Happy Trails To You: Our Salute to Westerns Roundup

Posted in Screening Room by - August 02, 2015

Western month was filled with some fantastic films, and the occasional dud. We had previously done a roundup for our disaster movie month, and you can count it being a regular part of our monthly movie marathons. With that said here is our roundup for our Salute to Westerns. 

Best Movie

Chris: El Topo. El Topo takes the western genre and filters it through the lens of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s mind, and what you get in a wholly original take on the western genre. There are times where the film is admittedly over indulgent in what it puts on screen, but Jodorowsky’s creative mind is running at full tilt throughout the entire film, subverting the western genre in a way that hasn’t been seen since. El Topo is not a film, it is an experience.

John: The Good, The Bad, and The Weird. The Good, the Bad, and the Weird is an epic and sweeping tale of citizens of Manchuria as they deal with society, crime, greed, the Japanese occupation, and revenge. It’s an interesting story, about entertaining characters, told with a stunningly colorful and eye-popping fast paced lens of it’s Director Kim Jee-Woon. Its action is intense, its shots are exciting, and its humor is vastly entertaining. I really loved most of the films we watched this month, but I think that with it’s cultural twist on a classic genre, it’s astounding visual style, and it’s combination of both action and humor, The Good the Bad and the Weird tops the list for this month.

Yashar: Maverick. An absolute blast from start to finish,  Maverick is a fun ride that allows Mel Gibson to flex his considerable on screen charisma in a lighthearted counter to typical western genre tropes. A great supporting cast and tight little story helped make it hilarious and a fun romp through the wild west.

Worst Movie

Chris: The Way of the Gun. Man, I’m still not sure why we watched this movie for our Salute to Westerns. The film plods along for a lengthy two hour running time and only manages to get interesting in the last twenty minutes. I use the word “interesting” very lightly as getting into a gunfight with a bunch of elderly men is as interesting as this movie gets. It also tries to incorporate armchair philosophy into the film which comes off as an attempt to make the film more than a western which it isn’t much of to begin with.

John: El Topo. El Topo is a nonsensical  film that spends far too much time depicting the symbolism of a dick rock and a vagina fruit in order to focus in and tell a compelling story. Replacing character development with excessive visual stimulus and extended shots of a gut shot man walking through a cemetery, El Topo takes a genre that is best used to show the sturdy constitution of human nature and instead examines the mind of it’s creator. Unfortunately for El Topo, I’m not a fan of surrealism, and while I understand it’s value as an art, I can not voice opinions that run counter to my own tastes.

Yashar: Wagons East. It’s a satire of the western genre, which I enjoy, and there are some jokes that work pretty well. Unfortunately, it’s a mostly unremarkable if adequate film that stands as the least memorable one I viewed last month. Sure, it was John Candy’s last film that he made, but it was hardly his finest effort.

Best Hero

Chris: William Holden as Pike Bishop in The Wild Bunch. William Holden is perfectly cast as the aged outlaw who is going after the last big score. He is filled with guilt and regret about letting his former partner get captured but realizes that the day of the outlaw is slowly coming to an end. Pike is the last of his kind and he knows it; however he is unable to adapt to the quickly changing world around him, sticking to his guns to the final shot.

John: Eli Wallach as Tuco in The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Of all the characters depicted during western month, Tuco has to be the best. I love The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, and that is primarily due to Eli Wallach’s work in the film. Every scene that Tuco is a part of takes on a different feel from the rest of the movie, and his interactions with the other characters are priceless. The scene in which Wallach makes his own handgun and robs the gun store owner is, in my mind, the most memorable scene in all of the western genre.

Yashar: James Garner as Jason McCullough in Support Your Local Sheriff. I almost chose a character from Garner’s other film, Maverick, but ultimately, Garner’s starring turn as the gunslinging no-care sheriff from Support Your Local Sheriff was too memorable a role not to get this spot. His humor wasn’t over the top but effective, and he was the most interesting thing on screen every time he appears. Plus, his interactions with a mostly zany town, while he plays the straight man, works on a multitude of levels.

Best Villain

Chris: Henry Fonda as Frank in Once Upon a Time in the West. Henry Fonda remorselessly murders a child in his first scene in Once Upon a Time in the West. That right there is reason enough to make him the best villain of the month as he is the epitome of evil in the film. He toys with his victims, and incurs the wrath of Harmonica because of this victimization. He is the most cutthroat bad guy this month, and a truly deplorable human being.

John Lein: Bruce Dern as Joe Danby in Support Your Local Sheriff. Bruce Dern has been in many kinds of films, but if one’s only exposure to his work was Support Your Local Sheriff, one might assume he was a comedic genius on par with the great names in humor. His portrayal of Joe Danby brings much of the comedy to the already hilarious film. Joe’s attempt to escape, his ineptitude mixed with his arrogance, and his slow acceptance of his fate at the hands of James Garner’s Sheriff McCullough all come together to form one of the funniest characters I’ve seen in cinema, let alone in the western genre.

Yashar: Henry Fonda as Frank in Once Upon a Time in the West. Fonda’s blue-eyed killer murders children, women, and anyone who gets in his way without a second though. He spends what time that isn’t dedicated to murdering and maiming to tormenting what is ostensibly his friend/employer. An all around bad guy played with aplomb by Fonda, he receives his just desserts but remains more than a thorn in our heroes’ sides throughout the film.

Worst Performance

Chris: Ryan Phillippe as Parker in The Way of Gun. While I haven’t seen Ryan Phillippe in enough things to really have an opinion on him as an actor, I’m not what he was trying to achieve in The Way of the Gun. Not only does he deliver every line of dialogue in a strange Brando-esque voice, but his character performance is also one dimensional. He doesn’t help the already tepid nature of the film, and every time he was on screen, his line delivery was so grating it took me immediately out of the film.

John: Frank Sinatra as Dingus Magee in Dirty Dingus Magee. Frank Sinatra phones in his performance in the most racist movie I watched during our Salute to Westerns, which is saying something considering how many of the films deal with white men murdering Native Americans. He doesn’t care, and it shows. His comedic pacing is flat, and even the hard work of his co-star George Kennedy can’t save Sinatra’s off putting performance.

Yashar: Richard Lewis as Phil Taylor in Wagons East. Admittedly, I found his character somewhat humorous, but he sticks out in the film like a sore thumb as almost in a completely different film. This choice is mostly due to the lack of truly bad performances I saw this month, but Lewis’ sticks with me as one that isn’t so great.

This post was written by
Chris Stachiw is the Editor-in-Chief and co-host of the Kulturecast. He's a native Californian with a penchant for sarcasm and a taste for the cinematic bizarre. You'll often find him wandering the wasteland of Nebraska searching for the meaning of life and possibly another rare Pokemon.
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