5. Conagher (1991)
If you’re making a list of Westerns made after the 70s, you can’t ignore Sam Elliott. His films already got mentioned here, we talked about “Tombstone” in the beginning and featured “the Hi-Lo Country” on the list but besides theatrical releases, Elliott has also starred in number of Louis L’amour adaptations. This one must be particularly dear to him and even he once called it a favorite of his own movies. No surprise, because he co-wrote the film and also co-starred with his real-life wife Katherine Ross. Indeed, this one is probably the best of those and a good place to start if you want to check those films.
For a western-action fan, it doesn’t have much to offer but as a character drama, it’s a rich film. With several stories woven into it, the film works on so many levels. You get to see the cowboy stuff you love to watch in western movies but it’s also a beautiful romance. It’s a beautiful love letter to the genre and the stand-out film with a great script, cinematography, and amazing acting. If you end up loving this film, check out other L’Amour adaptations starring Elliott, including “The Quick and the Dead” (no, no the Sam Raimi one) and “The Shadow Riders”.
4. The Last Outlaw (1993)
The early 90s was such an unusual time for Mickey Rourke’s career. After a series of critically acclaimed performances in the 80s, his real-life attitude made him hard to work with and then he lost interest acting, did some awful films like “Wild Orchid” before totally quitting for boxing career. Then he decided to come back and did variety of roles, from fine supporting performances in mainstream films to lead roles in DTV stuff. Weird enough, his supposedly big comeback in “The Wrestler” was more of end of career than a comeback as he rarely got interesting roles since then.
“The Last Outlaw” came around the time when he was slowly trying to take back his acting career. It’s once again an interesting performance from him in his arguably first western leading role and the movie itself would please those who look for more violence in their westerns because there are some obvious homages to “The Wild Bunch” which are well done. If you enjoy that kind of stuff and don’t necessarily mind rather simple stories, “The Last Outlaw” is a pretty badass film. The ending is particularly epic. It also features lots of well-known character actors like Steve Buscemi, John C. McGinley, Ted Levine and Keith David.
3. Last of the Dogmen (1995)
Box office disappointment, “Last of the Dogmen” is truly underrated in a sense that it’s hard to see the film being mentioned anywhere. Most people have not heard of it unless you were actively looking for Western films to watch from the era or if you’re a Tom Berenger/Barbara Hershey fan. At some point, its DVD was out of print for a while as well but if you manage to find “Last of the Dogmen” anywhere, you should go for it.
Directed by Tab Murphy in his sole directorial effort, the film starts out like a mystery and a crime drama before eventually turning into something else. It starts with escaped criminals who are massacred by the unknown assailants. Detectives, along with an anthropologist head into the woods to make a contact with an undiscovered tribe of Native Americans. They live in the old ways, staying true to their own identity and traditions, but they are also prepared to kill anyone who would threaten their way of life. Should they report them or to let them to live in peace? That’s the main question of the film.
It’s possible to criticize it for some of the clichés here and there but mostly, the film works really well because it’s a film with a heart. It might not go into deep or complex territories as it should but with the very fine cast, solid story-telling and gorgeous cinematography, “Last of the Dogmen” is a western that shouldn’t have been forgotten as it is.
2. Ride with the Devil (1999)
In 1862, a war raged in the border region between Kansas and Missouri between former citizens and farmers who had formed irregular troops. This war is taking place between the Jayhawkers, who support the North, and the Bushwhackers, who are loyal to the South, far from the battlefields chosen by the Union and the Confederates. Jake Roedel and Jack Bull Chiles are friends in Missouri when it all starts. More things he experience, more Jake will question everything.
Major box office flop for Ang Lee, “Ride with the Devil” made only $635,096 against its 38 million budget. It is probably no coincidence that one of the best late westerns was made by a non-American who was apparently able to resist most of the clichés of the genre. Then again, maybe that’s the reason behind its flopping at the box office because it’s not a western full of gunfights, fast-paced action or anything.
Even in the most emotional moments, the film stays calm and subtle. Tobey Maguire might not be a great actor but his face is so important to the film because it brings a sense of youthful innocence here. Here the best performance arguably belongs to Jeffrey Wright who stands out in a notable supporting role as Daniel Holt, a freed slave who’s also heart of the movie. Lee’s film is unusual but certainly worth watching.
1. The Ballad of Little Joe (1993)
Josephine Monaghan belongs to higher social circles. She gives birth to a child out of wedlock, which leads to a falling out with her father. Monaghan leaves the child in the care of her sister and travels to the Wild West. She is often sexually harassed, which is why she disguises herself as a man. She is addressed as “Jo”. Suzy Amis, who portrays Jo is giving a haunting performance that brought her a nomination for the Independent Spirit award. The supporting actors are of a fine caliber and should be recognized for their outstanding performances. It’s one of the feminist westerns made in the early 90s but unlike “Bad Girls” (which is not a bad film at all!) this one was critically acclaimed. Rightfully so but the critics couldn’t turn into a financial success.
This list is no short of beautifully shot films but this one is particularly beautiful to look at. The tale it tells is absolutely beautiful and it’s a type of story that could easily be deemed as a “gimmick film” and in a way It is, but it works. It’s because of Maggie Greenwald’s strength as a director at bringing a revisionist Western that also honors the conventions of the genre. It reveals a side of the Old West that is typically ignored, certainly gives a fresh and unique perspective and that’s what makes the film an exceptional and original feature. It’s a story of substance told with genuine artistry that can amaze with simultaneous subtlety and depth It’s a kind of film that would please even the non-fans of the genre.