Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained is releasing in India next week. It is difficult not to be blown away by most of Tarantino’s movies and Django Unchained is unlikely to disappoint. I also hope that it leads to a revival of the Western in Hollywood; I really love the genre! However, since Clint Eastwood became too old to play the ‘man with no name’, Westerns have been few and far between. The two good ones, in recent times, have been True Grit (Great!) and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (Okay Okay!).
If you, like me, have a soft corner for the Western, here are my favourites – if you haven’t seen them, you would do well to hunt them out.
1. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
It is amazing that the greatest Westerns were made by an Italian – Sergio Leone! And they were shot in Italy, Spain and other places in Europe! Set during the American Civil War, the film deals with the attempts of the Good (Clint Eastwood), the Bad (Lee Van Cleef) and the Ugly (Eli Wallach) to lay their hands on stolen gold.
2. Once Upon a Time in the West
Another Sergio Leone gem! It has two related stories – a land battle as a railroad is being constructed in an American town and revenge against a vicious killer. Henry Fonda stars as the evil killer Frank pitted against his harmonica playing nemesis – Charles Bronson. The movie also stars Claudia Cardinale and Jason Robards (as always, excellent). Sholay borrowed heavily from the movie. A brilliant movie, not to be missed.
3. High Noon
A lonely marshal of a town (Gary Cooper) awaits the arrival of a killer (and friends) who he had helped put away. The pretty Grace Kelly plays the marshal’s spunky wife.
An aging outlaw (Clint Eastwood) takes on one last job. Although slow, Unforgiven takes a realistic and dark look at the Old West. Unforgiven won the Oscar for best picture, a rarity for Westerns. The movie also stars Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman and Richard Harris.
5. For a Few Dollars More
The second of the Dollard trilogy, this Sergio Leone movie stars Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef as two bounty hunters after a killer fugitive. Interestingly, Charles Bronson (Sergio Leone was a fan) was approached to play the Lee van Cleef role but declined.
6. The Magnificent Seven
A Mexican village, terrorised by a bandit (Eli Wallach) hires a gunman (Yul Brynner). Brynner brings along six more including Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson and James Coburn. The movie is a remake of the Kurusawa classic The Seven Samurai.
7. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Paul Newman and Robert Redford are the two outlaws running from the law. Directed by George Roy Hill (who also directed the Oscar winner The Sting with the two actors), the movie takes a lighted-hearted look at the life of the outlaws.
There are other great Westerns to see including The Wild Bunch (a violent but great Westen, starring William Holden), The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (James Stewart and John Wayne), Stagecoach (Wayne again), A Fistful of Dollars, Dances with Wolves (Kevin Costner’s Oscar winner), Last Train from Gun Hill (Kirk Douglas and Anthony Quinn as friends turned foes), Django, The Outlaw Josey Wales, Rio Bravo (John Wayne and Dean Martin), McCabe & Mrs. Miller (an unconventional Robert Altman Western starring Warren Beatty and Julie Christie), Shane (The Alan Ladd classic) and True Grit (both the John Wayne and Jeff Bridges versions!).
Incidentally, the headline of this article is from the opening scene of Once Upon a Time….Three killers are waiting for Harmonica (Charles Bronson) when he disembarks from a train:
Harmonica: And Frank?
Snaky: Frank sent us.
Harmonica: Did you bring a horse for me?
Snaky: (Chuckling) It looks like we’re… it looks like we’re shy one horse!
Harmonica: You brought two too many. (As he shoots the three dead).