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March 27, 2006

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A Film Guide for Cowboy Action Shooters

By a curious twist of fate, the Old West died out at just the time the motion picture was born, and the latter immediately glommed onto the former, transforming grubby reality into glamorous myth. Hollywood has produced more Old West b.s. than all the longhorns that ever lived.

Probably the first realistic Western character seen on the screen was in Shane (1953). Jack Palance portrayed a gunfighter named Jack Wilson, and he was very close to the real thing because he shot farmers for a living and enjoyed it.

Gary Cooper as Marshall Will Caine was good in High Noon (1951) because he was plainly terrified throughout the picture. But I’ve only seen three westerns in a lifetime of watching them that were real from start to finish.

First is The Culpeper Cattle Company  (1972). This was a B movie with a no-star cast, and it portrayed cowboy life as it really was: dirty, dangerous, and something to get the hell away from as soon as a better opportunity came along. “Cowboyin’s somethin’ to do when you can’t do nothin’ else,” says the cattle-drive cook.

Second is Ulzana’s Raid  (also 1972), a low-budget A movie with Burt Lancaster. It’s the story of a cavalry patrol chasing an escaped Apache chief (Ulzana) who murders men, women, and children for sport. It’s brutal, highly intelligent, and politically incorrect by today’s standards.

Third is Unforgiven  (1992), directed by and starring Clint Eastwood. It was nominated for nine Oscars and won four of the major ones. Its central figure is William Munny, a reformed-alcoholic gunfighter who, having failed as a farmer, goes back to killing for money. There are no heroes in this one, just varying degrees of evil.

So the next time you strap on your chaps and your sixgun, remember: There were damned few good guys, and you wouldn’t want to live within 10 miles of them anyway.



Could the same not be said of gunwriters??? :) Present company excluded, of course :)

ranger nick

All great films. Lots of great character actors supporting the stars both good and bad.

It would be hard to choose a favorite between them. So i pick:TRUE GRIT. John Wayne is so out of character here.

Hollywood can't figure out why all the new films they make ain't cutting it at the box office now.

Bring back the western, shootum'ps,cattle drives, indians on the warpath, pioneers crossing the plains,etc.. There is still alot to cover on the west. Endless stories to reseach.

Where are the character actors today? hollywood replaced them with the computer guys to save money. No more Gabby Haynes, Wather Bremen, and Bob Steele.

Thank God these films are on and will be on DVD.

So keep shootin' straight Dave. we all enjoy your blog.


I disagree about the film Unforgiven. Maybe some of the characters were accurate, but is that to say that all women were whores during that time?


What about "Tombstone" with Kurt Russell? That wasn't a half bad movie, either.


"Open Range" with Kevin Costner and Robert Duvall was very well done, and realistic. "Tombstone" is a great movie, but "Wyatt Earp" was a little more realistic. What about "The Wild Bunch"? It's a pretty gritty portrayal of the brutality of the Old West and the seedy characters who inhabited it. The final shoot out would need to be excluded of course.

Matt Oursbourn

"Open Range" is the most realistic western I have ever seen. It does however, commit the same sin as every western or other movie - the characters shoot 20 or so rounds out of a Colt revolver without reloading. "Open Range" is better than most movies in the reloading aspect, but, Kevin Costner does tend to shoot about 10 rounds from his pistol. The characters are very believable and common to the Old West. The heroes aren't exactly saints and the villians aren't purely evil. The movie portrays a feud between a freegrazing cattle outfit and protective landowners. The gunfight is choreographed excellently and the sound of gunfire is very lifelike. For a glimpse of the Old West as it was, watch "Open Range."

Dave Petzal

To Kelly: I enjoyed Tombstone (and especially Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday) but the business about the red-sashed Cowboys was nonsense, as was the OK Corrall gunfight at the end. I've never seen a completely realistic re-eneactment. Tombstone came close, but there was stuff in there that just didn't take place.


My personal favorite western after High Noon (Gary Cooper – Grace Kelly) and Unforgiven (1992, directed by and starring Clint Eastwood) is “The Missouri Breaks” starring Marlon Brando and Jack Nicholson, Directed by Arthur Penn. The critics panned it but I thought it was great.


I'm a huge Duke Wayne fan, love all his western's. That being said, I think you're remiss in not mentioning Lonesome Dove. Duvall and Tommy Lee were great!


I like your movie picks, and would like to include Quigley Down Under as one of the better ones made recently.

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