6. Deadwood: The Movie
After the initial success and cancellation of the HBO television series that introduced the gritty violence of the fledgling community of Deadwood, there were long gestated rumblings of returns and movies. This is the culmination. About ten years are the show finished we pick up with the same characters, who have aged but not lost their witty, curse riddled verbal patter, which was always the strength of the show.
Creator David Milch is one of the great living dialogue writers regardless of medium or form. His best lines, arguably, are given to Al Swearengen, a mean spirited, foul mouthed prince of the west, played by Ian McShane. The films subtle plot lines, the quality of the performances and the general world building more than honour the original show. This was the perfect ending to one of TVs more entertaining shows, and an invaluable modern addition to the western tradition.
7. Johnny Guitar
Legendary director Nicholas Ray’s most successful western subverts the classic role of the homesteader makes good in the western wilderness, (aka The American Dream) by making this go-getter a woman, played by a charged Joan Crawford. The tension, as it often does, comes from the arrival of the railroad and just who in the village can capitalise on its particular path.
This anxiety reaches its apex when a local mob want to lynch a wounded gunslinger and, saloon owner, Vienna (Crawford) comes to his defence. The mob has been whipped up and encouraged in large part by a young, seemingly sexually confused local, Emma Small (Mercedes McCambridge). She imagines Vienna has stolen the affections of her desired man, and so pushes the town to go against Vienna, yet it is really Vienna to whom she seems to be attracted. This psychosexual energy, along with a fraught on set relationship between the two actresses which is evident in the film makes this a most interesting western.
8. The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
This is the most famous spaghetti western and has gained this caveat for a reason. It’s a great film. The plot is simple: three hardened veterans of the west attempt to outsmart and outmanoeuvre each other in pursuit of a buried fortune.
The scope of this simple premise, played out over two and a half hours, is impressive. Ennio Morricone composed the soundtrack and it’s probably his best known, maybe the best known score in all of cinema. With this and the cinematography alone, notably the graveyard stand off scene, you have all the requirements for an excellent film. Add to that a cast of Eli Wallach, Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef, the latter two being among the most iconic figure of the 70s western period, and you can’t go wrong.
9. The Proposition
This is an Australian western, written by Nick Cave, who instills a sense of spare, gothic apocalypse which wouldn’t surprise anyone acquainted with his music. Given the desert landscape of much of Australia and its penal colony history, it’s the perfect location to play out a story of greed and betrayal.
The central divide being the attempt on the one side to civilise the land (another common western trope) and the outlaws on the other hand relishing the chaos and freedom. The former conviction is help by a colonial enforcer (Ray Winstone) who is driven by the need to capture a murderous villain and his brothers, the Burns family. The outback itself is a character here, infecting the film with a sense of dread and hostility, that despite the expanse of the Australian outback it will make you feel a clammy claustrophobia.
10. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Endlessly re-watchable, this is perhaps the lightest film of the bunch, and a large portion of the enjoyment comes from seeing Paul Newman and Robert Redford (in the title roles) act out the dream bromance of anyone with half a heart. These heroes despite their propensity for gunplay, on the part of Sundance at least, ultimately rely more on on their cunning to pull off bank jobs and outsmart the police or the federales. This makes for fine watching, as Butch comes up with inventive plan after plan. The famous final scene is reason enough to check out this film.