Red River

Red River is a 1948 American western film directed and produced by Howard Hawks and starring John Wayne and Montgomery Clift, giving a fictional account of the first cattle drive from Texas to Kansas along the Chisholm Trail. The dramatic tension stems from a growing feud over the management of the drive, between the Texas rancher who initiated it (Wayne) and his adopted adult son (Clift).

The film’s supporting cast features Walter BrennanJoanne DruColeen GrayHarry CareyJohn IrelandHank WordenNoah Beery Jr.Harry Carey Jr. and Paul Fix

  • Not all westerns actually have cowboys. This one does. Pretty much the entire movie is the cattle drive.
  • It is a fine movie with sweeping scenes and intense emotions.
  • There are several strong women in the movie.
  • Both John Wayne and Montgomery Clift gave fine performances.
  • The supporting cast is superb.
  • This movie is generally considered one of the finest Western movies every made.


Shane is a 1953 American Technicolor Western film from Paramount Pictures, noted for its landscape cinematography, editing, performances, and contributions to the genre.  Its Oscar-winning cinematography was by Loyal GriggsShane stars Alan Ladd and Jean Arthur in the last feature (and only color) film of her career. The film also stars Van Heflin and features Brandon deWildeWalter Jack PalanceEmile MeyerElisha Cook Jr., and Ben Johnson.

  • This is movie about the end of a western era. The cattlemen are trying to drive out the homesteaders.
  • The gunfighter Shane defends the homesteaders, and kills the cattlemen, but he is out of place also and feels he has to leave.
  • The pace of the movie is deliberate leading to the inevitable final showdown.
  • The film supposedly marked the beginning of graphic violence in Western movies.

Johnny Guitar

Johnny Guitar is a 1954 American Trucolor western drama film directed by Nicholas Ray starring Joan CrawfordSterling HaydenMercedes McCambridge, and Scott Brady. The screenplay was adapted from a novel by Roy Chanslor.

  • The subtext for this movie is the coming of the railroad that will signal the end of life as the cattle men know it.
  • It is open range versus civilization.
  • Many critics, including Roger Ebert, have pointed out that the film is a hidden commentary on the McCarthy witch-hunts.
  • The movie shows up on several lists of best western movies.

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is a 1962 American Western film directed by John Ford, starring John Wayne and James Stewart. The black-and-white film was released by Paramount Pictures. The supporting cast features Vera MilesLee MarvinEdmond O’BrienAndy DevineJohn CarradineWoody StrodeStrother Martin, and Lee Van Cleef.

  • This was one of the many John Ford westerns, but most others were shot in color.
  • Ford was known for his western outdoor shots, but this film is close and in black and white.
  • The movie deals with themes like the taming of the west.
  • The movie makes many of the lists of top western movies.

Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid

Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid is a 1973 American revisionist western drama film directed by Sam Peckinpah, written by Rudy Wurlitzer, and starring James CoburnKris KristoffersonRichard JaeckelKaty JuradoChill WillsBarry SullivanJason Robards and Bob Dylan. The film is about an aging Pat Garrett (Coburn), hired as a lawman by a group of wealthy New Mexico cattle barons to bring down his old friend Billy the Kid (Kristofferson).

Dylan composed the score and songs for the film, most prominently “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door“, which were released on its soundtrack album the same year.

  • The director Sam Peckinpah was nicknamed Bloody Sam, and this is another movie filled with violence, some of it in Peckinpah’s usual slow motion.
  • It is an incredible cast, with many veterans of Western movies.
  • Some of the scenes, like Billy’s break out from jail, are based on facts known about Billy the Kid.
  • The movie is somber in tone, with only Billy’s good nature to brighten the film.
  • The movie subtext is the end of the west and the end of that way of life.

The Searchers

The Searchers is a 1956 American Technicolor VistaVision Western film directed by John Ford, based on the 1954 novel by Alan Le May, set during the Texas–Indian wars, and starring John Wayne as a middle-aged Civil War veteran who spends years looking for his abducted niece (Natalie Wood), accompanied by his adoptive nephew (Jeffrey Hunter).

It was named the greatest American Western by the American Film Institute in 2008.

  • John Wayne was masterful as Ethan Edwards.
  • The vistas of the west are breath taking.
  • A major theme of the film is the historical attitude of white settlers toward Native Americans.
  • Ethan Edwards is filled with hate toward Native Americans.

Meek’s Cutoff

Meek’s Cutoff is a 2010 American western film directed by Kelly Reichardt.  The story is loosely based on a historical incident on the Oregon Trail in 1845, in which frontier guide Stephen Meek led a wagon train on an ill-fated journey through the Oregon desert along the route later known as the Meek Cutoff in the western United States.

  • This is a thoughtful slow moving tale of a journey of survival.
  • This is in the Survival film genre in which one or more characters make an effort at physical survival.
  • The movie has several very long shots of the wagons moving over desolate terrain.

One-Eyed Jacks

One-Eyed Jacks is a 1961 American Technicolor Western film starring and directed by Marlon Brando; it was the only film he directed. It was originally planned to be directed by Stanley Kubrick from a screenplay by Sam Peckinpah, but studio disputes led to their replacement by Brando and Guy Trosper. Brando portrays the lead character Rio, and Karl Malden plays his partner, “Dad” Longworth. The supporting cast features Pina PellicerKaty JuradoBen Johnson and Slim Pickens.

  • This is another western with no clear good guys and bad guys.
  • Unlike in many westerns, in the end, love triumphs.
  • Marlon Brando had some brilliant moments.
  • Martin Scorese introduced the restored version of the movie at the Lincoln center.

Slow West

Slow West is a 2015 British/New Zealand action western film written and directed by John Maclean in his directorial debut. It stars Kodi Smit-McPhee as a young man searching for his lost love (Rose) in the American West, accompanied by a bounty hunter played by Michael Fassbender. It premiered at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival on January 24, 2015, where it was awarded the Sundance Institute’s World Cinema Jury Prize: Dramatic Winner.

  • Slow West is an unusual, slow paced film, with intermittent violence.
  • Native Americas are part of the story, but usually as they flee from assassins, or as the young man walks through a burned out village, or just silent figures trudging through the forest. At the end, a young Native American helps Rose.
  • The young man who represents innocence, leaves death in his wake.

The Magnificent Seven

The Magnificent Seven is a 1960 American Western film directed by John Sturges and starring Yul BrynnerEli WallachSteve McQueenCharles BronsonRobert VaughnBrad DexterJames Coburn and Horst Buchholz. The film is an Old West–style remake of Akira Kurosawa‘s 1954 Japanese film Seven Samurai. Brynner, McQueen, Bronson, Vaughn, Dexter, Coburn and Buchholz[4] portray the title characters, a group of seven gunfighters hired to protect a small village in Mexico from a group of marauding bandits (whose leader is played by Wallach).

  • This is a favorite film of many, including me.
  • The music score is well known and copied often, including in Marboro comercials.
  • It is the second most shown film in U.S. television history, behind only The Wizard of Oz.
  • The Seven get all the attention, but Eli Wallach was great as the leader of the bandits.