Tuesday, June 17, 2008

AFI Top Ten Westerns

Randolph Scott and Joel McCrea in Sam Peckinpah's "Ride the High Country" (1962)

Tonight CBS presents another of the AFI "movie list" specials. I adore these programs. The movie buff in me delights in the copious movie clips and in approving and disapproving of the selections on the various lists. I have been known to shout at the television just like my husband shouts at the referees when he watches "Hockey Night in Canada". Well, not just like him - I'm poor on the profanity bit.

Tonight's program is a top 10 list in various genres. I love all kinds of movies, but my heart is with the western and this western fan is uneasy about the countdown. Take a look at the short list of 50 from which the panel chose the top 10 and you will see what I mean: Bend of the River, The Big Country, Blazing Saddles, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Cat Ballou, Cheyenne Autumn, Dances With Wolves, Destry Rides Again, Duel in the Sun, Fort Apache, Giant, The Gunfighter, High Noon, High Plains Drifter, How the West Was Won, The Iron Horse, Jeremiah Johnson, Johnny Guitar, The Last Picture Show, Little Big Man, Lonely Are the Brave, Lone Star, The Magnificent Seven, Major Dundee, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, My Darling Clementine, The Outlaw Josey Wales, The Ox Bow Incident, Pale Rider, The Plainsman, Red River, Ride the High Country, Rio Bravo, Rio Grande, The Searchers, Shane, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, The Shootist, Silverado, Stagecoach, The Tall T, True Grit, Tumbleweeds, Unforgiven, Union Pacific, The Westerner, The Wild Bunch, Will Penny.

Choosing from the above titles, the panel can create a solid, decent Top 10 Western list or they can create an abomination. Either way, it can in no way be considered a definitive list of best American westerns because it features only one Anthony Mann film, and although Bend of the River is a personal favourite of mine, I don't believe it will make a cut. Before the evening has even begun the list has a major flaw. No Devil's Doorway, Winchester '73 or The Naked Spur. Shame on them.

While Mann's output is missing, there are some questionable inclusions: The Last Picture Show (does this drama spring to mind when you think "western"?), Duel in the Sun (a picture of dubious quality), Blazing Saddles (a spoof, not even a comedy-western). I'll grant them the modern westerns such as Lone Star. After all, one of the things I love most about the genre is its flexibility and how writers and directors have been able to use the western to reflect different eras and craft wonderful stories. However, consider some of the interesting titles that didn't make the short list: Westward the Women, Hell's Hinges, The Long Riders, Warlock, Last Train from Gun Hill, No Name on the Bullet, Forty Guns, Hangman's Knot, Three Godfathers, Blood on the Moon, Ride Lonesome, Stars in My Crown, The Big Sky, Seven Men From Now. It's enough to make you feel sorry for the panel.

What will make this western movie buff happy and keep her from going soccer hooligan on the Zenith? If the number one spot is occupied by my beloved Shane or any film directed by John Ford. If the top ten list includes: Ride the High Country, The Big Country, The Tall T and/or Will Penny. However, if the top ten list includes Blazing Saddles, the voting panel had best remain cloaked in anonymity as they will have unleashed my inner Tom Dunson.


  1. Not a perfect list, to be sure, but man, did I breath a sigh of relief for that panel and their safety when I saw number one.

  2. Yep. They're a lucky bunch. However, I suspect they haven't actually watched any of the movies!

  3. I pretty much agree. Heck if "Giant" and "Lone Star" are westerns, why not include "Treasure of Sierra Madre"? I'd include "The Professionals" on the list along with the "The Far Country".

    The problem with AFI is that artistic quality is only one of many factors including diversity and popularity.

  4. rcocean, I think one of the problems is that there is a lack of respect for the Western, and a lack of knowledge of the creative talents behind some of the greats of the genre. I optimistically think that will eventually change, but as someone once said: "That'll be the day."



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