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In his final Western with John Wayne, John Ford subverts the myths of the Old-West that he himself created – Old western – My Blog

The Man who ѕһot Liberty Valance (1962) was the last western John Ford made with John Wayne. The film, also starring James Stewart, Lee Marvin and Vera Miles, is Ford’s most political film that subverts a lot of myths about the American West as well as the John Wayne persona that Ford himself created 

“This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”With that one line of dialogue, John Ford pretty much dismantles the entire mythology of the American west that he had created over a course of 40 years. This famous aphorism (One of the most famous lines in Movie history) is spoken by the character of a newspaperman in Ford’s 1962 western, The Man who ѕһot Liberty Valance. The naïve myths and legends (or untruths) that Ford had propagated about the civilizing of the West (and the building of the American nation), through the 70 odd films he made in his lifetime are all overturned by him in this film. This is also the last western he would make with his most favorite actor John Wayne, with whom he did close to 14 films. From the time Ford first teamed up with Wayne in Stagecoach in 1939, Wayne’s towering persona was Ford’s chief instrument in conceiving and propagating the myths about the old west. While Howard Hawks’ westerns emphasized professionalism and comradeship  among the settlers of the old west, and Anthony Mann’s westerns shed light on the dark side of this civilization: greed, vengeance and violence; the westerns that John Ford made were not just simple genre pictures, they were about the building of the American nation. His films appeared very simple and, at times, very simplistic, but they dealt with huge themes: the expansion of American military might, the conflict between the European settlers and native American civilizations, the establishment of law & order in the wilderness, and the coming of religion, trade and commerce; all these themes are reflected in one way or the other in all his westerns. His westerns were all optimistic in nature and concentrated on building a myth, rather than showing the gritty reality. His films begins on an optimistic note and ends on an optimistic note; even if the they would detour into darker, pessimistic territory in between, his films always end on a note of hope and glory. Take Fort Apache (1948) for instance, which is a strong polemic on American military intervention against the Native Americans. The film ends with the defeat of American cavalry and the pathetic ԁеаtһ of Col. Thursday (Henry  Fonda). But the very final scene of the film had John Wayne extolling the virtues of the American soldier, and in the background, the Cavalry is seen riding out take on the Indians. Ford turns the ending into a rousing beginning and constructs an elaborate mythology for the American military. Ford’s westerns portrayed truth, honor, courage, family and community as the chief weapons by which the American West was won. But as he would come to reveal in Liberty Valance, he was just printing the legend all along, leaving out the hard facts.In its tone, structure and visual style, the film is very different from other John Ford Westerns. Ford uses a flashback structure to tell the story; Ford’s films are usually very linear, and he seldom uses a scattered narrative. It is also his most claustrophobic western; ѕһot in Black & White and completely on a studio lot with minimal sets, the film has none of his trademark ѕһots of stunning landscapes and colorful panoramic vistas. But the most important of all, the film begins with the ԁеаtһ of his lead character, Tom Doniphon, played by none other than John Wayne. By putting John Wayne in a coffin right at the beginning of the film, Ford makes his intentions very clear. He is putting to ԁеаtһ all that Wayne represented in his westerns up until that time and for the rest of the film, he is going to painfully reconstruct the mythology of the west and Wayne through some cold hard facts. The story takes place in a fictitious town of Shinbone in an unnamed Western territory (probably Colorado).  As the film opens, U. S. Senator Ransom Stoddard (James Stewart) is arriving in Shinbone by the new railroad with his wife Hallie (Vera Miles). There are here to attend the funeral of a man named Tom Doniphon (John Wayne). Doniphon is not a person of any importance around town, just a sorry old man on the fringes, who passed away unnoticed. So the newspapermen are all surprised, as to why Ranse Stoddard: three-term governor, two-term senator, ambassador to the Court of St. James, would attend his funeral. And as they swarm around the senator for details, Stoddard starts recalling the events leading up to that day and, the film cuts to a flashback.25 Years ago, Shinbone was held in a grip of terror by the sadistic Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin), who committed many murders and enjoyed torturing his victims using a leather bullwhip. When Stoddard arrived in town by stagecoach, he was a fresh young lawyer with some romantic notions about bringing law & order to the west. But right on his arrival, he encounters the brutal Valance, who steals all his belongings and almost whips him to ԁеаtһ. Stoddard is saved by Doniphon, a local farmer and horse trader, who observes: “Liberty Valance’s the toughest man south of the Picketwire–next to me.”  Stoddard is nursed back to health by Hallie (Vera Miles). Valance and his two henchmen terrorize Shinbone, while the bumbling Marshal Link Appleyard (Andy Devine ) lacks the courage and ɡսո fıɡһtıոɡ skills to challenge him. Doniphon (who is courting Hallie) is the only man willing to stand up to Valance. But he is a sort of reluctant hero, who minds his own business, and is roused into action only if his path crosses with the outlaws. Stoddard continues to defy Valance and earns the respect of the townsfolk, by first opening a law practice in town and then starting a school for teaching illiterate townspeople. This leads to Stoddard being elected as a delegate (along with Dutton Peabody (Edmond O’Brien), publisher of the local newspaper) for a statehood convention at the territorial capital. But the plans of statehood for the territory upset the cattle barons, who recruit Liberty Valance to sabotage the delegation. Valance and his gang beat up a drunken Peabody nearly to ԁеаtһ, and ransack his office. He then throws down a challenge to Stoddard: leave town or face him in a ɡսոfıɡһt. Earlier, we have seen Doniphon training Stoddard in the use of ɡսոs, but finding Stoddard not up to the task, Doniphon had humiliated him. Now Stoddard accepts Valance’s challenge (ignoring Doniphon’s advice to leave town) to shoot it out with him. Stoddard goes into the street to face Valance. Valance toys with Stoddard, shooting his arm and laughing at him. The next bullet, he says, will be “right between the eyes”; but Stoddard fires first, and to everyone’s surprise, Valance falls ԁеаԁ. Hallie attends to Stoddard’s wounds and it appears to Doniphon that she has fallen in love with Stoddard. A dejected Doniphon, who was hoping to marry Hallie and move into his new house, gets drunk and burns down his house. His friend & Ranch hand Pompey (Woody Strode) saves him from the fire, but is unable to save the house. With Valance’s ԁеаtһ, the road is clear for Stoddard to become the delegate to Washington and with Doniphon out of the way, he can also marry Hallie. But things are not that easy. Stoddard decides that he cannot be entrusted with public service after killing a man in a ɡսոfıɡһt and he decides to withdraw. Here again Doniphon comes to his rescue. Doniphon takes Stoddard aside, and in a flashback within a flashback, confides that he, Doniphon, actually killed Valance from an alley across the street, firing at the same time as Stoddard. Now with his conscious clear, Stoddard returns to the convention, accepts the nomination, and is elected to the Washington delegation. The film flashes forward to the present, where Stoddard sums up the rest of his story. The territory is granted statehood and, being the man who ѕһot Liberty Valance, Stoddard became its first governor. From thereon, he goes onto even more heights in his political career, and now he is expecting a nomination to be the vice-president of the country. He had married Hallie in the interim, and now, they have come to pay their final respects to ‘The ‘real’ Man who ѕһot Liberty Valance. After hearing all this, the newsmen decide not to print the story, as the mythology that propelled Stoddard has to be protected at any cost.Director John Ford has been a pioneer, not only of the Western genre, but also the art form of cinema itself; he is an inspiration to some of the greatest filmmakers all around the world; Akira Kurosawa, Orson Welles, David Lean,.. Have all expressed their admiration and debt to Ford in developing their own cinematic technique. Rarely do we find the influence of other directors in Ford’s movies. But in Liberty Valance (as well as in his previous film Sergeant Rutledge) I find a strong influence of Kurosawa’s Rashomon; especially, dealing with the exploration of a particular event (involving a crime) from multiple vantage points. Also, the rumination on the differences between truth and fact was at the heart of Kurosawa’s classic. It’s much more explicit in Sergeant Rutledge, which transposes the incident involving rape and murder in medieval Japan to the American frontier west. In this film, it is related to the killing of Liberty Valance, which is shown from two different perspectives. First from the subjective perspective of Stoddard, and then an objective version, depicting the fact; that it was Doniphon who killed Valance, and not Stoddard. Ford uses a flashback within a flashback technique to accomplish this, which is very unusual for him. He always liked his films to be clean and straight, and any form of alteration to the classical structure of the film was anathema to him. He also hated, what he called, intellectual snobbishness, but, this film is the most intellectual of all his films, not to mention cynical, political, pessimistic and subversive. As opposed to his other films, this film begins on a sad note, and as it goes on, it become more tragic and dark and finally ends on a very pessimistic note. At the time of the film’s release, it was dismissed as a minor work from a master filmmaker, but watching it now , it shows his extraordinary growth as a filmmaker, which is not just restricted to its thematic resonance, but also extends to its visual and narrative stylistics. In its sparseness and interplay of light and darkness, Ford evokes moments from Film Noirs- where Wayne comes out of the darkness, shoots Marvin, and then recedes back into darkness.When John Ford and John Wayne set out to make this film, both of them were at a low stage in their life and career and, in their relationship with each other. After being one of Hollywood’s pre-eminent directors for more than three decades, Ford’s career was coming to an end. None of his recent films have been big hits, even the ones he made with John Wayne – like The Horse Soldiers– were failing to find favor with the audience. And after the flopping of “Sergeant Rutledge”, Ford found himself out of work. It was exacerbated by his failing health and his drinking problem, as the cantankerous Ford became even more of a misanthrope, thus alienating the big studios from hiring him. Meanwhile, John Wayne was reeling from the financial setbacks caused by his dream project The Alamo (1960), which he directed, produced and starred in. All his assets that he had accrued in his lifetime has been wiped out; on top of that, he too developed severe health problems (which was later diagnosed as lung cancer), which drove him into deep depression. Then there was also the fact that with the advent of 60’s, the social climate in Hollywood (and in America) was changing drastically. Big studios were giving way to Independents, and a new kind of gritty, violent cinema was being made for an emerging counter-cultural audience. Both Ford and Wayne were extremely depressed by this, seeing the American values that they held so dear, and which they propagated so passionately through their movies, slipping away. Ford had lost his faith in notion of community and those good old values and It is at this point that he mooted the idea of filming Liberty Valance. Legend is that Ford wanted younger actors for his film, and didn’t want to use John Wayne. His relationship with Wayne was a little strained at the time, mainly because of incidents involving Wayne’s directorial venture The Alamo, in which Ford worked as a second unit director. Wayne did not use any scenes ѕһot by Ford in the film (much to the chagrin of Ford) while Wayne was angry with the general impression that was created that it was Ford, and not him, who directed The Alamo; others believed Ford was jealous of Duke’s increasing success compared to his own sudden decline. Whatever the reasons, the end result is that the studios refused to finance Liberty Valance, if Wayne was not in the cast. So Ford had to go back to his favorite son to get this picture made, and he didn’t like it at all and neither did Wayne. Wayne was always against doing ‘End of the west’ westerns, because ‘End of the west’ means end of the western which translates as ‘end of John Wayne’. Also, he was angry that Ford always put him in colorless characters, while other actors in the film got all the juicy scenes. This will be very true for Liberty Valance; everyone except Wayne not only had the best scenes, but Ford made sure they all give the most flamboyant, over the top performances of their careers, to contrast with the sour and dour Wayne, who represented the truth and moral core of the film.Wayne had every right to be pissed at the character he was assigned; Tom Doniphon is the most Anti-Johnwayne character that Wayne has ever played. Usually, when John Wayne fans count the number of films in which Wayne had ԁıеԁ, they always miss out Liberty Valance, because he ԁıеѕ off-screen; but that only makes the character more insignificant; as opposed to films he ԁıеԁ on screen, like Ride the whirlwind, The Alamo or The Cowboys, where Wayne always got a heroic ԁеаtһ: he ԁıеѕ saving somebody else, or he ԁıеѕ for a greater cause. in Liberty Valance, he just slowly fades away from screen. He ԁıеѕ a drunkard, having lost everything in his life, unacknowledged and unknown. Wayne always plays characters who take charge of the situation, the guy who takes the fight to the opposition and, the contrast between him and the bad guy is always well defined. Here, Doniphon is a horse trader while the bad guy Valance is a stagecoach robber; within the framework of the film, both are from the same world and are pretty much allies; both are trapped in obsolescent careers, neither seems willing to adapt; they represent the best and worst of that  old-world. Valance can be countered only by Doniphon, but Doniphon is a man too busy with his own affairs to want power or to impose his own beliefs on anybody else. This makes Doniphon a very passive character with respect to Valance, which explains why a direct confrontation never takes place between them, though at many points in the film, they come close. What Doniphon craves most is domesticity, but by finally shooting Valance, he loses that opportunity; this makes Doniphon the most tragic character that John Wayne has ever. In this sense, the ending is eerily similar to The Searchers, except there he walks back into the mythical wilderness that he came from, here he is just silently absorbed by history.John Wayne would never play this character for anybody else, expect for his ‘pappy’ Ford. He always wanted to play heroes and he always looked at cinema as a medium for the audience to believe in heroes; there is the famous story where he chastised Kirk Douglas for playing a mad and tragic Van Gogh in Lust for Life. Wayne’s idea of himself always involved action and movement. Here, he is practically rendered motionless. Add to that the fact that he kills the villain, not face to face, but pretty much shooting him from the back- something that he abhorred and always criticized Clint Eastwood for doing. Another turn off  was the fact that  James Stewart’s Ransom Stoddard is the fulcrum of the plot and, for 99 percent of the picture, is also the man who ѕһot Liberty Valance. But Stoddard is a powerless man; powerless before Valance; and powerless before Doniphon; and Doniphon lets Stoddard have his woman, his town, and his West. Wayne losing out to such a loser of a character would anger any john Wayne fan, most of all Wayne himself  Wayne (and his audience) like to see Wayne triumphant, not as a tragic, moody alcoholic who ԁıеѕ off-screen. of course, Ford was making a larger point; that the kind of men needed to master the wilderness are the kind of men that can only function in wilderness; they are men who civilization must expel; If society is to benefit, then there is no place for either Valance or Doniphon in the new world.There was lot of tension between Ford and Wayne during shooting. Ford started the film full of enthusiasm and fire, but he lost interest in the film almost as soon as shooting began. His mood made life difficult for all the actors involved but he was especially tough on Wayne, who found himself in the direct firing line again. Ford had pestered Wayne to take up the role, because without him there would be no film. Ford was very angry about it, having to secure a favor from his protégée and he doubled down on his venom on Wayne during the shooting. Wayne was furious for allowing himself to get roped in to play such a passive character, which he found very difficult to play, and Ford’s behavior didn’t help.  When someone tried to comfort him that Doniphon was full of ambiguity and his mindset may help his performance, Wayne snapped back, “Screw ambiguity… I don’t like ambiguity. I don’t trust ambiguity.”  Wayne became surly and aggressive during the shoot and he started taking out his anger on everybody else on the set, except Ford. His chief victim was Woody Strode, with whom he very nearly came to blows. Fortunately James Stewart, one of Wayne’s closest friends, was the other star of the picture, and he afforded Wayne some moments of light relief. But Wayne continued to bristle about the bad experience on making the picture, years later he recollected on his experience: “It was a tough assignment for me because dammit, Ford had Jimmy for the shit-kicking humor, O’Brien playing the sophisticated humor, and he had the heavy, Marvin. Christ there was no place for me. I just had to wander around in that son of a bitch and try and make a part for myself”. But the fact is that Wayne is really good as Tom Doniphon; Both he and Stewart, who were 54 and 53 respectability, were too old for the parts, but the film could not have been made without them. They were playing dual archetypes of the myth: the grizzled veteran cowboy and the idealistic, young, city-slicker lawyer. Wayne was America’s favorite cowboy, while Stewart, having graduated from the school of Frank Capra, with Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and It’s a wonderful life is its favorite idealist. The age factor was a bigger problem with Stewart, because he was playing a guy half his real age for most part of the film, but with Wayne, he was again playing a personality, a symbol which represents some abstract values, so it was not a problem for him. And he holds the center stage in a film, with his quiet dignity and powerful, charismatic presence, where everybody else, including Stewart, is giving highly exaggerated, even cartoonish performances. Of course, the pick of the lot was Lee Marvin who portrayed the anger, maliciousness, and sadism of a man who symbolized all the lawlessness of the old west, and who refused to step gently aside to encroaching civilization. Marvin enjoyed playing the larger-than-life ‘Liberty Valance,’ which he did to the hilt, opposite iconic costars like Wayne and Stewart. But he was frustrated with his costars’ leisurely pace,; he was a guy who moved fast , talked fast and worked fast. Marvin stole almost every scene in which he is featured. This was a breakout role for Marvin, who has been struggling in supporting parts and TV roles. After this film, his career would see a meteoric rise and, by the mid 1960’s, he would become one of the top stars in the industry. He also got along well with John Ford; Marvin was in the Navy in WWII, like Ford and they bonded over that. Ford would repeatedly use Marvin (and Stewart, who also served in WWII) as a stick to beat John Wayne, who hadn’t served in WWII, something that always offended Ford.By the end of Liberty Valance, it was more than obvious that Ford and Wayne had come to the end of their long association, which started when Ford cast Wayne as an Odysseus like courageous hero in his western odyssey Stagecoach. From there to Liberty Valance, the character has now changed into a tragic hero, in the mold of Oedipus, who loses everything dear to him and wander off into the wilderness . There was nothing more for Ford to do with Wayne, at least in the western genre. They would make one more film together, the lighthearted comedy Donovan’s Reef (1963), and call it quits. Ford would make one more Western (without Wayne), Cheyenne Autumn (1964), the penultimate movie of his career which told the story of the Old-west from the perspective of the Native Americans. When Liberty Valance was finally released, it met with mixed critical reaction, the American critics didn’t think much of it, but the European critics called it one of Ford’s masterworks. The film, surprisingly for its downbeat nature, made money, at the box office, though not on the level of a John Wayne picture. The reputation of the film continues to grow over the years, and it was a big influence on Sergio Leone, who called this his most favorite Ford film. The film was a direct influence on Leone’s own ‘end of the west’ western Once upon a time in the West. John Ford ԁıеԁ in 1973, and even though they didn’t make any more films together, John Wayne would remain close to his mentor till his ԁеаtһ. Post-Liberty Valance, John Wayne would continued to be the most dependable American movie star of his times. He would also emerge victorious (at least temporarily) in his fight against cancer as well, and he would go on to enjoy more than a decade and half of solid superstardom, before he would finally succumb to cancer.

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The Christmas Western That’s Also One of John Wayne’s Best – My Blog


 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 Godfathers Film Poster
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.
John Ford sits with a pipe in front of a train in a custom image for The Iron Horse (1924)
‘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’
colorized still of John Wayne as Robert Hightower, Harry Carey Jr. as William Kearney holding a swaddled infant and Pedro Armendáriz as Pedro Roca Fuerte standing next to each other in a desert in 3 Godfathers (1948)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.

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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)
The Great Train RobberyEdison Studios
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)
Hell's HingesTriangle 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)
TumbleweedsUnited Artists
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)
Unforgiven (1992)
Unforgiven (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
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
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

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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.

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