Monday, June 25, 2012

The Essentials: Westerns (Part 1)

Posted by Tony and Michael

Ok, I know that the Western genre seems an odd place to start, but it's the place that Tony and I agreed on quickly and rather easily, also it's a personal favorite of back-off!!!!!

Here are the movies that we feel are essential to any lover of cinema who wants to fully understand the genre of Western movies. Michael reviewed the first three movies, and Tony reviewed the last two.

Stagecoach (1939)
This movie is not only essential to all Westerns, it’s archetypal. Everything you’ve ever seen in a western got it’s start in this movie. John Wayne plays the classic rough around the edges outlaw with the deeper moral code that is bigger than the law. Claire Trevor plays the woman with the questionable history with the heart of gold. There are villains, cowards, and prejudiced people, and director John Ford ties it all together simply and superbly. Ford is hands down the greatest director of westerns of all time, and he is on the short list of the greatest directors of all time in any genre. It’s fitting that this movie came out in 1939, the single greatest year of movies in history. Stagecoach is a must watch for anyone wanting to understand and enjoy the Western genre.

High Noon (1953) 

Director: Fred Zinneman.  If The Searchers is the perfect example of heroic isolationism, the High Noon is the perfect example of a strict adherence to a moral code. The concept of right vs. wrong is played out beautifully by Zinneman as the duty bound retiring Sheriff (played by Gary Cooper) clashes with his young, brash, soon to be replacement (played by Lloyd Bridges). The theme is layered in several other places as well, including the juxtaposition of the Sheriff’s new bride, a Quaker, delicately dressed in white (played by Grace Kelly) versus the Sheriff’s old love interest who seems to have a checkered past, dressed most often in darker colors. There’s the forboding evil of Frank Miller and his gang arriving into to town on the noon train and the cowardice of the townfolk that the Sheriff has served for years. On top of all that the sequence is played out in real time, with frequent shots of clocks to remind you of the climax coming at high noon! 

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