Thursday, August 26, 2010

LOST DUTCHMAN'S MINE: 20 Little Western Movie Gems Unjustly Forgotten

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Alright, as promised, here is a list of 20 overlooked Western movies that I believe you would find worth watching. I ain't sayin' that these are the ONLY lost little gems worth your time - there are plenty more Westerns that have been largely forgotten by modern audiences but which deserve our attention. However, this is just a sample (in no particular order) of minor winners that come quickly to my mind and which I can confidently recommend to anyone who enjoys the Western genre in general.
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The Ballad Of Gregorio Cortez - 1982
Starring Edward James Olmos
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A Mexican accused of murdering a sheriff leads a posse on a massive chase to the border.
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A documentary-like look at a true story, showing both sides of the dispute. A bit slow for the "Airheadzonans", but masterful storytelling. Skip it if you need lots of shooting and death. The soundtrack of synthesizer music and old Mexican folk music makes for an effective contrast. The acting is fabulous and the story proves the old adage about there being two sides to every coin.
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Unfortunately, you may find this one difficult to locate. It was originally shown on PBS and it may never have been released on DVD (I'm not sure, but I would buy it if I saw it in that format). If you thought 'Summer Lovers' and 'Rocky 3' were good movies then, babe, you ain't got the intellect for this one.
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Hombre - 1967
Starring Paul Newman and Richard Boone
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A half-breed is convinced, despite "reservations" [sorry], to help stagecoach passengers in their confrontation with nasty outlaws.
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A very good movie: sharp dialogue, well-defined characters and a valuable statement on humanity, loyalty, prejudice, and sacrifice. Richard Boone plays the villain, and although he chews up the scenery a bit, he was "a really good bad guy"!
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Ruggles Of Red Gap - 1935
Starring Charles Laughton
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An uppercrust English butler is won by an uncouth American cowboy in a poker game and is forced to "go West."
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Patriotic and exquisite in its silliness, but it won't appeal to everybody's tastes. I loved it. I've seen it two or three times and I would purchase a copy.
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Shenandoah - 1965
Starring Uncle Jimmy Stewart
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A story about how the Civil War takes its toll on a close-knit family.
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Yes, there are some flaws and implausible moments, but Jimmy Stewart was so great in this role that they are easily overlooked. Ol' Uncle Jimmy's best Western by a long shot!
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Barbarosa - 1981
Starring Willie Nelson and Gary Busey
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"Barbaaarooooowsa!"
A young man teams up with a fabled outlaw to learn the ropes.
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A bigger than life Western with Willie Nelson being surprisingly good in his role. A lot of fun.
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Way Out West - 1937
Starring Laurel & Hardy
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I love Laurel and Hardy under any circumstances, but 'WAY OUT WEST' is particularly classic. Two oafs must travel West to deliver a notice of inheritance and they tend to hurt themselves. Funny stuffs and quite possibly the best of L & H.
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The Grey Fox - 1982
Starring Richard Farnsworth
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An old outlaw struggles to refrain from taking up his old profession after release from prison.
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A solid story: dark, lusty cinematography; beautiful scenery; and an effective score. Not a lot of action, but the cast is excellent and the movie conveys a sense of authenticity.
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Man With The Gun - 1955
Starring Robert Mitchum
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A town-tamer is hired to clean up the outlaw problem despite opposition from some of the respectable townfolk.
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A simplistic but atmospheric old black & white. It doesn't have a foot in reality, but it's a great example of Hollywood myth-making. The movie is suspenseful and enjoyable.
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The 7 Faces Of Dr. Lao - 1964
Starring Tony Randall and Barbara Eden
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A mysterious circus comes to town, led by the strange Dr. Lao, and the townfolk are in for a better look at themselves.
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Before there was the TV show 'Kung Fu', there was Dr. Lao - a Far Easterner in the Wild West. Tony Randall gives a tour-de-force performance in this charming little morality play fantasy. Scratch just below the surface humor and you find a simple yet valuable philosophy lesson on the spirit of humanity.
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Skin Game - 1971
Starring James Garner and Lou Gossett
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A White man and his Black friend scheme to make money in the days of slavery. Garner and Gossett make a very charismatic duo in this nifty little "message" movie. Thoroughly enjoyable.
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Calamity Cat said: "James Garner was good as usual, and Lou Gossett was surprisingly funny."
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Westworld - 1973
Starring James Brolin and Yul Brynner
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An amusement park with animatrons goes awry, leading to a suspenseful chase. Yul Brynner (as the robot gunslinger) was one bad mutha! One of my favorite movie villains ever... along with Jack Palance in 'Shane' and Hank Salas in 'My Bodyguard'.
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They Came To Cordura - 1959
Starring Gary Cooper and Rita Hayworth
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A soldier once accused of cowardice attempts to find the true meaning of courage.
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Intriguing script, complex characterizations and good acting. More cerebral than action-packed, but underappreciated. Recommended to all but "Airheadzonans".
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The Stalking Moon - 1968
Starring Gregory Peck and Eva Marie Saint
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A one on one battle between a White tracker and an Indian warrior - winner takes the girl. Good use of the landscape to create a highly suspenseful atmosphere, but this one may be too slow for the "Airheadzonans."
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Calamity Cat's review: "Is he gonna find the salad bar?"
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[Aww, cut her a little slack. The Countess was very tired that night and I think she did a little napping and dreaming while this movie played.]
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Lonely Are The Brave - 1962
Starring Kirk Douglas and Walter Matthau
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A modern Western about a cowboy loner on the lam. Excellent black & white photograpy. Lean, exciting script and a horse with real personality. Kirk Douglas at his best in "the death of the "West." [Watch for a surprise cameo by "Archie Bunker".]
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Calamity Cat said: "Good acting by both Douglas and his horse."
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Bad Day At Black Rock - 1954
Starring Spencer Tracy and Lee Marvin
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A mysterious man arrives in town and stirs up skeletons in the closet.
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Another modern "Western" (of sorts). A taut, psychological drama, well-acted and photographed. Highly recommended.
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A Gunfight - 1971
Starring Kirk Douglas and Johnny Cash
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Two old, washed up gunfighters agree to face each other in an arena packed with paying witnesses - winner takes the profit from ticket sales.
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A unique concept and the anticipation builds nicely to the big showdown. What's especially cool about this story is that you have two big-name performers facing each other and neither one is really a hero nor a villain, so this is one movie where the viewer TRULY DOESN'T KNOW which gunfighter is going to die with his boots on. And I ain't about to tell ya. Wanna know? Watch it!
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Trinity Is Still My Name - 1971
Starring Terence Hill and Bud Spencer
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The further adventures of Bambino and his younger brother, Trinity.
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A little known installment in a crazy "Spaghetti Western" comedy trilogy. This one was the funniest of the three.
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Calamity Cat said: "Little Windy stole the show".
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Ride The High Country - 1962
Starring Joel McCrea and Randolph Scott
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Two has-been lawmen hire on as security guards to escort a gold shipment from a mine. The conflict lies in their different motivations.
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This was one of two Westerns that I underrated slightly when Calamity Cat and I were watching so many cowboy movies in 1989 and '90. Seeing it, and 'The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance', for a second time years later, I realized that both were a little better than I had first believed. Truly a minor gem that Black Cole Kid (alias: Me) didn't fully appreciate the first time 'round. ("Well, it musta been the whiskey".)
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Tall In The Saddle - 1944
Starring John Wayne and "Gabby" Hayes
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It's the age-old story about the young cowboy wrongly accused of murder and who is out to clear his name.
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The archetype, black & white, Saturday-mornin' "B" Western, with bushwhackers, double-crosses and the ubiquitous old coot. If ya watch it first thing in the morning with a cuppa joe and while yer still in bed in yer jammies, yer gonna LOVE IT!
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Under California Stars - 1948
Starring Roy Rogers and Kingman, Arizona's own Andy Devine
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A modern Western in which Trigger ("The Smartest Horse In The Movies") is stolen from Roy Rogers' ranch and held for ransom.
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Well, it's a pretty weak "B" movie, but I like it. No, really I do! (And I simply had to include a Roy Rogers movie!) It's about a lame little boy, his scruffy little dog, and a plot to kidnap Trigger. Another Saturday-mornin' jamas-'n'-coffee movie.
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In our book, 'Calamity Cat And Black Cole Kid's Uncomplicated GUIDE TO WESTERN MOVIES For The Simple-Minded Cowperson', I included a dedication page, and that's where I wrote:
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"Special Thanks To... The Quasar Co. for incorporating a slow-motion capability into their VCR unit which enabled me to get a better look at Trigger when he stomped on and deflated that villain's face."
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'Under California Stars' was the very Roy Rogers movie I was referring to. Ya gotta love those "inflatable villains".
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Up next will be my list of "Fifteen Favorite Western Films".
Be here or be... somewhere else. (But wherever you be, "B" Western!)
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~ Stephen T. McCarthy
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YE OLDE COMMENT POLICY: All comments, pro and con, are welcome. However, ad hominem attacks and disrespectful epithets will not be tolerated (read: "posted"). After all, this isn’t Amazon.com, so I don’t have to put up with that kind of bovine excrement.
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12 comments:

welcome to my world of poetry said...

I can remember Bad Day at Black Rock though I was only young, as for the others I can't remember .I recall Roy Rogers singing A Four Legged Friend.
Thanks for enlightening us on these films.

Yvonne.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I'd actually seen a couple of those. Of course, what cool science fiction geek hasn't seen Westworld?

Stephen T. McCarthy said...

YVONNE ~
Roy's the man! Few people remember that he was actually a major force in The Sons Of The Pioneers, an authentic and very popular old-tyme Country-Western singing group.

Yeah, Roy really could sing! A nice guy, too - I got to meet him once!



ALEX ~
I'm really not much of a Sci-Fi/Fantasy film fan, but I gotta admit, 'Westworld' rates high for me in that combined category. I think it holds up remarkably well, too.

Did I read or hear somewhere that someone is thinking of doing a 'Westworld' remake? Gee, I hope not! There ain't a thing wrong with the original!

~ "Lonesome Dogg" McStetson
[aka Black Cole Kid]

arlee bird said...

A few I've never heard of, some I've never seen, and a few I have seen. I did like Shenandoah and you already know that I like Seven Faces of Dr. Lao. I've got Westworld on my Netflix queue--it's one of those movies that I saw back when it came out and I wanted to see if it was really as good as I thought it was at the time--it's on your list so maybe it was.

Lee
Tossing It Out

DiscConnected said...

I'd forgotten all about "The Grey Fox"-a classic!

"Dr. Lao" was also a gem. It cracked me up that Randall did the Hitchcock "appearance in the crowd" thing-now people do it all the time but I think that was the first time I'd seen it (and someone explained to me that it was a nod to AH).

I need to try to rent both of these.

A couple others I'm interested in as well. I may have to re-watch "Westworld." I saw it once way back in the early days of VHS rentals and do not remember liking it so much.

LC

Stephen T. McCarthy said...

>> Westworld... I saw back when it came out and I wanted to see if it was really as good as I thought it was at the time--it's on your list so maybe it was.

LEE, would I lie to you? To YOU?
Sure, maybe I'd lie to L.C. and Alex and Yvonne. But to you? NEVER!

Yeah, Bro, if you liked "Westworld" way back when, you'll still like it today. It's a good-un. ...Well, ALL the movies on this list are good-uns.

~ "Lonesome Dogg" McStetsonBoy

Stephen T. McCarthy said...

L.C. ~
>> I may have to re-watch "Westworld." I saw it once way back in the early days of VHS rentals and do not remember liking it so much.

Back in the days of Wacky Weed?
You probably just couldn't follow the storyline (although it's quite simple). This time, don't "inhale" and I think you'll appreciate the movie more. (And afterwards, you can run for president!)

Yul Brynner was freakin' great in that role:

"Get this boy a bib. He needs his mama."

Damn, that's almost as rotten as Jack Palance saying, "Prove it." (But only almost.)

~ "Lonesome Dogg" Mc-- Oh, whatever.

Judy Harper said...

"Ruggles of RedCap" is a good movie! Charles Laughton is the best in this movie, much better than the Hunchback of Notre Dame. It wasn't until I watched "Bad Day at Black Rock" a second time, that I really understood Spencer Tracey's mission. Have you ever watched Kirk Douglas in "The Villain" with Arnold Schwarzenegger, Ann Margaret and Ruth Buzzi? To me, it's one of Kirk Douglas' funniest and best-totally different area of acting, you realize he could have been a comedy actor, if he'd wanted!

Stephen T. McCarthy said...

JUDY!-Three ~
You've seen "Ruggles"? Wow! How cool is THAT? I figured The Countess and I were probably the only two persons on the face of this Earth who'd ever seen that one. If I ever happened to find it for sale on DVD, I'd certainly buy a copy of it.

>> Have you ever watched Kirk Douglas in "The Villain" with Arnold Schwarzenegger, Ann Margaret and Ruth Buzzi?

Watched it? I've never even heard of it. And Ruth Buzzi? Now there's a name I haven't run across in a long time!

Hmmm... Well, I'll see if they have it available at NetFlix, and if so, I'll add it to my queue. Thanks!

~ "Lonesome Dogg" McStetsonBoy

Mr. Paulboy said...

There are quite a few movies here I have not seen. I just watched Hombre last week and it is a great movie. I liked Westworld, Shenandoah, Dr. Lao, and The Grey Fox.

Seems like many of your followers here saw the same movies, but few saw the REALLY oddball flicks like that that RedCap movie.

I am a big fan of what are, essentially, bad westerns. I love Hopalong Cassidy, and almost all of those are very silly and predictable. But to me they evoke a sense of the time they were made, and it makes me think of my parents sitting in theaters in the 30s, having just told the white-clad service station attendant, "give me a nickel of gas and check the oil".

Did you like any of the really old westerns? I noted that a great many of your favs seem to have been made in the 60s and even 70s.

Mr. Paulboy

Mr. Paulboy said...

My previous post contained a poorly-phrased question. I KNOW you like some westerns from the earlier days, as you list some that you liked.

But your preference seems to be for the newer films, and I think I am asking you to give me your thoughts about the eras of westerns, in general.

thanks,
Paul

Stephen T. McCarthy said...

MR. PAULBOY ~
You wrote:

I am a big fan of what are, essentially, bad westerns. I love Hopalong Cassidy, and almost all of those are very silly and predictable. But to me they evoke a sense of the time they were made, and it makes me think of my parents sitting in theaters in the 30s, having just told the white-clad service station attendant, "give me a nickel of gas and check the oil".

Oh, I totally, totally agree with you! Yes, it's true that only 2 black & white Westerns made my "Top 15" list, but I have really enjoyed a great many old black & white Westerns. And I don't just mean the A-List movies like "Stagecoach", etc., but I am a fan of the old "B" Westerns as well!

Heck, my introduction to the Western genre was via the "B" Westerns of Roy Rogers and Hopalong Cassidy.

Roy was one of my earliest heroes and I can still remember a bright yellow raincoat I had with black line drawings of Roy, Dale and Trigger on it.

You know, to be sure, as the Western genre developed, the writing became more complex and character-driven. In the early days, it was all about rooting for the good guy (usually in the white hat) and lots of six-gun action. But in the late '60s and the '70s, the writers were really adding some interesting twists to the Western genre and some of the characters were developed into seemingly multidimensional persons rather than just cartoon heroes.

I mean, a movie like "The Wild Bunch" or the first "Monte Walsh" - those Westerns are peopled with deep and realistic personalities; characters that have competing motivations within themselves and who are not always so sure that they stand for what is "right". They are sometimes confused, and always moved by real human desires, emotions, and mental conflicts.

Really, that guy Shelton (whom I quoted in my Blog Bit about "The Wild Bunch") completely nailed it:

"The sad thing today is that action movies have degenerated into cartoons. We forget that at their best, action movies can be as complex and intelligent as anything in Shakespeare."

But I won't lie, I still enjoy some of the old "cartoonish" Westerns that take me back to my childhood. Of course there's just no way that any intelligent person can compare "Tall In The Saddle" to "The Wild Bunch", but there's a place for both of them in my book. Saturday morning? Feelin' lazy? Lounging about in bed with an extra cup of coffee? Nothing's gonna beat "Tall In The Saddle" for that mood!

But now it's Saturday NIGHT and you really wanna dig into something that is exciting as hell but which will also challenge you and make you really think about people and the human condition? It's gotta be "The Wild Bunch" for that!

Ya know, Paul, sometimes I forget that most of the visitors to my blogs were not reading my stuffs back in the old Amazon days, and so I forget that they weren't a part of that history that tells 'em where I'm comin' from. And so YOU have inspired me to post an old review of some Roy Rogers movies that I wrote a few years ago. (It had one of my favorite titles I ever came up with: "Some Of My Favorite Movies B Westerns".)

I will post it soon, but first, I gotta compose a Blog Bit (with many pictures) to let all ya Friends O'Mine know where I been for the last week.

Thanks for your good and inspiring comments, PB6!

~ Old Dogg McStetsonboy