Hollywood Western Classics have always been favorites of mine. While the western is not as popular today as it once was (although, there has been a bit of renewed interest), any younger film fan who omits the western genre from their area of movie interest will have truly missed out on some great motion pictures. The western is far more than the “horse opera” as some would describe it. So, to all of you western deprived young movie-fans, here are some classic Hollywood westerns from the 1920s-1950s that you owe it to yourself to view.
The Wind was released in 1928 and was a silent film. Directed by Victor Sjöström, it is based on Dorothy Scarborough’s novel ‘The Wind’, and was filmed entirely in the Mohave Desert. The story is about Letty, played by silent screen legend Lillian Gish. The role of Letty proved to be one of the finest parts in her very distinguished career. Letty originates from Virginia and leaves for Texas to live with her cousin and his family. The punishing winds and sand of West Texas only seem to punctuate her unwelcome reception. What follows is a tragic marriage, the threat of rape, murder, and madness.
Released in 1939, director John Ford’s Stagecoach became not only a classic western, but proved to provide the breakthrough role for a young actor named John Wayne. Stagecoach, filmed on location in Monument Valley, Arizona, documents the perilous journey of a group of strangers aboard a stagecoach through dangerous Apache territory. A classic western with a combination of strong characterizations, drama, action, and humor, Stagecoach is considered to be one of the most influential films of all time.
In 1948, the film adaptation of B. Traven’s novel ‘The Treasure of the Sierra Madre’ made its debut. Directed by John Huston, this western movie has often been referred to as “movie-making at its best”. It tells the story of two down and out American’s (Humphrey Bogart, and Tim Holt) in 1920s Mexico who meet and join up with an old gold prospector (Walter Huston) on an ill-fated treasure hunt to the Sierra Madre Mountains. Their friendship turns out to be short-lived as the greed for gold corrupts the mind of Bogart’s character Dobbs eventually turning each man against the other. A great depiction of greed and irony.
1952’s High Noon is considered by many to be the greatest classic western ever filmed. This is not your typical western. Having little in the way of violence, High Noon is both exciting and suspenseful. This film portrays emotional and moral soul-searching, centering around one mans courage in the face of extreme danger.
Telling the story of newly married and retired Town Marshall Will Kane (Gary Cooper), the story revolves around death threats made by outlaw Frank Miller after being arrested and sent to prison by Marshall Kane. With Miller’s gang having showed up in town and Miller due on the noon train, Kane must now decide whether to stay and fight, or leave town with his new bride (Grace Kelly) before Miller arrives for the fateful showdown. A true adult western classic with a great theme song (Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darlin’) sung by Tex Ritter.
John Ford has directed a number of great westerns, but none is more worthy of recognition than his 1956 film The Searchers. Based on Alan Le May’s novel ‘The Seachers,’ which was itself based on a real-life incident, this films popularity has risen over time to the point where it is considered to be one of the best westerns ever made. It is the story of aging and bitter Civil War veteran Ethan Edwards (John Wayne). A Comanche raid has murdered his brother and sister-in-law, his nephew, and abducted his two nieces Lucy, and Debbie. It is this tragic act that serves as the beginning of a search that will go on for five years. Before long, Ethan finds the murdered body of his niece Lucy.
Along with his brother’s adopted half-breed son Martin (Jeffrey Hunter) the search continues for the remaining niece. Ethan’s hate for the Comanche and what they have done is matched by the hate Comanche Chief Scar feels for all whites. After finding out that during her years spent with the Comanche, his niece Debbie has been raised as an Indian and married Chief Scar, Ethan now decides rather than rescue her he must kill her.
Regardless of a persons age, these top Hollywood Western Classics should not be missed by anyone who loves movies and movie history.