10 Great 1960s Western Movie Classics You Probably Haven’t Seen

The ’60s was an incredible decade for the Westerns. It was an exciting time for the genre as Sergio Leone and John Ford kept delivering their masterpieces, and films like Sam Peckinpah’s “The Wild Bunch’ were a game changer for everyone. It’s all too obvious since there were so many great films, some ended up being more popular than the rest.

Nowadays, one can call the entire western genre underrated as it’s not as popular as it used to be and while we still get great films from time to time, it’s not as frequent as back in the old days. There will be some overlooked gems in this list that hopefully both fans and maybe some of the non-fans of the genre will enjoy, films that have all the shootout action, and chases, as well as those who are more thoughtful and complex.


10. Ride in the Whirlwind (1966)

ride in the whirlwind

There’s a moment in a documentary called “Corman’s World” where Jack Nicholson starts to cry when he talks about how much producer and filmmaker Roger Corman meant to him and it makes sense because he gave him his start. Some of those were goofy, badly written low-budget films similar to trailers shown early on “Tropic Thunder” but he had to start from somewhere. “Ride in the Whirlwind” was written by Jack himself, obviously before he became a star with “Easy Rider”.

In 1964, Monte Hellman and Jack Nicholson made two films together, Back Door to Hell and Flight to Fury, which were produced by Roger Corman and filmed back-to-back in the Philippines. Then Corman suggested they do westerns back-to-back. They made “The Shootist” and then this one. What’s so great about “Ride in the Whirlwind” is how authentic it feels, especially when it comes to dialogues. You can tell Jack is a man of multiple talents.

One can call it a revisionist Western easily because it’s an attempt to debunk the Western myth and it’s doing it in a unique, original way. Even if such moody westerns aren’t for you, it’s still worth watching to see the rise of a superstar in Jack and eye-patched Harry Dean Stanton.


9. The Stalking Moon (1968)

“To Kill a Mockingbird’” was one of the best and most celebrated films of its time. Six years later the team behind the film reunited again; actor Gregory Pack has agreed to star in the western “The Stalking Moon” directed by Robert Mulligan and produced by Alan Pakula. Mulligan and Pakula worked together back then and their collaborations have resulted in some great films. Overall, Mulligan was a filmmaker who had people like Kubrick and Truffaut among his fans and Pakula later turned out to be a terrific filmmaker in his own right.

“The Stalking Moon” is another one for the fans of revisionist westerns. It’s a thoughtful and talkative western that goes to places not everyone did at the time which makes it such a fascinating and impressive work. Those who look for an action might be disappointed. In fact, the film is more heavy on themes rather than the action but the script, co-written by Alvin Sergant, who later wrote masterpieces like “Paper Moon”, and gorgeous cinematography work makes up for that. There’s also a lot of suspense in the storyline that feels almost Hitchcockian. Peck’s performance is strong and Robert Forster is excellent as well. There’s also a fantastic soundtrack that needs to be noted.


8. The Hellbenders (1967)

The American Civil War is over, but fanatical Southern officer Jonas Morrisson who led a regiment called the Hellbenders now wants to reorganize the Southern Army and defeat the Union. If your idea of spaghetti westerns is limited to Sergio Leone, try to check out Sergio Corbucci’s work. If you’re only familiar with Corbucci’s masterpieces “The Great Silence” and “Django”, check out his other films as well, and “The Hellbenders” is one of his most underrated.

When it first came out, American critics found it inferior to other Euro-westerns of the time which is strange cause it’s a crazy entertaining film full of great action sequences and shootouts. Sure, some of the elements might feel over-the-top but that’s what makes the film so entertaining. No wonder Quentin Tarantino consider this one among his favorites, so much so that he showed it at his own annual festival.

Now that we had two rather moody, less action-y westerns on the list, this one is for the ones who enjoy their westerns violent. The violence also serves the plot as it makes the lead characters come off more despicable and scary in a way. The fast-paced movie is also excellently supported by Ennio Morricone’s great score.


7. The Sons of Katie Elder (1965)

John Wayne had an excellent decade with “How the West Was Won”, “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance”, “El Dorado” and finally the film that brought him the gold, “True Grit”. Then there’s “The Sons of Katie Elder”, which is an excellent western directed by the veteran of the genre Henry Hathaway. Here he stars as a professional gunman, who along with his brothers reunited for their mother Katie Elder’s funeral, sharing regret that none of them has lived up to her expectations. Then rising entrepreneur Morgan Hastings claims the ownership of Elder’s ranch, claiming he won it from their father in a card game. Their father was murdered that day and it’s time to find out who the killer is and avenge him.

This is a film more aimed at the fans of traditional westerns, good guys and bad guys stories and it does its job tremendously well. It has the right amount of balance between dramatic and comic tones. It’s debatable how well-cast these four brothers are because they don’t necessarily look alike and their age gap might be off but it doesn’t mean, cause all of them to give a fun performance. Excellent photography by Lucien Ballard, whose credits include “True Grit” and “The Wild Bunch”, also elevates the material. The film is also notable because Wayne had a cancerous lung and two ribs removed just four months earlier prior to the film but he came to the set and delivered again.


6. Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here (1969)

California, 1909. The Paiute Native American outlaw Willie Boy argues with the father of his girlfriend Lola, whom he ends up killing in self-defense. Both make their escape on foot. Deputy Sheriff Cooper leads a group of men who want to capture or kill Willie Boy. Cooper turns back when the pursuit seems hopeless. The others continue to pursue. “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” stars Robert Redford and Katharine Ross have won BAFTAs for both films but this one is obviously a much lesser-known effort. Robert Blake also got recognition from New York Film Critics Circle for his performance here.

Blacklisted, this was filmmaker Abraham Polonsky’s first film since his excellent debut “Force of Evil”. It is based on the book “Willie Boy…A Desert Manhunt” by Harry Lawton, which in turn is based on a real incident. It only makes sense to give a balance between traditional and revisionist westerns here, and this one fits in the category of the latter. It follows like a simple chase story but the film has a lot of political messages underneath and the relationships between characters become interesting gradually. It’s an intense film with a beautiful musical score, gorgeous cinematography, and somewhat of a tragic story. The ending is a particular highlight. It could be better if the film was focused on Blake more than Redford but still, it’s an effort worth watching.