Forget baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet. Nothing's more American than a good, old-fashioned Western. So what better way to give America a big July Fourth "Sal-ute!" than to pause and appreciate the greatest oaters ever made? And conveniently enough, the Western Writers of America (WWA) has just released their list of the top 100 Westerns of all time!
So let's hear it for those Western classics The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (#11) and The Last Picture Show (#45) and The Grapes of Wrath (#46) and Bad Day at Black Rock (#47) and Thunderheart (#66) and No Country for Old Men (#79) and...and....
Alright, The Last Picture Show is set in Texas, but beyond that it's about as Westerny as Last Tango in Paris. The other films singled out above are set in the West, too, but they all take place long after the close of the frontier. And I see The Last of the Mohicans on the WWA's list, as well, and that takes place in the great "Western" region now known as...New England.
First off, I understand that such lists aren't meant to be taken too seriously. They're a way of stirring up conversation, shining light on forgotten gems and, yes, scoring a little free publicity. Nothing wrong with that!
But secondly...The Last freakin' Picture Show? CHUH?!?
It makes me wonder why the classic disco musical Can't Stop the Music wasn't honored, as well. After all, the Village People prominently featured both a cowboy and an Indian. What could be more Western than that? Or how about Chinatown? You can't get much further West than Los Angeles, you know. Not without falling off the continent, anyway. And hey -- Jack Nicholson even wears a hat!
And how about Midnight Cowboy and Drugstore Cowboy and Space Cowboys? They've got "cowboy" right in the title! And The Electric Horseman and Brokeback Mountain are about cowboys. Why where they left out?
Now, let me pause here to say that I like The Last Picture Show and The Grapes of Wrath and Bad Day at Black Rock and Thunderheart and No Country for Old Men and The Last of the Mohicans. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is one of my favorite movies from any genre, bar none. These are fine films we're talking about here. They're just not, in my mind, fine Westerns.
Which isn't to say a Western has to star John Wayne and feature at least one cavalry charge, one gunfight, one hooker with a heart of gold and either Ward Bond or Jack Elam. But I would say this.
To be a Western, a film has to take place (duh) in the American West. It also should be set during the reign of "Manifest Destiny" -- the expansionist ideal that spurred the spread of European culture westward across the Plains in the second half of the 19th century.
Oh, and most of the guys should wear cowboy hats. And at least a few of the women should wear bonnets. And there should be horses -- lots and lots of horses. And, by cracky, Ward Bond or Jack Elam should be in it, whenever possible.
But hey -- don't get the idea I'm giving the wonderful, Western-loving folks of the WWA a hard time here. I kid because I love. And most of their picks are dandy by me. I'd just arrange things a bit differently. And, in fact, I'm about to. Because as much as I might carp about the WWA's list...well...it's fun to make lists, isn't it?
And now, without further ado (and, man -- that was a lot of ado), my personal Western top 10:
(1) Little Big Man
(2) Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
(3) Rio Bravo
(5) Dances with Wolves
(6) The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
(7) Red River
(8) The Searchers
(9) She Wore a Yellow Ribbon The Big Country (seen since this list was first made)
(10) For a Few Dollars More The Tall T (see above)
Note: The Ox Bow Incident probably should've made my list because it's so good. It's just no fun.
Note: Blazing Saddles probably should've made my list because it's so fun. It's just so dumb. (Not that dumb can't be brilliant....)
Honorable mention: True Grit and True Grit (I love both versions -- in fact, they should probably be in the top 10 somewhere, but I don't feel like changing the order again), Hombre, Destry Rides Again, The Outlaw Josey Wales, The Naked Spur, Shane, Django Unchained, The Wild Bunch, Winchester '73, Ride the High Country, Ride Lonesome, Fort Apache, Man of the West, Day of the Outlaw and The Mark of Zorro (which I had to leave out because it's not a Western by my own definition -- blast those accursed rules!)
Special honorable mention: HBO's Deadwood, which is better than 90% of the movies on the WWA list.
Special dishonorable mention: High Noon. I mean, it's O.K. and all. But come on. We can admit it, can't we? Just between us friends? It's really pretty boring, isn't it? Or is it just me?
Final note: Feel free to tell me I'm full of crap.
July 4, 2008