Which Westerns are your favorites?
FF2's thoughts on
The EVERY GREAT WESTERN
(except SHANE) FILM FESTIVAL
showing this month on
TURNER CLASSIC MOVIES!!!
This month we’ll forego our typical list of cable options & send you directly to Turner Classic Movies for their
EVERY GREAT WESTERN (EXCEPT SHANE) FILM FESTIVAL.
Why didn’t they corral SHANE? Who knows?
SHANE is a great Western, but since TCM will be showing 66 Westerns this month, why complain?!? As they say in
NOW PLAYING (TCM’s monthly movie guide): “In this unprecedented tribute, TCM salutes an indigenous American art form and the oldest of all film genres. Remember, the very first narrative film, THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY (1903), was a Western! ”
John Wayne stars as Tom Doniphon in
MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY
now at Amazon.com
|When we think about Westerns today, two names leap to mind: actor John Wayne and director John Ford. Their collaboration was undoubtedly one of the greatest in film history, and TCM has included nine of their films in this festival. Of these, eight are Westerns (FORT APACHE,
MY DARLING CLEMENTINE, RIO GRANDE, SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON,
STAGECOACH, THE HORSE SOLDIERS, THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY
VALANCE, and THE SEARCHERS) and one is the beloved Saint Patrick’s Day classic THE QUIET MAN (set in Ireland).
|We seen all of these movies
and we love them all (even though we haven’t posted all of them in our
database yet), but as you might suspect, some gender differences do
impact our individual rankings. Richard’s favorite Wayne/Ford film is
SEARCHERS. This is the film in which
Wayne plays Ethan Edwards, a bitter Civil War veteran who devotes a big
chunk of his life to finding his niece Debbie. Debbie (played by Natalie
Wood) was kidnapped by the Indians, who raided her homestead and killed
her mother and older sister. As the years pass, Ethan must face the fact
that Debbie has grown into a young woman. The thought that she’s
probably become the wife of a Comanche warrior torments him, and his
nephew Martin (played by Jeffrey Hunter) is convinced that, if he ever
finds Debbie, Ethan’s real intention is to kill her.
now at Amazon.com
Most film critics agree with Richard, and Wayne himself considered THE
SEARCHERS his best film. It’s certainly true that Wayne showed his greatest depth of emotion in this film, and even if you’ve seen it many times, his chilling portrayal keeps you in suspense right up to the very end. As long as Ethan and Martin are on the road (so to speak), Jan thinks this is a brilliant film. But, like all good road warriors, Ethan and Martin circle back home periodically, and the problem for Jan is that she just doesn’t believe the portrait of “home” that Ford created in THE
SEARCHERS. This is ironic considering that some of Ford’s best non-Westerns
(HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY for example) are classic depictions of home and family.
Jan’s favorite Wayne/Ford film is MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY
VALANCE. Wayne stars here as Tom Doniphon, a rancher who’s finally found a woman who makes him want to settle down. Hallie (Vera Miles) knows Tom loves her, and she knows he’s fundamentally a good man, but she’s just not sure he’ll be a good husband. Meanwhile Ransom Stoddard (James Stewart), an East Coast lawyer, is making his way west with a suitcase full of law books when his stagecoach is attacked by the notorious gunslinger Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin). Rance tries to defend the other passengers, but Liberty roughs him up and leaves him for dead. Tom, of course, finds him and brings him to
Hallie, who nurses him back to health. This new triangle comes to a surprising resolution. LIBERTY VALANCE is a very poetic film and some might find it slow, but Jan thinks it’s a very wise film and has a lot to say about the difference between America’s mythic West and America’s “real” West.
|When we set up FILMS FOR TWO: THE ONLINE GUIDE FOR BUSY
COUPLES, we spent days debating our list of all-time favorite films. After much discussion, we chose one John Wayne film and one John Ford film, but we didn’t choose any of their collaborations. We decided our all-time favorite Western was
RED RIVER, staring John Wayne and Montgomery Clift (directed by Howard Hawks). John Ford’s THE
GRAPES OF WRATH, staring Henry Fonda, also mades our list. We both feel that THE
GRAPES OF WRATH, about a Depression-era family on the move from dust-bowl Oklahoma to the “promised land” of California, has a unique resonance not only in Ford’s work, but in our national mythology. It’s certainly not a “Western” in the classic sense of genre, even though it IS about a family making its way West…
now at Amazon.com
If you’re interested in learning more about Westerns, we have three suggestions:
|For the “standard view” of John Ford’s work, see the 1975 book
JOHN FORD written by Joseph McBride and Michael Wilmington. |
|For a more feminist perspective, see CREATING THE COUPLE: LOVE, MARRIAGE AND HOLLYWOOD PERFORMANCE by Virginia Wright
Wexman. Chapter three of this 1993 book is called “Star and Genre: John Wayne, the Western, and the American Dream of the Family on the Land.” |
|For a conceptual analysis of “one of the most distinctive and enduring elements of American culture,” see
COWBOY METAPHYSICS: ETHICS AND DEATH IN WESTERNS (1997) by philosopher Peter A. French.|
Finally, here are our top picks on the TCM schedule. For the complete schedule, surf on over to
TOP PICKS IN THE FILMS42 DATABASE
NOTE: Here are some of the films we would have added to the TCM schedule if only they’d consulted us first ;-)
WOMEN OF THE WEST:
STARRING CLINT EASTWOOD:
“In the annals of American film, no name shines more brightly than that of John Ford. Director and filmmaker for more than a half a century, he stands preeminent in his craft -- not only as a creator of individual films of surpassing excellence, but as a master among those who transformed the early motion pictures into a compelling new art form that developed in America and swept the world. As an interpreter of the Nation's heritage, he left his personal stamp indelibly printed on the consciousness of whole generations both here and abroad. In his life and in his work, John Ford represents the best in American films and the best in America.”
| Commendation on the presidential Medal of Freedom given John Ford in 1973.|
Sketch of the John Ford Monument, located in Portland, Maine (Ford’s birthplace). Sculpture by George Kelly & Robert Spring, dedicated on 7/12/98.
Jan Lisa Huttner & Richard Bayard Miller
November 1, 2002