Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

January 7, 2011

This commie’s favorite cowboy movies

Filed under: Film — louisproyect @ 9:13 pm

On December 30th, one Robert Knight (not the WBAI host) wrote this comment under my review of True Grit: “Sounds like communists just don’t know how to enjoy a good cowboy movie.”

Off the top of my head, I named these cowboy movies as my favorites in response:

1. Shane

2. One-Eyed Jacks

3. Unforgiven

4. Magnificent Seven

5. Johnny Guitar

6. High Noon

7. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

8. Ride the High Country

9. The Wild Bunch

10. McCabe and Mrs. Miller

I have one more to add to the list, the infamous “Heaven’s Gate” that destroyed director Michael Cimino’s career and, according to Steven Bach’s book “Final Cut: Art, Money, and Ego in the Making of Heaven’s Gate, the Film That Sank United Artists” was responsible for the collapse of the production company launched by Charlie Chaplin and other actors in an attempt to control over film-making against the ham-fisted studio system.

I want to say a few words about each of these movies, but want to explain right off the bat why there’s nothing by John Ford on the list. As for Ford, I respect his genius but I really have big problems with traditional “cowboy and Indians” movies. One of his greatest, according to critics and film scholars, is “The Searchers”, a film that is based loosely on the Comanche wars in Texas in the 1800s. According to most critics, it is a “revisionist” work that decries racism against the Indians. If I ever find the time to do a survey of popular and high culture (especially Cormac McCarthy’s “Blood Meridian”) on the Comanche wars, I will probably revisit this movie but will likely be less generous than other critics.

There’s also Howard Hawks’s 1948 “Red River” that pits John Wayne, an ex-Confederate warrior, against Montgomery Clift in what some critics regard as a homoerotic story with the two men suggestively exchanging pistols at one point. Clift, of course, was a closeted homosexual. I saw the movie long ago and could not help but shake the feeling that it was cliché-ridden. This was probably a function of having seen so many cattle drive movies in the 1950s that were obviously derivative of Hawks’s movie, not to speak of the staple television shows of the time, including “Bonanza”.

Let me start with “Heaven’s Gate”. This film was trashed mercilessly in the press when it came out in 1980. Vincent Canby of the NY Times wrote:

The point of ”Heaven’s Gate” is that the rich will murder for the earth they don’t inherit, but since this is not enough to carry three hours and 45 minutes of screentime, ”Heaven’s Gate” keeps wandering off to look at scenery, to imitate bad art (my favorite shot in the film is Miss Huppert reenacting ”September Morn”) or to give us footnotes (not of the first freshness) to history, as when we are shown an early baseball game. There’s so much mandolin music in the movie you might suspect that there’s a musical gondolier anchored just off-screen, which, as it turns out, is not far from the truth.

”Heaven’s Gate” is something quite rare in movies these days – an unqualified disaster.

The movie closed before I had a chance to see it, a victim of such reviews. I am not sure when I got around to seeing an abridged version, but I was anxious to see anything described in these terms: “the rich will murder the earth they don’t inherit”.

The best way to describe “Heaven’s Gate” is as Cimino’s homage to Italian Marxist film: Visconti, Pasolini and especially Bertolucci. It is based on historical events, the Johnson County Range Wars that pitted ranchers against immigrant small farmers. Kris Kristofferson, who played a sheriff who crossed class lines to join the farmers, had this take on the movie’s failure at the box office:

The film was about a dirty piece of American history that was the Johnson County Wars, where the money people, the Cattlemens’ Association, had a death list, had an army of mercenaries that was okayed by the US government to go in and wipe out these citizens that were supposedly poaching their cattle. They were primarily immigrants. Unfortunately the film came out right when Ronald Reagan came in office and it was – I remember Alexander Hague had a meeting of all the studio heads right before Michael’s film was screened and he said, “There will be no more films made with a negative view of American history, like ‘Heaven’s Gate'”. And there was 100 per cent negative reviews of – I’ve never seen anything like it, and I’ve done 82 films.

The director’s cut (219 minutes) can be rented from Netflix today, thank goodness.

Okay, proceeding to the rest.

1. Shane: I saw this 1953 film not too long after it came out and loved it, as did any other child who yearned for some kind of bonding with a father figure. Shane (Alan Ladd) is a retired gunfighter who shows up one day at the farm of Joe Starrett (Van Heflin) and goes to work chopping wood. Joe’s son Joey (Brandon De Wilde) soon begins to idolize Shane who does everything he can to persuade the boy to see him just as an ordinary man. Like “Heaven’s Gate”, this is a classic rancher versus farmer movie, with Jack Palance in the memorable role of Jack Wilson, a hired gun for the ranchers. A.B. Guthrie Jr., a newspaper reporter and novelist, wrote the screenplay. I read his novel “The Big Sky” about 10 years ago, one of the only that deals with the Blackfoot Indians. He is a damned good writer.

2. One-Eyed Jacks: This is the only film directed by Marlin Brando, who stars as Rio, a bank robber intent on robbing the bank in a town whose sheriff is Dad Longworth (Karl Malden), who was Rio’s partner in crime at one time but betrayed them on their last job. Brando falls in love with Dad’s daughter and the plot thickens. Screenwriting duties were shared by three greats: Sam Peckinpah (uncredited), Calder Willingham and Rod Serling (early draft). For all the hoopla over the writing in “True Grit” (either one), I much prefer the plain language of this movie. Watching Dad Longworth beating Rio to a pulp from a distance, Rio’s new partners, Harvey and Bob, deliberate:

Harvey: We better get down there and do something.

Bob: Do something? Not this old horse; Longworth’s got enough shotguns down there to start a war. Besides, this might help get some of that snot-nose out of him.

Ah, that’s the way I’d like to think cowboys spoke, even if it is much more the product of Sam Peckinpah’s pen.

3. Unforgiven: This film is influenced by “One-Eyed Jacks” in my view, with Gene Hackman playing the tyrannical sheriff of a small frontier town after ending a career as an outlaw himself. As is the case with Rio, the outlaw Bill Munny (Clint Eastwood) gets beaten to a pulp by the sheriff. Munny has come to town with his old partner Ned Logan (Morgan Freeman) to kill some cowpokes who had carved up the face of a prostitute during a drunken binge. The story is as simple as they come, almost biblical, and Eastwood is great. David Peoples, who wrote the screenplay, also co-wrote “Bladerunner” so it is obvious he knows what he is doing.

4. The Magnificent Seven: A western movie based on Akira Kurosawa’s “The Seven Samurai” that is arguably equal to the original. Directed by the great John Sturges, who also did “Bad Day at Black Rock”, this is a story of gunslingers who go to work protecting Mexican farmers against bandits for a pittance. In keeping with the spirit of Kurosawa’s original, the villagers are the true heroes. In this dialog, the hired gun O’Reilly played by Charles Bronson sets a young villager straight:

Village Boy 2: We’re ashamed to live here. Our fathers are cowards.

O’Reilly: Don’t you ever say that again about your fathers, because they are not cowards. You think I am brave because I carry a gun; well, your fathers are much braver because they carry responsibility, for you, your brothers, your sisters, and your mothers. And this responsibility is like a big rock that weighs a ton. It bends and it twists them until finally it buries them under the ground. And there’s nobody says they have to do this. They do it because they love you, and because they want to. I have never had this kind of courage. Running a farm, working like a mule every day with no guarantee anything will ever come of it. This is bravery. That’s why I never even started anything like that… that’s why I never will.

5. Johnny Guitar: Not really a great movie, but a must-see. This is a bizarre gender-bender with Joan Crawford playing Vienna, a gun-slinging saloon owner who takes up with Johnny Guitar, played by Sterling Hayden. Vienna’s nemesis is another woman Emma Small, played by Mercedes McCambridge. The two women have a duel at the end of the end of this odd Freudian 1954 movie. Director Nicholas Ray was widely admired by the French New Wave but then again so was Jerry Lewis.

6. High Noon: I guess that everybody knows about this one but I am not sure how many realize that this film reflected the witch-hunt in Hollywood:

In this spirit, High Noon set its sights on the political controversy settling over the most famous Western town of all. “What High Noon was about at the time,” its screenwriter Foreman admitted years later, “was Hollywood and no other place but Hollywood.” Translation: the Miller Gang were stand-ins for the gang from HUAC, the craven townspeople of Hadleyville were the cooperative witnesses who cowered before the committee, and the marshal followed the lone path of honor in a town without pity. Not too far under the surface, readily detectable by any viewer with the wits to spot a metaphor, High Noon acted out the high drama of conscience against expediency, personal codes against community values.

Full: http://archives.econ.utah.edu/archives/marxism/2002w37/msg00058.htm

7. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid: A pure confection in the same spirit of “The Sting” that also starred the very bankable Paul Newman and Robert Redford. Screenwriter William Goldman, who has written 16 novels, did research on real-life characters Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid for 8 years with the intention of writing a novel but decided finally to do a screenplay instead—his first. Goldman says that his favorite authors are Miguel de Cervantes, Ingmar Bergman, Anton Chekhov, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ross Macdonald, Somerset Maugham, Irwin Shaw and Leo Tolstoy. In a memoir titled “Adventures in the Screen Trade”, he stated that “Nobody Knows Anything” in reference to Hollywood. That sound about right.

8. Ride the High Country: This is a fairly conventional Western that stars Randolph Scott and Joel McCrea as aging ex-sheriffs hired to defend a gold shipment. This is, however, a Sam Peckinpah movie and that says a lot.

9. The Wild Bunch: This is Sam Peckinpah’s most famous movie and has the same kind of camaraderie as “The Magnificent Seven”, except that the protagonists are outlaws. The shoot-out between the gang and the Mexican army is legendary, with some film critics finding the violence gratuitous and tasteless. Since the film was made in 1969, it was natural that Peckinpah connect the movie with what was happening in Vietnam. The wiki on the film notes:

Director Peckinpah noted it was allegoric of the American war against Vietnam, whose violence was nightly televised to American homes at supper time. He tried showing the gun violence commonplace to the historic western frontier period, rebelling against sanitised, bloodless television westerns and films glamourising gun fights and murder. “The point of the film is to take this façade of movie violence and open it up, get people involved in it so that they are starting to go in the Hollywood television predictable reaction syndrome, and then twist it so that it’s not fun anymore, just a wave of sickness in the gut … It’s ugly, brutalizing, and bloody awful; it’s not fun and games and cowboys and Indians. It’s a terrible, ugly thing, and yet there’s a certain response that you get from it, an excitement, because we’re all violent people.”

10. McCabe and Mrs. Miller: This is my personal favorite and Robert Altman’s finest movie, in my opinion. Warren Beatty is John McCabe, a recent arrival to a tiny town in the Northwest where he sets up a brothel catering to miners. He soon becomes partners with Mrs. Miller (Julie Christie), an experienced and opium-addicted Madam from England. After a mining company orders him to sell the brothel and his stakes in nearby mines, McCabe refuses at first hoping to land a bigger payment. The bosses then send in 3 professional killers to get rid of him. In the climactic gunfight, McCabe makes sure to shoot his enemies in the back, apparently a much more realistic treatment of gun fights in the old west than Rooster Cogburn riding with his reins in his teeth and his six-guns blazing in each hand. The film score consists mostly of Leonard Cohen songs. You can’t do much better than that.


  1. Lou, I’ll keep droning on about this one: Fred Schepisi’s BARBAROSA,with Willy Nelson and Gary Busey, not to mention Gilbert Roland and Georg Voskovec. A romance quest structure, as Pauline Kael pointed out in her NEW YORKER review, with Willy Nelson’s Barbarosa as the dragon. His best film performance. Busey–as the German farmboy who becomes the new Barbarosa–gives a sense here of the incredible talent he wasted later on. Not all that interesting in class terms–most of these people are from the same class–but anthropologically fascinating in its focus on the cross-border region.

    “Barbarosa” was, originally, Frederick I, Holy Roman Emperor (1122-1190 AD), the object of a mystical cult that he would be magically reborn. This got all mixed up with crazy-ass Kaiser and Fuhrer mythology, and prompted a book (Hitler’s favorite) by Ernst Kantorowicz, a Jew but also a member of the right-wing militia that killed Rosa Luxemburg. Later an august Princeton History professor. Nothing Nazi-ish in Schepisi’s film, but there’s a little bit of the Barbarosa myth in the rebirth of Gary Busey in that role at the movie’s end.

    For an equally wonderful Western (of a sort) by Schepisi, see THE CHANT OF JIMMIE BLACKSMITH, finally out on US-accessible DVD after a wait of thirty years: class/race war in the Australian outback at the turn of the century. Based on Thomas Keneally’s novel, which was in turn based on the actual half-aboriginal, half-euro farmboy turned desperado, Jimmie Governor.

    God, yes, McCabe and Mrs. Miller–an amazing anti-capitalist movie, which shows small producers (or brothel owners) being chewed up by an invisible combine. The transition from the smarmy negotiator played by Michael Murphy to the three hired assassins is chilling. Beatty’s performance almost makes me want to forgive him for standing up and applauding Elia Rat Kazan at the Oscars. You’re right–Altman was never better. I’m not sure movies were ever better.

    Comment by Jim Holstun — January 7, 2011 @ 9:52 pm

  2. “Barbarosa” is fine, but my two favorites, from my childhood, are “For a Few Dollars More” and “Once Upon a Time in the West”. The Sergio Leone films went over well with Appalachian hill country types like my father, he took me to see “Dollars” at the drive-in when I was 7 or 8 years old. Fortunately, he didn’t know much about contemporary parenting practices. I like both better than “The Wild Bunch”. As far as Peckinpah goes, I like “Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid” better than the “The Wild Bunch”, too, it has a more wistful, reflective quality.

    I also think well of “Jeremiah Johnson”, although you’d probably be right if you said that it wasn’t a cowboy film. Finally, there’s Ford’s “My Darling Clementine”, one of the most visually arresting black and white films ever made, although it does have a nasty scene where Wyatt Earp launches into a racist attack upon a drunk Native American.

    While flawed, I thought that “Comes a Horseman”, with James Caan and Jane Fonda was a laudable attempt to create a contemporary, 20th Century western, although the “Chinatown” angle was a bit much.

    Comment by Richard Estes — January 7, 2011 @ 10:14 pm

  3. Lou,

    Dead Man, directed by Jim Jarmusch should be on your list. It’s not very proletarian, but a good western nonetheless. It does highlight white supremacy over Indians and nature as well and the brutality of 19th century capitalism.

    Comment by Sean Noonan — January 7, 2011 @ 11:39 pm

  4. I share the love of McCabe & Mrs. Miller, but the older I get, the more High Noon seems dishonest to me. It promotes the myth of the lone, strong man as much as Ayn Rand ever did, and its handling of pacifism is just simplistic. A realistic version of the movie would have word that the outlaws were coming, and damn near everyone who could shoot would be waiting on the rooftops for them to come into town.

    Comment by will shetterly — January 7, 2011 @ 11:41 pm

  5. Don’t you like the spaghetti westerns (Such as Duck you sucker, The Great Silence, A Bullet for the General…) or did you exclude them from the start as OT?

    Comment by Paolo — January 7, 2011 @ 11:45 pm

  6. Spaghetti westerns? I really hadn’t considered them. I am actually watching “High Plains Drifter” right now on AMC and it is damned good. However, I think that the writing is just not up to par with Sam Peckinpah et al.

    Comment by louisproyect — January 7, 2011 @ 11:53 pm

  7. Surprised you like that misanthropic Confederate Clint so much. High Plains Drifter is one mean-spirited movie. Are you familiar with the interpretation of Magnificent Seven as a rallying call for US expansion into Central America/Cuba (with Eli Wallach as Castro)?

    I strongly recommend ‘Dead Man’ if you haven’t seen it.

    Comment by Wayne Kasper — January 8, 2011 @ 12:37 am

  8. I agree with what folks have said about McCabe and Mrs. Miller, one of my favorite films. I’ll make a plug for Peckinpah’s Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid as a great Western. The restored version that came out a few years ago was stunning I thought. The scene with Slim Pickens bleeding out to Dylan’s Knocking on Heavens Door while the river flows is the best known but by no means only knock-out scene in the film. I find it similar to McCabe in a lot of way, including its sheer melancholy.

    Comment by Rustbelt Radical — January 8, 2011 @ 12:40 am

  9. Is High Plains Drifter spaghetti? I thought Eastwood directed it. I suppose I could imdb it. Speaking of which, what, no Outlaw Josie Wales? /joke

    Comment by godoggo — January 8, 2011 @ 1:09 am

  10. High Plains Drifter is one mean-spirited movie.

    Yeah, you’re right. It soured on me the more I watched it.

    Comment by louisproyect — January 8, 2011 @ 1:53 am

  11. Yes, I thought that “High Plains Drifter” was a Spaghetti Western since it starred Eastwood and shared a lot of the conventions (cartoonish violence, etc.) but I should have realized that without the Morricone music, it had to be something different.

    Comment by louisproyect — January 8, 2011 @ 1:55 am

  12. What are your thoughts on “Buck & the Preacher” ?

    Comment by epoliticus — January 8, 2011 @ 4:06 am

  13. “A realistic version of the movie would have word that the outlaws were coming, and damn near everyone who could shoot would be waiting on the rooftops for them to come into town.”

    Obviously, that’s not “High Noon”, but it is “The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid”. All of those wheat and potato farmers shot up the James Gang from every possible doorway and roof. My recollection is that it is a pretty good, one that didn’t romanticize the James Gang as much as others did.

    Comment by Richard Estes — January 8, 2011 @ 4:17 am

  14. Oops, forgot to mention “Will Penny”, where Charlton Heston gives a great performance as an illiterate line cowboy on a Wyoming cattle ranch. An unusual, understated, socially realistic western, with a poignant ending that suggests that the remainder of Penny’s life will be difficult and lonely.

    Comment by Richard Estes — January 8, 2011 @ 4:20 am

  15. Richard, that’s exactly the incident I was thinking of. The historical West is a lot more interesting–and a lot more communal–than the Hollywood west.

    Comment by will shetterly — January 8, 2011 @ 6:41 am

  16. Hi,

    Does anyone here know of any good non-fiction books about the historical west?

    Regards from Mikael (Malmö, Sweden)

    Comment by Mikael — January 8, 2011 @ 6:54 am

  17. Mikael, the best book about Tombstone and the OK Corral is almost certainly And Die In The West by Paula Mitchell Marks. It’s got one wrong bit that may’ve been corrected in subsequent editions: she accepted some bogus scholarship by Glenn Boyer, a now infamous hoaxer. But the rest of her research is solid, and her writing is very good.

    Comment by will shetterly — January 8, 2011 @ 7:09 am

  18. Cheers, Will. Sounds interesting. I´ll see if I find it on amazon.


    Comment by Mikael — January 8, 2011 @ 9:33 am

  19. Ok Louie 🙂

    Comment by Paolo — January 8, 2011 @ 12:14 pm

  20. I haven’t seen “Buck the Preacher”, but it sounds interesting. Here’s a snippet on it:

    From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    Buck and the Preacher is a 1972 American Western film starring Sidney Poitier as Buck and Harry Belafonte as the Preacher. Buck is a trail guide leading groups of former slaves trying to homestead in the West, immediately after the American Civil War. The Preacher is a swindling minister of the “High and Low Order of the Holiness Persuasion Church”. Together, they protect a wagon train from bounty hunters.[1]

    This is the first film Sidney Poitier directed. Vincent Canby of The New York Times said Poitier “showed a talent for easy, unguarded, rambunctious humor missing from his more stately movies”.[2]

    The notable blues musicians Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee performed in the film’s soundtrack, composed by jazz great Benny Carter.[3]

    Comment by louisproyect — January 8, 2011 @ 1:40 pm

  21. Lou

    This is quite a wonderful post. It is frighteningly consistent with something I am working on, a type of autobiographical account of growing up in a “coloured” community in South Africa during the late 60s and 70s, and how almost all the films we saw were from the US, when I fell in love with Westerns, and how “things changed” when I embraced liberation politics at around the age of 15…


    Comment by Issy Lagardien — January 8, 2011 @ 5:35 pm

  22. The Searchers is without a doubt racist in its portrayal of the Comanche, but does a good job of showing the heroic gunman, played by John Wayne no less, as a disturbing racist. There’s also a haunting scene of the protagonists going through a Comanche camp where US soldiers have massacred everyone, women and children included. Funnily enough, this dualism between great and awful is echoed in the film’s structure, where awe-inspiring shots of Monument Valley or gripping psychological drama can be followed by the most uninspired comedy imaginable. How do you feel about Ford’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance? As far as I remember, it doesn’t have any Native Americans, being about small farmers against ranchers instead.

    @will shetterly
    It’s one of the ironies of Hollywood that Hawks and Wayne’s Rio Bravo, written as a right-wing answer to High Noon, is actually the more humane film. Its vision of imperfect people joining together to fight the powerful is certainly more appealing than Cooper’s superman. Speaking of High Noon, Johnny Guitar also has an anti-McCarthyite subtext. See this scene, particularly from 3:30 on, where the mob makes Turkey name names: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mn79n1NsSkk

    Comment by VMS — January 8, 2011 @ 7:13 pm

  23. VMS, I love The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. But I may’ve imprinted on it when I was a kid. Time to see it again.

    And I’m fond of Rio Bravo, written by the great Leigh Brackett.

    Comment by will shetterly — January 8, 2011 @ 7:25 pm

  24. I read Thomas Berger’s Little Big Man some years back and found some passages in the novel a bit condescending and somewhat of a paternalistic nature (a la John Ford perhaps?); but it was fiction, harmless, and in general enjoyable, revisionist in some respects, and a good read. I enjoyed the film version as well, if anything for its pleasantly surprising departure from Hollywood’s twisted version of history and a more humanistic and true-to-life portrayal of Native Americans in western films. The novel, though, hardly measures up to Dee Brown’s monumental history of the ills, broken treaties, and ultimate displacement of Native Americans by the U.S. government’s westward colonization cataloged in his 1970 bestseller, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. This book is truly an indictment of the US’s blossoming imperialist policies at the time and a testament to the bravery and resilience of the first Americans in the face of imminent tragedy and a ruthless oppressor intent on annihilation and massacre.

    HBO produced its own 2007 film version of the book but I found it tedious, watered down, trivialized and sanitized, in short, not meeting my expectations. You might as well stick to the book; it is the best version, and a lot closer to real events.

    Comment by Frank — January 8, 2011 @ 10:39 pm

  25. How about “Dancing With Wolves” in this ranking?

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — January 9, 2011 @ 12:33 am

  26. ditto on “Dead Man” as the Neil Young soundtrack, the use of b & w, the depiction of cannibalism, the great work by Johnny Depp, Robert Mitchum, et al, … I could go on.
    But, what the heck … what about “Lonely Are The Brave” ?

    Comment by Johnny Canuck — January 9, 2011 @ 12:38 am

  27. I rewatched “Dancing With Wolves” recently. If you skip the first hour and ignore the white characters’ hair, it’s a good movie, and maybe a great one. People say it’s about a white guy saving the Indians, but in fact, the only useful thing Costner’s character does in the entire movie is provide them with some guns, and he almost screws that up, but fortunately for him, an Indian kid is able to find the cache in the rainstorm. Graham Greene and Tantoo Cardinal are amazing in it. If you’re curious, my review is here:


    Comment by will shetterly — January 9, 2011 @ 12:39 am

  28. Johnny, I don’t remember if I’ve seen that, but you reminded me of another favorite from that time, The Big Country: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0051411/

    Oh, and for anyone interested in nonfiction about American Indians, 1491 is a must-read: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1491:_New_Revelations_of_the_Americas_Before_Columbus

    Comment by will shetterly — January 9, 2011 @ 12:49 am

  29. Actually I think it was “Dances with Wolves” rather than “Dancing” but I’ve only seen it once, years ago. I recall it was overly long but I remember being moved and inducing a healthy fear of the white man’s expansionist culture. The idea of shooting at defenseless wolves pissed me off almost as much as shooting at defenseless Indians — and all of it reminds me of how disgusting people like Sara Palin and the degenerate cretins in American culture that admire her are.

    Watch one documentary on the exquisite social structure, intelligence and hard life of a wolf pack juxtaposed with cowards shooting wolves from airplanes and helicopters with scoped deer rifles and it makes you want to go Postal on right wing morons.

    I remember seeing “Little Big Man” at 10 years old which struck me, somehow, even at that tender age, as an allegory for the Vietnam War, as nothing stuck fear into me like the chants in the giant anti-war demos I attended back then like: “Hey, hey LBJ — how many kids have you killed today!” as I literally thought that if LBJ were to get his hands on me he’d kill me and that the only safety was in those masses of demonstrators.

    Bottom line is should the revolution come in my lifetime and I get near to a position of power please stop me because this drunken hillbilly has developed such a heartful of hate that the retribution I’d unleash against the stupid rich and their pathetic sychophants would be full of so much blood that the new society could recycle it as industrial lubricants until the next century.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — January 9, 2011 @ 1:47 am

  30. a quirky Western rarity is “The Scalphunters” with Burt Lancaster, Telly Savalas and Ossie Davis, a peculiar sort of Western dark comedy, wherein all the myths of “the West” are subjected to merciless ridicule, a form of cinematic deconstruction

    Comment by Richard Estes — January 9, 2011 @ 2:33 am

  31. Wow! Ossie Davis and Burt Lancaster in a movie where the myths of the West are ridiculed. Sounds delicious! Thanks Richard for pulling that obscure gem out of the vault. I’ll have to see that one.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — January 9, 2011 @ 3:12 am

  32. Matewan and Lone Star. John Sayles has to be one of the most under-appreciated filmakers in American film.

    Comment by Wayne Kasper — January 9, 2011 @ 3:24 am

  33. I would like to watch again The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez, a 1982 film with Edward James Olmos, of Miami Vice fame. I got the opportunity to view it on PBS when it was first shown. The movie tells the story of the 11-day manhunt of Mexican Gregorio Cortez by the Texas Rangers in 1901. No doubt that if you refer to “Mexican,” “Texas,” and Texas Rangers, the outcome is almost predictable. Here’s an interesting clip from the movie on Youtube: The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez. On a related note, Tommy Lee Jones made his directorial debut- if I’m not mistaken- with a film called, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, about the shooting of an illegal immigrant worker in West Texas, and his burial and exhumation by his best friend, rancher Peter Perkins (Tommy Lee Jones), who decides to make the journey across the border for his burial. I thought Jones did a decent job and should be commended for handling the story in a fair and dignifying manner.

    At the risk of sounding redundant in my Western movies selection, I would also include Viva Zapata! as one of my all-time favorites and a possible entry, albeit across the border. It certainly has some of the elements, if you throw in men with guns, horses and plenty of ammunition, the distinction being that it is a movie about a revolution on behalf of the proletariat (not of an individual) and of obvious Marxist proportions, although Emiliano Zapata was not an avowed socialist in the strict sense of the word.

    Comment by Frank — January 9, 2011 @ 3:38 am

  34. That’s a pretty strong list. Does “The Professionals” starring Burt Lancaster, Lee Marvin, Robert Ryan and Jack Palance qualify as a cowboy movie? It’s certainly a “Western” of some sort with much of the action taking place in Mexico.

    Comment by burghardt — January 9, 2011 @ 3:38 am

  35. I always thought Arthur Penn’s “Little Big Man” (1970) was an excellent film.
    It manages to have a native American actor, Chief Dan George, in a major part, alongside Dustin Hoffman and Faye Dunaway.
    Unlike the related “Soldier Blue”, it hasn’t dated either, and has an optimistic message of survival against the odds.

    Comment by prianikoff — January 9, 2011 @ 1:56 pm

  36. When is this commie going to get around to his top ten sci fi?

    Comment by SGuy — January 9, 2011 @ 4:42 pm

  37. VMS,

    I read a great take of the Rio Bravo/High Noon dynamic recently. Same as yours, High Noon is disdainful of the people while Rio Bravo is democratic.

    Comment by Rojo — January 11, 2011 @ 10:55 pm

  38. I agree on Ford with you. He was a good director when he held his sentimentalism in check. My Darling Clementine is a good film and thankfully leaves the Indians out (with the excpetion of the opening). Check out William Wyler’s The Westerner (1940 I think) with Cooper and Brenan. It’s a much better film that Stage Coach. Also, you owe it to yourself to check Budd Boetticher’s excellent films with Randolph Scott in the 50’s (7 Men from Now, Comanche Station, Ride Lonesome, The Tall T). Why no Anthony Mann’s Westerns??

    Comment by Mazdak — January 13, 2011 @ 7:19 pm

  39. How could you leave off Tombstone, True Grit, Outlaw Josey Wales and Tall In The Saddle?

    Comment by George — April 9, 2011 @ 4:56 pm

  40. gene hackman &sharon stone The Quick and THE Dead is about the best + Eastwoods Unforgiven
    John@ nana_dj@COMCAST.NET

    Comment by Donna D. Joynt — June 25, 2011 @ 4:08 pm

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