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July 01, 2008

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Final Word on the Best Western Debate

The results for our best Western were more chaotic than our contest to pick the best award for political dissembling; that was the Distinguished Lying Cross as you may recall. So, in my role as ultimate arbiter of taste and culture, I will now take a dally around the pommel, lean back in the saddle, and settle this here argument.

Best Western: Unforgiven
In a league by itself.

Almost Best: The Searchers
Done in by historical inaccuracies, but  a masterpiece nonetheless.

Honorable Mention: High Noon
Brought down by silly gunfight, but has best song. Grace Kelly is the best-looking newlywed ever to shoot a bad guy through a pane of glass.

Honorable Mention: Shane
Raised high by the unforgettable Jack Palance, marred by Alan Ladd's spotless buckskin outfit.

Honorable Mention: The Gunfighter
Great Gregory Peck, and way ahead of its time.

Honorable Mention: Tombstone
What Jack Palance did for Shane, Val Kilmer does for this one. The gunfighting has a fair amount of b.s. in it, but is saved by "You're a daisy if you do."

Honorable Mention: Ulzana's Raid
Bert Lancaster at his best. Great script, and some very disturbing questions raised.

Worst Movie from a Great Book: The Shootist
John Wayne deserved better for his last picture. The book, by Glendon Swarthout, is possibly the best Western novel ever written. Read it, then see the movie, and you'll see what I mean.

Western that Ruins All Other Westerns: Blazing Saddles
Mel Brooks couldn't make it today.


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you are showing your age...


I really dont see how the best movie of genre can be one one whose point is to show that reality can be much worse than it is normally portrayed by the genre.

Its recursive.


How can you not give an honorable mention to Once Upon a Time in the West.

Dan R.

Dave, you are a man of impeccable taste. I think it would be hard to argue with any of the top picks.

anthony Licata

Ok, fine, but how can you leave off The Outlaw Josey Wales? What? This is Clint Eastwood at his best, and a an accurate portrayal of the scum who roamed the West after the Civil War.
"Dying ain't much of a way to make a livin', boy."

Dave Petzal

To TJB: Once Upon the Time in the West, and the other spaghetti westerns, were parodies, not to be taken seriously. Anyway, how many super closeups of Lee Van Cleef can anyone take?

As for The Outlaw Josey Wales, a good movie, but not a great one. Sort of like my own favorite The Culpepper Cattle Company.

damn fine choices all. was nice to see a lot of the votes, some of these movies i havent seen in years and now have to go rent or buy cause i am dying to see them again. i think mr. petzal is getting a commission from blockbuster vidoe for doing this.

I don't think the spaghetti westerns were parodies at all (I'm no film scholar though). I think Leone's films show the west for what it was - dirty, dusty, and hard a place to live. The problem with so many of the pre-spaghetti movies is that the heroes are too clean cut. There is too much of "here is the good guy, here is the bad guy". Yes, "The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly" establishes these roles as well, but Blondie isn't really "good", he's just less bad than Lee Van Cleef.

As for the close ups - thanks to Leone, what Western since then hasn't done it? How can anyone make a duelling scene today and not include the ultra tight close-ups of the shooters?

Mike Reeder

I might quibble with some of the honorable mentions, but based on the criteria you originally spelled out I can't argue with your top two choices -- although facts be damned, I'd probably reverse them. I personally would have found some place for Long Riders, Red River (which would edge out Culpepper Cattle Co. for doing it first) and Fort Apache, but the fact is that any arbitrary list is going to leave a lot of great westerns unmentioned. And since you've been accused of geezerism, let me suggest to the young whippersnappers that they take the list and a bunch of the other nominees and head to Blockbuster. They might just learn something.

Mike Diehl

Well it often comes down to taste. Pretty good list, Dave, but I think the Honorable Mention for Best Song goes to "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence."

Duck Creek Dick


I have to agree with your choice of "Unforgiven". Any time I see a Starr revolver and a Spencer carbine, you've got my attention. The music by Lennie Niehaus was terrific also.
One historical goof was when they were going to outfit the posse and this guy commented about not getting any 30-30 shells. This in the late 1880's.

Del in KS

"Unforgiven" was my #1 and Shane was my #2 pick. Don'cha love little Bill's leaky house the half blind Schofield kid, London Bob and his "Biographer" and Strawberry Alice. That's the only movie I have ever seen a whore wipe her "business" on screen. IMO the final shootout is the most realistic gun fight ever in a Western. Shane is just flat the best old western ever. Dave you are absolutely right about the clothes being too clean but all old westerns are that way. For sheer intertainment the Good, The Bad and The Ugly is my go to movie. Shooting a rope from hundreds of yards, from a horse with a rifle you have never shot before is a stretch but who cares.

Dean Jackson

Not an Eastwood fan, then?

Thos. B. Fowler

Mr. Petzel,
Taste is a personal thing, and no one of us could decide for the other which film rings our number one bell...a lot of factors catch our eye, don't they? The firearms, the plot, the specific actors [and actresses!]..authenticity, etc. However...the best may have gone unnoticed, but not by the Academy Awards folks...The Big Country. Range war, cultural war [a la TheVirginian], the best fistfight ever, a duel, the moral comment on hatred and senseless killing, AND---the good guys win.

Thanks for giving us the forum wherein we can review what impressed the other person, and remember some grand old films.

Tom Fowler


And if you want to see some real goofy, but laugh-inducing ones:
They Call Me Trinity, Trinity is Still My Name, and My Name is Nobody- starring, Henry Fonda and Terrence Hill.

tom warner

I have no argument with most of these picks, especially Unforgiven; but I have to say that I am absolutely flabbergasted that The Wild Bunch did not place in the top 3 at least. Ditto Open Range. Ulzana's Raid was the least "best" and really does not belong on the list. Very entertaining Dave. Thanks! Tom


All just a matter of opinion, but what a great discussion topic. The Outlaw Josey Wales....never a better movie made in any genre

SD Bob

I'm 40 and haven't heard of half of these? I hope they can be had on dvd for me to rent?

Jim Kiser

You have to admit for an over the top villian you could not beat ol' Harvey Korman. May he rest in peace.


I had a tough time picking in time for this contest.

One of the best dramas was "The Oxbow Incident" (1943).

I am surprised it wasn't mentioned.



SD Bob:

You should rent as many as you can. The films people have discussed here are so much better than any of the crap coming out today...not that I've seen a movie since The Outlaw Josey Wales, of course.

Cliff B

OK with most on list but 'Unforgiven' for all it's virtues was one of the most depressing movies I ever saw. Never would make any of my lists since I never would watch it again. 'Red River' should be somewhere on any list.

NH Philosopher

Unforgiven is the best Western ever put on film.

As for some missing from the list:

I know the Spagetti Westerns are riddled with flaws, but frankly High Plains Drifter is one hell of a flick. Pun intended.


No mention of The Magnificent Seven???

Steve Ferber

uhh...uhh...and what about "Drugstore Cowboy"?

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