Westerns are not just for guys. They aren’t all shoot’em-up-bang-bang. Some are quite funny, and some are very romantic. I don’t mind admitting comedies are my favorite genre. But, westerns hold a special place in my heart. So, when you can mix comedy, romance, and cowboys – well, can you ask for anything more?
I believe I’ve mentioned a partiality to James Garner. He makes the best Wyatt Earp there is! Sunset, with Bruce Willis as Tom Mix, is a charming, fish-out-of-water tale, completely sending up the watery romp through silent-film Hollywood.
The film is loosely based on the friendship Earp and Mix, who would join John Ford and play poker together on the back-lots of Republic Pictures. For me, the saddest part of the whole story is the fact that the film takes place in 1929, just a few months after the real Earp had died, at the age of 80, from complications of kidney disease. He had one of the largest funerals in the history of Hollywood. Mix and William S. Hart, another early silent-film star, were pallbearers.
Garner, capturing the real Wyatt Earp, is at his best in Sunset. But my favorite film of his is Support Your Local Sheriff, another mix of romance, cowboys, gunfights and comedy. Perhaps here, as in no other movie, Garner becomes Earp in the prime of life. He is 'laid-back,' charming, brave, quick-thinking, and quite romantic.
We complete the James Garner trilogy with Mel Gibson’s remake of Maverick. Garner is a 'legendary sheriff,' charming, romantic, quick-thinking… Wyatt Earp. Jodie Foster’s gorgeous wardrobe is unusually accurate for a movie. You need your remote to continually pause the poker tournament. Those sequences alone make the film worth-while. It is full of old television western ‘heroes,’ along with a few country music stars mixed in for good fun. Great ending! Graham Greene steals the show, trust me.
McClintock was my first ‘adult’ film. I was seven or eight when my newly-married aunt and her husband took me with them to see it at one of the great old movie theaters in West Palm Beach. We met my other uncle and his new wife there. I was so grown up. Until McClintock, every time she took me to see a Disney movie with her I would start crying and we would need to leave. I just did not like, and still do not like, those old cartoons. But this was a turning point in my childhood. Consequently it holds a special place in my heart. So the storyline might be a little sexist. The cast and scenery over-come the sexist deficit. Quite a bit of it was filmed around Tombstone.
The Hallelujah Trail with Burt Lancaster and Lee Remick is… well… I’m not quite sure what it is besides a bit long. It is funny. Maybe it is satire. It is romantic. It has come great choral music. I wish I knew how to describe it. Original? The late Brian Keith is a favorite of mine. He’s in it, along with Donald Pleasance, and a cast of those wonderful supporting actors who make westerns what they are – great!
Purgatory is not funny. It is romantic and Sam Shepard is in it. What else is needed? It is a beautiful love story. If you like westerns as much as do I, the final shoot-out is a wild west fantasy come true. It is also a good science fiction. I don’t know if you can put into any specific category.
Two of my favorite TV movies now on DVD are Cohagher and The Shadow Riders. Both are Louis L’Amour stories. Both star Sam Elliott and Katherine Ross. Cohagher is one of those unexpected romances. It captures the New Mexico country beautifully. It is a quiet, sweet, endearing romance that will stay with you for a while.
The Shadow Riders has something else to recommend it for a late night chick flick. Okay, Tom Selleck is in it. Do we really need anything else? The Shadow Riders, in my opinion, is the best of the Tom Selleck TV westerns, obviously because it is a bit light-hearted.
Do you consider Giant a western? It is a saga. It is a beautiful romance. It is a tour-de-force for James Dean, Rock Hudson, and Elizabeth Taylor at her most elegant. It captures the heart and soul of West Texas, the giant with oil in its veins, the music of cattle, and Washington power. It predates and foreshadows Dallas by several decades. If you have not seen it, in my humble opinion, it is arguably one of the greatest movies ever made. It ranks up there with Gone With The Wind and Casablanca. It makes for a long Sunday afternoon when all you want to do is veg out on the sofa.