One pleasure the Siren has discovered since starting her blog is A Girl and a Gun. George writes about movies as art--the ones that achieve that distinction, the ones that miss it, the ones that never even try. He knows how to start a good discussion, too, and recently provoked one with a post about his ten favorite Westerns. Rather than clog up his comments section, I decided to make my own post. And all right, I admit it, I am happy for an excuse to write about Westerns.
First, the Siren does not believe that the deepest theme of a true Western is the end of the frontier, despite George's eloquent arguments for that view. On the most basic level Westerns are, always and without exception, about manhood. They ask, Who's the man here?* Is it me? How do I make it me? If John Wayne is in the movie, he's the man, but can I still be the other man? If the movie is The Wild Bunch or McCabe and Mrs. Miller, is there any reason why anyone anywhere should even want to be a man?
Since the Siren has never worried about whether or not she's the man, she can afford to be flip. Her womanly insecurities are needled by something like Vertigo (must a woman change utterly to win a man's love?) or Mr. Skeffington (is concern with my appearance sucking out my soul?). But she never tires of watching men work out their own dark nights of the cinematic soul. And a good Western brings many other matters into the complicated business of male worthiness.
Ten favorite Westerns, in no order at all:
1. Stagecoach. One of the few Westerns to tackle class issues.
2. My Darling Clementine. A perfect illustration of the "end of the frontier" idea (but it's still really about manhood).
3. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. History as a bunch of stories told by people who weren't there, a theme Faulkner knew well. Do we ever revere the right men for the right reasons?
4. Unforgiven. See above.
5. Red River.
6. The Ox-Bow Incident. Superb direction from William Wellman, a well-written script and brilliant performances. The Siren has never considered a heartfelt liberal message to be an automatic demerit for a film.
7. The Searchers.
8. McCabe and Mrs. Miller. Of all the Westerns ever made, this is the one to make a viewer say, "My God. It probably did look exactly like that."
9. The Gunfighter. The Siren would pick this, and not To Kill a Mockingbird, as the late Gregory Peck's best performance.
10. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Sheer entertainment. Heir to raucous man-fests like The Sons of Katie Elder, Rio Bravo and True Grit.
*Since we're on the topic (sort of) do check out this fascinating post, from the harrylimetheme blog out of Singapore, about the origin of the phrase "Who's your Daddy?".