|Posted by BigBlackHatMan on September 10, 2012 at 3:50 PM|
SYCW: The Ten Worst Westerns (I Have Seen)
Hey everybody…ugh… Man, I have been suffering since the fall allergy season kicked in. It has messed with my sleeping, my breathing, and even my voice. It makes me happy that I took this time to go on hiatus from my video making since I have not been up to it. I guess I will write an article with the time I am resting since I do not want to leave the house right now. But what should I write about? Usually, I write fairly upbeat articles. However, I have come across some real stinkers in my time watching Westerns. Since I am feeling grumpy, I think I will share the grump. Here are the ten worst Westerns I have seen.
If you feel like being bored…
10. Death of a Gunfighter (1969) Well, the very first film on the list was directed by the famous (or infamous) pseudonym for a director Allen Smithee. In fairness, the reason this one got the Smithee tag is that the first director, Robert Totten, left well into the project due to fighting with star Richard Widmark. Totten was replaced by Don Siegel who would not take credit for directing the film since Totten had done most of the work. The alias was attached as a compromise.
I watched this movie. I know I did. However, I barely remember what happened in this film except it ends in pretty much the way the title implies. That is the thing. There is absolutely nothing unique about this film. Well, there may be something, but let me come back to that. Richard Widmark is trying to carry this project which is a lot of the problem. He was a decent actor, but blasé. His friendship with the likes of John Wayne and John Ford really bolstered his career despite a less than stellar acting ability. As much as anything, this movie is a stand in for every completely unmemorable Western I have ever watched.
If this had any redemption, it would be the presence of Lena Horne. That is to say, she adds here great singing voice to the film because her acting is not really special. It sort of makes her the perfect match for Widmark. Honestly, if you were a huge fan of Horne, check it out. Otherwise, duck this bore fest.
This is a love story?
9. Duel in the Sun (1946) This should have been a great movie. Gregory Peck, Joseph Cotten and Lionel Barrymore were all attached to this project to be directed by King Vidor who was already a legend with his first credit coming in 1913. Female sex symbol Jennifer Jones was also cast. The script was also based on a very popular novel. The movie has even made a handful of classics list. Despite this, this movie has major issues.
The movie is essentially a love triangle with Peck and Cotten playing brothers who are the son of a headstrong rancher played by Barrymore. Early in the film, there is some intrigue with the ranch, but it quickly falls by the wayside for the love story. Oh, and the love story is awful. The execution is terrible. Peck is a jerk, Cotten is an idiot, and Jones is a little of both. It comes off as incredibly foolish kids fighting like they were fourteen years old. Parts come off as a hormone driven spat until Cotten does the smart thing and basically withdraws, but Peck drags him back in for no reason. The end is…just… Okay, I will not give it away in case someone wants to see it, but it is fitting for this story of stupidity.
If there is redemption for this one, it is the performances of Lionel Barrymore, Walter Huston, and Harry Carey. The problem is that they are part of the subplot. Their screen time is limited, and that is frustrating. If the movie had been about these characters, this could have been a really good movie. They could have even included the love story as a subplot. This movie was nicknamed “Lust in the Dust” when it was first released, and that title is still apt.
Let me hear you scream that this is a good movie.
8. The Quick and the Dead (1995) I have had people get really mad at me for thinking this is a stupid movie. I know it has its committed fans. However, I am not among that group. This movie was part of the boom of Westerns that came after the immense success of Clint Eastwood’s last Western, Unforgiven. For those of you screaming how unfair I am being, hear me out on why I do not like this movie.
Sharon Stone, as a cowgirl hero, is average at best. She does okay, but is nothing special. Given the rarity of female heroes in Westerns, I expect more. Gene Hackman is an awful villain. More appropriately, the villain is written really poorly. What is his motivation? He controls a town, but he still decides to have a contest where he could be killed. He is risking his whole life’s work to get his kicks. That is so stupid. On top of that, he brings in someone he knows is good enough to kill him and pisses him off. It is okay though since Russell Crowe is virtually phoning in his performance in. I will not even bring up young Leo DiCaprio.
Believe it or not, I do understand why people like this. The action scenes are decent which I attribute to Sam Raimi’s direction. Some of the side characters like Keith David and Lance Henriksen are interesting. (Though Keith David’s draw is incredibly dumb. Shooting from the hip means not taking aim.) I just do not think these things overcome the major plot and character problems.
How the Oregon Trail was really dull.
7. The Big Trail (1930) I felt the need to include a John Wayne movie on this list. I enjoy the Duke and many of his films, but he did a lot of movies, so he was bound to do some stinkers in there. For those who remember my article uninspired, you will notice some crossover on this list. My movie from John Wayne there was Cahill U.S. Marshall, but that movie is just boring. This movie is badly dated, poorly paced, and struggles to do anything adequately.
The Big Trail was directed by Raoul Walsh, and let me warn you, this will not be his last time on this list. Somehow his name pops up on a lot of lists of best Western directors because he got tied to big projects. When I look down his IMDB list, I do not see a single movie that I consider great or classic. The Big Trail fails for a number of reasons. The rumors around the film are that production was a nightmare as half the cast and crew had dysentery while shooting on actual Oregon Trail sites. John Wayne, in his first starring role, supposedly lost twenty to thirty pounds off his already slender frame. None of the actors were up to a great performance as a result. I already mentioned the pacing and storytelling problems, so I will just leave it at this, the movie’s narrative is a mess.
If there is a reason to watch this movie, it is to see twenty-three year old John Wayne running around with long curly hair and looking so skinny that he could blow away. He was nowhere near the actor he would be in later years. He is often stiff and clunky in his delivery. This could have been a classic film, but the problems that plagued it prevented that from happening.
Native Americans treated fairly, but with still limited screen time.
6. Cheyenne Autumn (1964) John Ford was one of the greatest directors to ever live in my opinion as he created vibrant characters, used spectacular backdrops, and always told simple but effective stories. However, near the end of his career, Ford had lost his touch. His characters became flat, the stories were no longer effective, but the backdrops still looked good for the most part. Many of his films after 1960 were just not the same. Some were good thanks to the actors like The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence and Sergeant Rutledge, but even these seemed somewhat lacking in Ford’s signature touch.
For those not aware, Cheyenne Autumn tells the story of the Cheyenne tribe’s breakout from a reservation in the southwest where they were poorly treated and badly out of place. The book, by writer Mari Sandoz, is quite good, and I recommend it to anyone who appreciates history with a fictional twist. Ford liked the book, too. He just failed to translate it well as the story is uneven. Where the book concentrates on the Cheyenne, his movie focuses more on the white men who interacted with them. Richard Widmark pops up gain. He is just as bad, and Karl Malden has a role here too, but is shockingly flat by his standards. There is a humorous cameo with Jimmy Stewart as Wyatt Earp, but this ten minute subplot may be the only highlight.
Honestly, there is no reason to watch this movie. At the time, it was one of the few that focused on Native Americans and treated them well, but much better movies have been released since then. Little Big Man, A Man Called Horse, and Dances with Wolves are all superior films. It is painful to think Ford made this mundane a film, but true. I have heard his very last film, 7 Women is equally atrocious, but I have not seen it to tell you.
Stop the singing!! Please!!
5. Paint Your Wagon (1969) I do not like musicals for the most part. There are some I appreciate and enjoy, but generally speaking, I pass on them. I would almost rather just listen to the sound track as I can appreciate a good song. This movie does not even have that. I wrote extensively about this movie once, but for those not aware, this is a musical starring Clint Eastwood and Lee Marvin. I have already hit two of my favorites in Wayne and Ford, so Clint needs a little send up as well for his low light. The executive who signed on to the casting was hopefully fired.
The most obvious flaw in this movie is the fact that Marvin and Eastwood are constantly singing. Believe it or not, Eastwood is not the worst singer in the film. Marvin’s voice is so flat and monotone that he gets very tiresome to listen to and he sings probably the most of anyone in the film. The movie also makes attempts at being funny. This movie thinks that polygamy by a woman is funny. They are wrong. Almost none of the jokes work on top of almost none of the music working. Oh, and it is over two and half hours long.
What redemption is there for this? Well, there is one really good song in the film. A man who did several musicals, Harve Presnell, delivers “They Call the Wind Mariah” which actually got single releases by other artists over the years. Of course, it comes in the first third of the film and there is almost two hours to endure after it. This thing is a test of endurance.
So, Hardin was not really a ruthless killer???
4. The Lawless Breed (1953) Damn it Raoul Walsh! John Wesley Hardin may be one of the most interesting real life Western characters in history. He was a gunman who killed at least eleven people. He stared down Wild Bill Hickok. He was put in jail for one of his murders, but got out because he earned a law degree while in and argued his own case for release. That being said, Hardin has not had that really good movie done about him despite his reputation.
This movie fails for several reasons. Once again, Walsh’s pacing is really strange. Sometimes it feels like the story is rushing through parts of Hardin’s life and other times it seems to dwell on minutia. Rock Hudson plays Hardin. He does not do a bad job, but the character has been written to make Hardin seem like less of a bad ass gunfighter and more of a victim of circumstance. It is a huge cop out. There is also a love story. There is almost nothing to say about that plot element that does not involve intense profanity. And the end… Hardin is shot and regrets it all. He wants everyone to be nice and do not kill and pick flowers and blah, blah bullshit!!! Okay, enough of the profanity.
This movie is not worth watching. I will not even pretend like it has redeeming factors. All right, I may be going a little overboard. As I said, Hudson actually does a decent job in the lead. You can tell he was really putting in a lot of effort into the film, but a lot of the supporting performances are average or bad. Just avoid this one and hope someone puts together a good Hardin film someday.
I shall avenge this travesty. But how?
3. Jonah Hex (2010) BWAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!! I did not grow up reading comics, but thanks to Dark Jak, Kyle R, and The DVD Grouch, I have become a huge fan of DC’s Western anti-hero. He has a tragic background that has made him largely indifferent to the world. Every time he finds some happiness, the writers are good enough to quickly tear it away. The comics are great, and I recommend them to anyone who likes Westerns and good storytelling.
The movie though is so terrible. They give Hex unnecessary powers, mess with his origin, and do not tell a coherent story. John Malkovich might be one of the silliest villains in a Western. He is only short a black mustache to twist from being Snively Bodumfeder. His secret weapon is also bizarre and nonsensical. Megan Fox is also in this movie. At the end, she turns out to be one of my favorite characters from the comics, Tallulah Black, but she is as wrong as the main character. Everything about this movie is wrong.
The worst thing here, in my opinion, is that Josh Brolin was virtually the perfect casting for Hex. There are several times during the film that seems exactly what one would expect from the comic anti-hero. Honestly, if they tried this again, Brolin could be recast without any aspersions from me. Jonah Hex deserves a good movie. This was not it.
More music and nonsense in one big ball…
2. Zachariah (1971) Acid Westerns are a very interesting concept. They take non-traditional music and use it in a Western. Usually, the genre is rock ‘n’ roll. Some, like Dead Man and The Proposition, are really solid. The founder of the genre is often considered this movie though, and it was not a smooth start.
Most of the problems with this movie come from a combination of poor storytelling and anachronisms. Country Joe and the Fish and The James Gang provide most of the music and are in the movie. The problem is that they use modern instruments and break into song at strange times. Parts seem more like a music video than a movie. It would be okay as a music video, but hurts the narrative here. The moral of the story is also about peace and veganism. The second thing kind of comes out of right field. Calling this movie a mess is an insult to messes everywhere. The story is about Zachariah and his friend Matthew as they rise in the criminal ranks as gunfighters until Zachariah realizes it is wrong thanks to an old mentor. This film is just strange though as the acting is average at best, the story confusing, and the music oddly placed.
So naturally, I would recommend this movie on some level. Wait…what? Yeah, this movie falls into that so bad it is good category at times. I laughed at a number of scenes that were not meant to be funny. The transition from the first act to the second act so thoroughly vexed the writers that they just had Doug Kershaw play his fiddle and sing to Zachariah about what would happen. The character never appears before or after and this presence never explained. It is a strange moment. Also, when the old mentor dies, he simply states he will die and does in an instant. I had to watch it twice just to make sure that was how they did it. This movie is bad, but so bad that it is good for a few laughs.
Blech! ‘Nuff said.
1. The Great Silence (1968) Spaghetti Westerns are a nice addition to the genre as they added new perspective and gave us stars like Clint Eastwood and Lee van Clef, but they have some short comings. Often, they depended heavily on violence to make up for bad acting or storytelling. It worked okay, but made some of the movies less than stellar. With that said, Sergio Corbucci never impressed me.
Corbucci directed the classic Western, Django. The movie is a classic largely because it launched the career of Franco Nero who does a very good job as the titular protagonist. However, Corbucci’s follow up, The Great Silence is awful. The titular protagonist is mute, so he cannot be interesting since this actor is not at all expressive. The villain is a so ridiculous he seems like a version of Yosemite Sam who happens to kill people. The story is also nonsensical as it contains huge plot holes. However, this movie would simply be boring if not for the end. At the end of the movie, all the good guys are killed. That is right. The villains win, and some movie critics claim this is genius. I, however, find it lazy. It was just a way to end the film without having to do anything clever or interesting. It cheats the audience out of anything dramatic as the end is just a slaughter. This is awful.
As I said in another article, I do not like Corbucci. I do not mind when a protagonist dies, but it has to have some context, and this has almost none. The movie is less bold and more a shock factor. It makes the whole film not worth watching. It has an alternate ending where the protagonist win out, but it is just boring. Maybe nothing could have saved this movie, but it could have been at least forgettable rather than horrible.
So, there it is. The ten worst Westerns I have seen. I may see worse in the future, but let’s hope not. Happy Trails and Watch Out for those Rough Patches.