film shoot post his health scare- and Duke did not disappoint them; doing most of the stunts, like jumping into the river and getting dragged through the freezing waters, all by himself and right in front of the visiting press; Though Duke caught pneumonia on account of these actions, these press stories of Duke’s undiminished ability and courage ensured that the film received great publicity. Duke loved making movies, and was willing to go to any extend to make sure that he continued making them; and making commercially successful films was one way of ensuring it. The reaction of the public to Duke successfully surviving the illness was overwhelmingly positive. As he expected, it helped reduce the fear around the dreaded disease; Duke has proved that cancer could be cured, and one could actively get back to their former life. Earlier, when film stars had cancer or any such dreadful disease, the studios would go to any lengths to hush it up, but Duke triumphing cancer turned out be the most heroic thing he has ever done, whether in real-life or reel-life; and going public with it only strengthened the perception that Duke, in real-life, was as courageous, all-conquering, indestructible, and larger-than-life as he appeared on screen.
The Christmas Western That’s Also One of John Wayne’s Best – My Blog
THE BIG PICTURE
3 Godfathers is a touching story of redemption, highlighting the capacity for even troubled characters to change. The film uses deliberately slow pacing to emphasize character development and showcase stunning natural environments. Christmas is an important part of 3 Godfathers, but the film’s positive message about humanity and forgiveness resonates beyond religious beliefs.
Few partnerships in cinematic history are quite as successful as John Wayne and writer/director John Ford. Ever since their first collaboration on the breakthrough 1939 adventure film Stagecoach, Wayne and Ford have told innovative stories about the American experience that revolutionized the Western genre. While Wayne starred in many Western classics, his work with Ford often embraced the darker side of the genre; 1956’s The Searchers featured one of cinema’s definitive anti-heroes, and 1962’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance examined the rise of political tension at the tail end of the Western era. Despite the gravity of many of their best collaborations, Wayne and Ford were also able to take a lighter approach to the genre. This is best evidenced by their delightful 1948 western 3 Godfathers, a Christmas-themed adventure movie that drew from Biblical passages. While on the surface it looked like a typical crowd pleaser, 3 Godfathers used its Christmas themes to tell a positive story of redemption.
3 GodfathersThree outlaws on the run risk their freedom and their lives to return a newborn to civilization.
Release DateJanuary 13, 1949DirectorJohn FordCastJohn Wayne , Pedro Armendáriz , Ward Bond , Mae MarshRuntime106 minutesGenresDrama , Western
‘3 Godfathers’ Is a Touching Story of Redemption3 Godfathers follows the cattle raiders Bob Hightower (Wayne), Pete (Pedro Armendáriz), and William “The Abilene Kid” Kearney (Harry Carrey Jr.), who rob a bank in the wholesome town of Welcome, Arizona. Ford intentionally starts the film like a typical Western and uses the opening sequence to examine the characters’ morality. Welcome is virtually undisturbed by violence, and is decorated with eloquent festive decorations. While the heist sequence itself doesn’t cause any significant damage and leaves no casualties, it’s enough to disrupt the fragile peace. Depicting Bob, Pete, and William as troublemakers that damaged a community gives them the capacity for redemption. Although many of Wayne’s leading roles were as nearly flawless heroes, 3 Godfathers forced him to play a character of a more checkered morality.
While the heist sequence is an exciting way to start the film, the inciting incident comes shortly thereafter when the three bandits become trapped in a brutal sandstorm and discover a covered wagon that has been damaged by the weather. Within the wagon is a pregnant woman (Mildred Natwick) who is dying; despite their best efforts, Bob, Pete, and the Kid are only able to save the child. Her dying wish is for the three men to protect the boy and bring him to safety. While the prospect of three quirky outlaws trying to bring an infant to safety seems rather silly compared to Wayne and Fords’ other collaborations, the film shows that the child’s innocence is at stake. Collateral damage has never been a concern for Bob before, but seeing an innocent infant in danger forces him to reconsider his life’s work.While the woman’s death and childbirth are treated with gravity, 3 Godfather is a more humorous film compared to Ford’s other westerns. Wayne is often not given credit for his talents as a comedic actor, as he wouldn’t star in the western comedy McLintock! for another decade. Watching Bob, Pete, and William attempt to bathe, feed, and entertain the baby is immensely entertaining, as it’s clear that none of them have ever seriously considered fatherhood. Their lives as bandits are so exciting that the prospect of “settling down” never felt like a possibility. Although watching over the child initially seems like a burden, all three men discover that empathy has its own rewards.
‘3 Godfathers’ Uses Deliberately Slow Pacing
Ford is a favorite filmmaker of directors like Steven Spielberg because of the deceptive simplicity of his stories. 3 Godfathers is relatively light on action, saving the majority of its set pieces for the opening and closing moments. While the lack of forward momentum could have been a determinant of the film’s pacing, the straightforward story allows 3 Godfathers to put a greater focus on its characters. It’s entertaining to see how Bob, Pete, and William each draw from their own experiences as they figure out what they must do to ensure the infant’s help. While their disagreements over the best parenting practices (including one particularly amusing argument over when to bathe the child) occasionally spark arguments, the characters are never aggressive and cruel to each other. The positive depiction of masculinity has made 3 Godfathers age very well in comparison to other Westerns from the classic era.
The gradual pacing also allows Ford to focus on the gorgeous natural environments. A recurring hallmark within Wayne and Fords’ collaborations is their grand scope, and 3 Godfathers uses its vivid cinematography to show the characters’ changing perspective. Bob, Pete, and William are only able to take note of the landscape’s natural beauty after they are forced to slow their pace to keep the infant safe; by moving at a slower rate, they finally recognize the natural beauty that has been in front of them the whole time. However, the gradual nature of their quest also exposes the characters to greater danger. While initially, the open Arizona desert feels exciting, the brutal weather constraints ultimately make their mission more strenuous. This is a piece of clever thematic storytelling on Ford’s part; he can suggest that the hectic lives that these men had been leading were unsustainable.Christmas Is an Important Part of ‘3 Godfathers’
Image via MGM
3 Godfathers serves as a loose retelling of the Biblical story of the Three Wise Men and Jesus of Nazareth; Bob even quotes specific lines from scripture during the bandits’ first encounter with the dying mother, and the characters head for a town literally named “New Jerusalem.” While some faith-based movies risk being impenetrable to a non-Christian audience, the film doesn’t require knowledge of its religious allusions to be entertaining. If the references to Biblical verse are ignored, 3 Godfathers still works as an entertaining adventure story. The themes of kinship, humanity, and forgiveness are universal, and not exclusively bound to Christian beliefs.With its open-hearted characters and tactful humor, 3 Godfather proves that sentimentality isn’t a bad thing. The film has a positive message about the inner goodness within everyone, and how even the most unlikely of characters can become heroes. While the Western themes make 3 Godfather perfectly suited for fans of Wayne’s filmography, it’s the film’s faith in humanity that makes it a Christmas classic.
3 Godfathers is available to rent or purchase on Apple TV.
Best Western Movie of Each Decade – My Blog
The Western genre has evolved greatly through its more than a hundred years of existence. From silent tales of honor and dignity, through the iconic look of John Ford and the coolness of Clint Eastwood, all the way to the deconstruction of the genre, each decade has had its share of the genre. The first years of the 20th century saw the Western become part of Hollywood’s agenda, and from the ’40s to the early ’60s, the genre reached its “golden age.”
From the ’60s onward, a much-needed reinvention of ideas and conventions found the genre-shifting toward the present. A new generation of filmmakers gave Westerns their own twist, eventually spawning a variety of subgenres that have been explored all the way into the present. Contemporary works like The Keeping Room, Power of the Dog, or The Rider, where a female-led cast or non-traditional masculinity is at the forefront of the movie, respectively, show just how exciting and diverse the genre has become.
With a rich past, an exciting present, and a bright future, Westerns are more alive than ever. These are the best of each decade, ever since the dawn of the twentieth century.Updated January 14, 2024: This article has been updated with additional Westerns from the current decade, along with where to stream them.The Great Train Robbery (1903)
One of the first-ever Westerns was made when the myth of the Old West wasn’t even that ingrained into society. The stories and legends of the American Frontier still managed to find their way into the American public through word of mouth and pocket novels, and so it arrived all the way to the East Coast in the mind of film pioneer Edwin S. Porter. The 12-minute silent film conveyed the story of a group of outlaws who plan to rob a train in the southwest. The gang not only succeeds in taking off with the look but also terrorize the passengers on board.
The Great Train Robbery Is The True Pioneering WesternThe creator of over 250 films between 1901 and 1908, Edwin S. Porter, made this crisp short film a thrilling ride for its time. With breakneck pacing, innovative cinematography techniques, and enormous potential, The Great Train Robbery became even more iconic because of its final shot consisting of the lead bandit taking aim at the audience, bringing viewers into his world of thrill and danger. In a way, Porter’s creative storytelling laid the framework for structuring the narrative for a Western. Martin Scorsese paid homage nearly 90 years later, ending Goodfellas similarly. Stream on KanopyHell’s Hinges (1916)
Triangle Film Corporation
Before Clint Eastwood, even before John Wayne, there was William S. Hart. This legend from cinema’s silent age was the first superstar of Westerns, who typically embodied characters who were honorable and morally incorruptible. In the one-hour film Hell’s Hinges, he plays a dangerous gunman named Blaze Tracy, who is commissioned by the local bartender and his accomplices to run out of town a recently-arrived priest and his sister. In turn, he is won by their sincerity and stands in their defense.
Tortured Gunslinger And His Silent RedemptionDirected by Charles Swickard, Hell’s Hinges came into movies just when the Western genre had begun to bloom. With Hart playing the intense anti-hero and bringing his Shakespearean to every scene, it was impossible for the film not to stand out. His conflicted knack for justice fuels every pulse-pounding cinematic shootout. While the drama and suspense were heavy and artistic enough, the complex character study hooked audiences. Hell’s Hinges proved that Westerns could also be a sophisticated form of entertainment. Stream on The Roku ChannelTumbleweeds (1925)
Speaking of William S. Hart, the old master continued with this underrated 1925 film, which was also his last. Self-financed, produced by and starring him, Tumbleweeds depicts the Cherokee Strip land rush of 1893. The movie sees his character, Don Carver, lighting up for one last adventure. This time however, he simply wanted to buy some land and settle down with Molly Lassiter, whom he fell in love with at first sight. Marked by warmth and wisdom, the movie celebrated Hart’s indelible impact on turning westerns into vehicles for storytelling.
Tumbleweeds Is An Iconic Cowboy’s Final RideIn 1939, Tumbleweeds was revived by Astor Pictures and enjoyed another theatrical run. The film now began with an eight-minute monologue by William S. Hart in which he reflected on the Old West and his heyday. This was the only time audiences ever heard his voice, which is much more moving when put in the context that Tumbleweeds was his last ever film. By the mid-’20s, however, audiences were no longer interested in Hart’s brand of westerns, for which he was subsequently dropped by Paramount. Despite its critical praise, the film performed mildly at the box office and has been largely forgotten, which is a huge shame. Stream on Fubo TVStagecoach (1939)Despite being director John Ford’s first Western in over a decade, Stagecoach is to this day one of the most important Westerns ever made. It redefined the genre by being more than what it promises. Its profound narrative is really an allegory for the formation of The United States. The plot follows a group of people traveling on a stagecoach as they learn from one another through the journey and its perils. Being locked in a tense and claustrophobic environment really sets the stage for massive character studies. One of John Ford and John Wayne’s most enduring classics provides fantastic insight into social classes, prejudice, and change.
The Timeless Appeal of Ford-Wayne CollaborationStagecoach is a must-watch for any enthusiast of the Western genre because of its ability to keep creeping forward toward a greater sense of understanding. Ford sharpens his genius for layered narratives and riveting action set pieces to comment on a society that is ever-evolving. As for John Wayne, the actor comes into his own alongside veterans like Thomas Mitchell, Claire Trevor, John Carradine, and more. From the landscape to the sparse dialogue, the film is simply an hour-and-a-half-long masterpiece of the genre. Stream on Prime VideoMy Darling Clementine (1946)My Darling Clementine is one of the few times when John Ford and Henry Fonda came together to create an enduring classic. The film, which follows the legendary Western character Wyatt Earp and his brothers, is a beautifully romantic revenge story. Arriving at the town of Tombstone for a night of rest, Earp wakes up and discovers that one of his brothers has died and their cattle are stolen. Despite the urgency of the plot, the Western remains unique in the legendary director’s filmography for its patient pacing and tone. It’s a quiet masterpiece that often gets overlooked compared to the many that Ford has made.Why My Darling Clementine Is A Cultural TouchstoneFew director-actor combos were as successful as John Ford and John Wayne. However, people often forget they had other classics aside from their Westerns, and people often forget, as well, that Ford was just as brilliant in his works as Henry Fonda. In the 1946 film, the director found boundary-pushing heights by unlocking a softer side to the genre. Its subtle and soulful amalgamation of romance, violence, and justice in the untamed West reminds you of the tenderness that lies beneath the rough. Fonda, as usual, imbues his character with both immense grit and vulnerability. Rent on Apple TVThe Searchers (1956)The Searchers find Ford and Wayne at the top of their capacities, creating a morally ambiguous Western whose influence is felt up to this very day. It concerns a Civil War veteran who, for years, searches for his abducted niece while being accompanied by his adopted nephew. For its underlying narratives tackling race relations, prejudice, and moral dilemmas, and its iconic use of the audiovisual language specific to the medium of film marked a before and after in not only Westerns but in cinema itself.
The Frontier’s Edge Has Never Been More GloriousAs long as there have been Academy Awards, there have been major snubs. The 29th edition of the Oscars left out, without a single nomination, one of the most lauded and influential motion pictures in film history. Only later has its impact been recognized, with the American Film Institute naming the film as “greatest American Western.” Like few other films before or since The Searchers radically changed the game by showcasing America’s darkest aspects. From the identity crises to shifting social sands, its bleak interpretation of what’s to come in the future poses more questions and concerns than answers and comfort. Rent on Apple TVOnce Upon a Time in the West (1968)As times and film changed, the 1960s saw an exhaustion of the traditional formula of Westerns. A new way of using the genre came to be through the brilliant mind of Sergio Leone. His reinvention of the genre came to be known as “spaghetti westerns” and was very different from your traditional tales of the Old West. Once Upon a Time in the West follows the story of a mysterious harmonica-playing gunslinger who becomes the only person to protect Jill McBain’s life and newly inherited land from bandits scheming to seize it from her.
Leone’s Slow-Paced Western Is A Blessing To CinemaLeone’s ‘Dollars Trilogy’ with Clint Eastwood began to cement his legacy, and by 1968, he created the definite western of the ’60s. Framed against the epic scope of America’s Western expansion, its surprising plot twists and intricate details make the film high art. Once Upon a Time in the West is an all-star affair featuring Henry Fonda unusually cast as a villain and a magnificent story made with the help of, surprisingly, Dario Argento and Bernardo Bertolucci. With Ennio Morricone’s humble score pulsing through like a heartbeat, the film is an homage to the genre as well as a step forward in it and has some of the best performances in any Western film. Rent on Apple TV
McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971)
Described by director Robert Altman himself as an “anti-western,” McCabe and Mrs. Miller is a profoundly original and modern take on the genre. Witty, funny, romantic, and heartbreaking, the film is part of Altman’s great run in the early ’70s and uses the West as an excuse to talk about America itself. Set in the 19th-century Pacific Northwest, the plot follows a gambler and a prostitute who fall in love and do business together. Their initial success, though, is fatally doomed.How McCabe & Mrs. Miller Subverts Clichés Within The GenreAltman strips all conventions bare here. He recasts the West as an anti-romantic fairy tale and gives us a moldy and muddy picture of the frontier village. The period setting and the epic production value make even its bleakest aspects seem realistic and accurate. Warren Beatty and Julie Christie’s soulful leads are so fascinating that you cannot help but root for them to end up together. That said, the film’s iconic approach, landmark setting of snowy Vancouver, and a deeply depressing score by Leonard Cohen set it apart from any other Western ever made. Rent on Apple TVHeaven’s Gate (1980)Directed by Michael Cimino, Heaven’s Gate tells the story of County Sheriff James Averill, who is tasked with protecting immigrants in 19th-century Wyoming. But as change progresses and political tensions between the two parties rise, he finds himself embroiled in a game of betrayal and violence. Nate Champion, the man appointed by Averill to keep the stockmen in check, commits a crime and ends up in a feud with the Marshalls. The film follows a dispute between poor immigrants, wealthy cattle farmers, and the woman they love.Heaven’s Gate Was Too Ahead Of Its TimeAt its time, Heaven’s Gate was a commercial and critical flop, which is what happens when an epic film soars too close to the sun. Today, it’s seen as one of the most misunderstood films ever, and a masterpiece in its own right. The infamous production, which had numerous setbacks, influenced critics way before the film was in theaters and is said to have helped destroy the auteur approach of New Hollywood that had developed in the ’60s and ’70s. The new director’s cut of the film gave Heaven’s Gate a new place in history, and rightfully so; it proves to be arguably the most imaginative and accomplished western of its decade. Stream on Prime VideoUnforgiven (1992)
Release Date August 7, 1992Director Clint EastwoodCast Clint Eastwood , Gene Hackman , Morgan Freeman , Richard Harris , Jaimz WoolvettRating RMain Genre Western
Charting off into the ‘90s, we have Unforgiven. The film is directed by Clint Eastwood, who also stars in it. Fun fact: Eastwood had been offered the Unforgiven script since the early ’80s but held onto it for a decade until he felt he was old enough to play the lead. He plays William Munny, a former gunslinger and aging outlaw who gave up on his life of violence and remorseless killing after marriage and turned to fighting instead. He takes one last job to earn money for his family and is soon embroiled in a sadistic showdown.Unforgiven Is The Story Of A Man With A Regrettable PastThe ‘90s were a golden period in Eastwood’s magnificent life when he allowed themes of the Old West to meet their twilight. The result was patient, morally complex, and mature Western films that marked Eastwood’s long relationship with the genre. Along with notable stars like Gene Hackman, Richard Harris, and Morgan Freeman, he crafted an achingly beautiful portrait of the toll violence takes on human life. His poised direction and acting are a poetic declaration of the genre’s influence on him and vice versa. Unforgiven still remains a touchstone of the genre, and the idea of an old retired gunslinger has been the basis for many popular stories, including Logan. Rent on Apple TVNo Country For Old Men (2007)
No Country for Old Men
Release Date November 8, 2007Director Ethan Coen , Joel CoenCast Tommy Lee Jones , Javier Bardem , Josh Brolin , Woody Harrelson , Kelly Macdonald , Garret DillahuntRating RMain Genre Crime
The Coen Brothers have often played around the Western genre, from the sounds of The Big Lebowski to their remake of True Grit in 2010, but their definitive take on the genre is their 20007 film, No Country For Old Men. This Academy Award-winning masterpiece is led by career-defining performances from Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin, and Tommy Lee Jones. The movie is a dark story about the death of the old West and the birth of a much darker new one; it follows the lives of various characters as one of them comes upon a bag full of drug money, a catalyst for the madness that follows.No Country For Old Men Is A Neo-Western That Flows Like PoetryThe film is based on Cormac McCarthy’s novel of the same name, the narrative inhabiting the essence of Western conventions yet steering away from them in a fascinating way. Javier Bardem is malicious as Anton Chugar, playing an ever-changing game with Josh Brolin’s Moss. The movie is set against the backdrop of harsh landscapes, which makes for a complex and haunting mood. For its grim and unforgiving portrayal of modern border life, it surely is one of the most realistic modern Westerns and helped kick off a new-wave of Neo-Westerns for films like Hell or High Water, Logan, and Wind River. Stream on ShowtimeThe Rider (2017)Westerns’ ongoing deconstruction is partly thanks to the diversity of filmmakers tackling it. This has allowed for cinematic joy that is The Rider to exist. This ultra-low-budget project follows Brady Blackburn, a once-promising rodeo star, as he adapts to his life as a horse trainer after his skull gets crushed and he is unable to return to riding. Directed by Chloe Zhao, who would later win an Academy Award for Best Director for Nomadland and get a big studio film with Marvel’s Eternals, the film is a gorgeous journey of acceptance. The Rider presents a very different approach to masculinity than the one traditionally found in Westerns.Why The Rider Is A Tragic And Unconventional MasterpieceOne of the most poignant Westerns to date, The Rider creates a raw and intimate portrait of a man’s identity and his progress as he heals from a jarring life event. The film is led by non-professional actors, with breakout star Brady Jandreau delivering a grounded and graceful performance as the male lead. Sparse in dialogue, rich in experience, and driven by emotion, the movie is a contemporary classic that makes the Western genre more accessible to the new generation. It helped define Zhao as one of the best directors working today and alongside the release of Wind River and Logan that same year, 2017 was a great year for Westerns. Rent on Apple TVKillers of the Flower Moon (2023)
Killers of the Flower Moon
Release Date October 20, 2023Director Martin ScorseseCast Leonardo DiCaprio , Robert De Niro , Lily Gladstone , Jesse Plemons , John Lithgow , Brendan FraserRating RMain Genre Drama
Quietly examining America’s relationship with those people who turned it into the nation it is today, Killers of the Flower Moon is director Martin Scorsese’s latest epic. It adapts David Grann’s non-fiction book and depicts the true story of the Osage Indian murders in 1920s Oklahoma. The Osage people had become rich after oil was discovered beneath their land, but the darkness only cast upon their lives when Ernest Burkhart returned from World War I and married Mollie Kyle, an Osage woman with headlights, to get close to her family’s money.Emotional, Brutal, and MagnificentRobert De Niro, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Lily Gladstone lead a talented ensemble of layered and complex characters. Scorsese channels the same visionary storytelling he’s known for to shed light not only on a forgotten piece of American history and deconstruct the Western genre but also highlight the plight of the Native American people, a community often villanized in early Westerns like The Searchers and Stagecoach. Killers of the Flower Moon paints a horrific portrait of an unsettling time when criminal acts of injustice were shaping the country. From its attention to factual details to the pulsating score, this thought-provoking epic is destined to join the ranks of the most impactful films in the Western genre. Stream on Apple TV
The “pansy” role that “embarrassed” John Wayne – My Blog
While the likes of True Grit, The Searchers and Rio Bravo saw Wayne deliver his highly masculine take on the acting profession, smoking and fighting his way through scenes early in his career, he also had to take on some projects in order to get his career up off the ground in heading for stardom.Following the box office failure of The Big Trail, Wayne had to star in a number of B-movies throughout the 1930s until he starred in John Ford’s Stagecoach. One such instance came in 1933 with the pre-Code western musical film Riders of Destiny, in which he starred as the second iteration of the singing cowboy Singin’ Sandy Saunders.Ken Maynard had already portrayed Saunders in the 1929 film The Wagon Master, and while Wayne took on the role, it was not one that he would hold close to his heart for the remainder of his life. In fact, Wayne actually felt embarrassed over his performance, particularly because he did not want to be associated with singing characters that he perceived as weak.Writer Michael Munn wrote in John Wayne: The Man Behind the Myth, “He started at Lone Star as Singin’ Sandy Saunders, the singing cowboy, in Riders of Destiny. It was something that would haunt Wayne for the rest of his life as the subject of his singing would often be brought up.”“I was just so fucking embarrassed by it all,” Wayne once said of his performance as the singing cowboy. “Strumming a guitar I couldn’t play and miming to a voice which was provided by a real singer made me feel like a fucking pansy. After that experience, I refused to be Singin’ Sandy again.”It’s clear that Wayne’s singing voice as Singin’ Sandy Saunders in Riders of Destiny was not anything like his actual speaking voice; that’s because it was provided by Bill Bradbury, the son of the film’s director Robert N. Bradbury. Still, the film’s reception led fans of Wayne to ask him to sing, a request that he simply refused each time.Check out the full version of Riders of Destiny below.
John Wayne’s Explosive Encounter Standing Up for a Young Marine Against Heckling USC Students Inspired ‘The Green Berets’
John Wayne Shouted a Gay Slur to Describe Kirk Douglas’ Costume Choice
‘Gran Torino’: Clint Eastwood Co-Star Bee Vang Blames the Film for ‘Mainstreaming Anti-Asian Racism’
Entertainment5 months ago
John Wayne’s son speaks on military service, Hollywood life and his dad, ‘The Duke’ – My Blog
Entertainment5 months ago
40 Legendary John Wayne Quotes – My Blog
Entertainment5 months ago
New biography reveals the real John Wayne – My Blog
Entertainment7 months ago
Why one POPULAR ACTOR was FIRED from THE SONS OF KATIE ELDER and lost his career as a result! – Old western – My Blog
Entertainment5 months ago
How Maureen O’Hara Broke Her Hand During Iconic Scene With John Wayne – My Blog
Entertainment6 months ago
Rio Lobo (1970) marked the last collaboration between John Wayne and Howard Hawks. – My Blog
Entertainment5 months ago
Did John Wayne really have a good time filming 1972’s The Cowboys? – My Blog
Entertainment5 months ago
John Wayne and the ‘Bonanza’ Cast Appeared in This Epic Coors Light Commercial – My Blog