11-25-2011 The 50 Greatest Westerns

50 Greatest Westerns
The Internet offers several such lists.  The following are my personal  choices. Top 10 noted.

310 to Yuma (Heflin)

A Fistful of Dollars

Ballad of Cable Hogue

Bend of the River

Big Jake

Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid (7)

Cheyenne Autumn

For a Few Dollars More

Fort Apache (Fonda and Wayne) (6)

Good Bad and Ugly

Gunfight at the OK Corral

Gunfighter (Peck)

Hang ‘em High

High Noon (5)

How the West was Won (8)

Jeremiah Johnson

Lonesome Dove (Part One) (9)

Long Riders

Magnificent Seven (10)

Major Dundee

McCabe and Mrs Miller

My Darling Clementine

Nevada  Smith

Once Upon A Time in the West

Open Range

Outlaw Josey Wales

Ox-Bow Incident

Pale Rider

Quick and the Dead

Red River (1)
Tombstone (2)

Rio Bravo





Stagecoach (Wayne) (3)

Streets of Laredo

The Alamo (Wayne)

The Cowboys

The Professionals

True Grit

Two Rode Together

Unforgiven (4)


Who Shot Liberty Valance

Wild Bunch

Will Penny

Winchester 73

Wyatt Earp (Costner)


Obviously, other memorable films could be added, and appear in film critics’ lists, like:

The Mountain Men

Man from Laramie

The Virginian

Blood on the Moon


War Wagon

Son of the Morning Star

High Plains Drifter

Johnny Guitar

Treasure of Sierra Madre

Yellow Sky

Quigley Down Under


The Outlaw

The Westerner

Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid

Hour of the Gun

The Undefeated

She Wore a Yellow Ribbon

Rio Grande

Ride the High Country



Purists might argue that Treasure of Sierra Madre , Hud and Giant are not really Westerns,  just filmed in the West.


There is even a list of comical Westerns like:

Cat Ballou


Blazing Saddles

The Pale Face

Support Your Local Sheriff


There are critics lists which include all of Clint Eastwood’s “spaghetti” Westerns.


Readers may note a paucity of Erroll Flynn movies – like They Died with Their Boots On, Abilene, Santa Fe Trail, Dodge City, Dallas, etc.  Flynn hammed every movie of every genre; the closest he came to a real person was The Sun Also Rises, where he played a drunk.  You won’t find Randolph Scott on this list; his dozens of Westerns only included one real gem, Ride the High Country, with Joel McRea.


You also won’t find Tyrone Power’s version of Jesse James.  Poor Jesse; he has been badly portrayed in many films; The Long Riders probably comes closer to the truth.  But you will find such stalwarts of the British stage as Sean Connery, Richard Harris, and Stewart Grainger.  Dreadful accents.


Many Producers loosen the cinch straps of truth in Westerns.  Red River is considered one of the top 100 films of all time.  But the weapons for this presumed 1865 cattle drive were not manufactured until the 1870s.  (Critics have debated for years whether Cherry Valance died.) 


Wyatt Earp fares as badly in the fact versus fiction market as Jesse James.  Tombstone and Wyatt Earp ring true with many historians.  OK Corral has a stable full of errors; only three men died, the two McLowries and Billy Clanton.  OK Corral has 7 including Ike Clanton who died years later in a holdup. My Darling Clementine is honored for Henry Fonda’s star turn, but Doc Holliday died in a Colorado sanitorium, and only 3 men were killed – but did not include Old Man Clanton or Billy who died before and after the gunfight in the corral.  Doc was 35 when he died; Jason Robards was miscast in Hour.  As bad as Will Geer playing the lawman Earp in Winchester 73.  James Earp is killed in two versions but survives in another.


Few historical characters are as mistreated by Hollywood as William Bonney aka Billy the Kid. About 20 when he died, he has been played by a middle-aged Robert Taylor, Paul Newman, Emilio Estevez, Jack Beutel, not remotely akin to Billy in size.  Chisum stays close to the facts of the war in New Mexico.


It seems every character actor portrayed an Indian, prominently like Anthony Quinn and Iron Eyes Cody.  But the incredible list also includes Rock Hudson, Chuck O’Connors, Mike Mazurki, Charles Bronson, Lex Barker, Ray Danton, etc.


Western movies (and later TV Westerns) gave many actors their critical break.  Magnificent Seven boosted the careers f Steve McQueen, James Colburn, Charles Bronson and Robert Vaughn.

But, they also sustained the careers of many actors who appeared in film after film, like Ward Bond, Harry Carey Jr, Bruce Cabot and especially Paul Fix. Ward Bond played in Westerns, war dramas even Irish comedies like The Quiet Man, often alongside the Duke, but he got his big break in 1939, Gone with the Wind.  Another GWTW veteran, Thomas Mitchell, also appeared with Wayne in Stagecoach. Ben Johnson starred in many Westerns, but won his Oscar for Last Picture Show.  Robert Duval and Clint Costner continue to receive critical acclaim in Westerns (and other media). Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin did Four for Texas; both also appeared in later Westerns.  Martin even did a stint as a bad guy in Rough Night in Jericho.  Fonda also showed a mean side in two Westerns.  Ernest Borgnine, Jimmy Cagney, Edward G Robinson, Marlon Brando, Karl Malden, Broderick Crawford, Walter Pidgeon, Gene Hackman and other Oscar winners  followed the sagebrush trail.


I enjoy identifying character actors who appeared in many films and on many TV shows.  Millard Mitchell, Charle Bronson, Jim Davis, John McIntyre, Noah Beery Jr., Walter Brennan, John Ireland, Warren Oates, Jack Palance, etc., were regulars.  Tony Curtis cut his acting chops in Winchester.


In 1957, 7 of the top 10 TV shows were Westerns.  TV Westerns were a launching pad for many stars, including Eastwood, Redford, Bronson, Connors, Burt Reynolds, McQueen, James Garner and many others.  More, name stars like Bette Davis, Barbara Stanwyck, Joan Crawford, Rhonda Fleming, Arlene Dahl, Susan Hayward,Jane Fonda and Angie Dickinson appeared in “oaters.”  The distinguished actor Lee J Cobb was the Shiloh patriarch in The Virginian.  That show, along with Bonanza, High Chapparal, and Big Valley featured name guest stars each week.  The lists are virtually endless.


One of Tinseltown’s most beautiful actresses, Dolores Hart, often compared to Grace Kelly, closed out her too-brief career in The Virginian.  Still a member of the Motion Picture Academy, Mother Superior Dolores is prioress of a convent in Connecticut.


Few Westerns are made these days.  AMC and TMC occasionally one of the top  Westerns.  Starz has a channel which features Westerns 24/7.  Mixed bag.  For every John Wayne, you have days devoted to Lash LaRue, Eddie Dean, the Durango Kid, Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Don Red Barry, William Elliott and others who were the staples of Saturday afternoon at the movies.


I miss the days when a quarter got you a ticket, a coke and popcorn were 15 cents.  You saw a serial, a Western, and then a feature film.  Much to Mother’s consternation, she would send our father to the movies to bring the three of us home; sometimes, he would show u p with a bag of hamburgers and watch the feature with us.










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