Western

[6.0] John Wayne stars as a crotchety loner cowboy who goes in search of the gang who kidnapped his grandson. Big Jake is not a serious western. It’s more of a nostalgic love letter to old big-studio westerns. Sometimes that love undercuts the drama. Even though a boy’s kidnapping is what spurs the characters into action, they begin their adventure like a trip to Disney …

[7.0] Brad Pitt and Casey Affleck star in Andrew Dominik’s dramatization of the last months of famous outlaw Jesse James’ life. Pitt plays James and Affleck plays his admirer-turned-assassin, Robert Ford. The young Ford character is smitten from the outset, but ridicule from James and the other gang members slowly hardens his heart. Jealousy eventually turns him against his idol. As James, Pitt is unstable …

[7.0] John Wayne and Robert Mitchum headline this Howard Hawks western about a gunfighter-for-hire (Wayne) who teams up with a drunk sheriff (Mitchum) to help a family protect their land from a rival rancher. The plot to El Dorado was a little hard for me to follow. So many characters are introduced in the first half hour and the way allegiances are formed is a …

[6.0] Gregory Peck stars in William Wellman’s (The Ox-Bow Incident, The Story of G.I. Joe) eerie western about a band of thieves that wander into a Death Valley ghost town where a young woman (Anne Baxter) and her grandfather have struck gold. Yellow Sky is about the uneasy relationship between the two parties, a matter complicated by visiting Apache Indians and infighting within Peck’s crew. …

[8.0] A teenaged girl ropes an aging, alcoholic U.S. Marshall into helping her find justice for her father’s murder. In this age of sequels and remakes, it’s hard to believe one of them could actually be this good. The Coen Brothers take the John Wayne original (based on a book by Charles Portis), roll it in mud, fray the edges, and weave a telling that’s …

[7.0] Paul Newman reunites with director Martin Ritt (Hud, The Long Hot Summer) for this ensemble Western based on the novel by Elmore Leonard. It’s an Eastwoodesque performance from Newman, playing a reticent loner raised by Apaches who ends up having to protect a stagecoach crew that initially thumb their noses at him. I don’t think the ending was particularly well executed, but the characters …

[7.5] John Ford reteams with frequent leading man John Wayne in what is often considered one of the best Hollywood westerns ever made. Wayne plays Ethan Edwards, a loner returning home from the Civil War. After his brother’s family is murdered by Camanches, Ethan begins a five-year search for his kidnapped niece (Natalie Wood). Wayne plays more than a charicature of himself for once, bringing …

[6.0] Eastwood directs and stars in this Western tale of revenge. The most interesting thing about Pale Rider is the mysterious nature of Eastwood’s character, a preacher/gunfighter who enters a mining colony’s life in answer to a young girl’s prayer. The film suggests he might be a ghost, and without this ambiguity, the movie is pretty standard genre fare. Bruce Surtees gets kudos for making …

[6.5] Robert Altman uses the circus-like atmosphere of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show for a commentary on racism and the whitewashing of American history. It’s actually a pretty light-hearted film built around Buffalo Bill’s contentious relationship with Sitting Bull. Paul Newman is reliably good as the exasperated Bill, pushed to his wits’ end by a stubborn but commercially valuable Indian who quietly challenges his authority …

[7.0] John Wayne worked pretty much right up until the end of his life, and even in that last decade there are gems to be found. Chisum stars Wayne as the title character, John Chisum, a New Mexico cattle baron who ends up in a battle with a greedy tycoon named Lawrence Murphy (Forrest Tucker). As Murphy buys up all the local business in town …

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