Category Archives: Lists

Rios and Ranchos

Nicholas Chennault ~ December 17, 2014

Rios and Ranchos–Westerns with Rio or Rancho in the Title

River Westerns (“Rio” or “River” in the title)

Red River (1948)
Silver River (Flynn, 1948)
Massacre River (1949)
Rio Grande (1950) The best known is this one by John Ford. But there are several other Rio Grandes, including one with Gene Autry.
Bend of the River (1952)
The Siege at Red River (1953)
Border River (1954)
River of No Return (1954)
Many Rivers to Cross (1955)
Canyon River (1956)
Man from Del Rio (1956)
The River’s Edge (1957)
Rio Bravo (1959)
Rio Conchos (1964)
Texas Across the River (1966)
Rio Lobo (1970)
Red River (MfTV, 1988)
The Man from Snowy River (1982)
Return to Snowy River (1988)
Rio Diablo (MfTV, 1993)

Last Stand at Saber River (MfTV, 1997)

Wind River (2017)

Fighting Apaches from Over the River:

Rio Grande (1950)
Rio Conchos (1964)
Major Dundee (1965)

Characters Named Rio

Jane Russell (Billy the Kid’s romantic interest) in The Outlaw (1943)

Robert Taylor (Anthony Quinn’s foster brother) in Ride, Vaquero (1953)

Marlon Brando in One-Eyed Jacks (1961)

Jake Schur in The Kid (2019)



Rose of the Rancho (1914, 1936)
Rancho Grande (Gene Autry, 1940)
Rancho Notorious (Dietrich, Ferrer, Kennedy, 1952)
Rancho Deluxe (Bridges, Waterston, 1975)



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The Big Game

Nicholas Chennault ~ December 15, 2014

Gambling Westerns—The Big Game

Many westerns include saloons, gambling and sometimes a card game for high stakes.  Among those where card games or tournaments are central to the plot are the following movies.



Jodie Foster and Mel Gibson play in Maverick, 1994.

The Virginian, in various versions of the 1902 novel (most recently in 2000):  A card game includes the story’s most famous line, delivered by the Virginian to Trampas: “When you call me that, smile.”
The Iron Mistress (1952):  In this fanciful biopic, land speculator and knife fighter Jim Bowie (Alan Ladd) participates in a couple of big games.
Dawn at Socorro (1954):  A Doc Holliday-figure (Rory Calhoun) plays for the future of a dance-hall innocent.
The Mississippi Gambler (1953):  Before the Civil War, a riverboat gambler (Tyrone Power) defies the odds and crooked gamblers to play an honest game, amid romantic complications and duels.
The Gambler from Natchez (1954):  An army veteran (Dale Robertson) in the 1840s seeks answers about the death of his gambler father.
Scalplock (MfTV, 1966): A gambler (Dale Robertson) wins an unfinished railroad in a card game.
Big Hand for the Little Lady (1966): A compulsive gambler’s wife (Joanne Woodward) finishes the big card game.
Five Card Stud (1968): A card game leads to a lynching and a series of murders by parties unknown.
A Thousand Pieces of Gold (1991): The fate of a young Chinese woman in an Idaho mining camp is decided by a card game.
Maverick (1994):  In this reboot of the 1950s television series, Mel Gibson spends most of the movie trying to raise a stake for the big game, and then plays in it.
Triggerman (2009, direct to video):  A legendary gambling outlaw (Terence Hill) enters a wild tournament.

Aces and Eights:

According to western legend, Wild Bill Hickok was holding a hand of black aces and eights in a saloon in Deadwood, Dakota Territory, when Jack McCall killed him from behind in 1876.  Since then, that hand has been known as the “Dead Man’s Hand,” a token or predictor of death.


Aces and Eights (1936):  Col. Tim McCoy plays for high stakes to save a Mexican family.
The Plainsman (1936):  This highly fictionalized story of Bill Hickok (Gary Cooper) ends with his death in Deadwood.
Stagecoach (Luke Plummer, 1939):  When the Ringo Kid (John Wayne) arrives in Lordsburg seeking revenge for the killing of his family by the Plummer brothers, Luke Plummer is holding the Dead Man’s Hand.
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962):  Loathsome outlaw Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin) holds the deadly cards in this John Ford film.
Wild Bill (1995):  Wild Bill’s last days in Deadwood include the famous card game in this version from director Walter Hill.

StagecoachPoster StagecoachPlummerHand

Luke Plummer (Tom Tyler) draws the hand in Stagecoach, 1939.

Lady Gamblers

Marlene Dietrich in Destry Rides Again (1939)

Claire Trevor in The Desperadoes (1943)

Joanne Dru in Red River (1948)
Shelly Winters in Frenchie (1950)

Hedy Lamar in Copper Canyon (1950)
Marlene Dietrich in Rancho Notorious (1952)
Dorothy Malone in Law and Order (1953)
Rhonda Fleming in Gunfight at the OK Corral (1957)
Angie Dickinson in Rio Bravo (1959)
Joanne Woodward in A Big Hand for the Little Lady (1966)
Jodie Foster in Maverick (1994)





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Lost Masterpieces

Nicholas Chennault ~ December 1, 2014

Lost Masterpieces:  Westerns That Never Were


Charlton Heston points the way as Maj. Amos Dundee.

In 1964 young director Sam Peckinpah was beginning to make a splash in Hollywood after the release of his modestly-budgeted second western, Ride the High Country.  He was given a larger budget and an A-list cast for his third western, Major Dundee, to be filmed on location in Mexico.  However, Peckinpah always had issues with authority and impatience with restraints of any kind on his creativity.  When Peckinpah gave in to his self-destructive impulses in Mexico (booze, drugs, wild women) during the filming of Major Dundee, the studio (in the person of producer Jerry Bresler) was understandably alarmed at the wild budget overruns.

The out-of-control production was on the verge of being shut down until it was saved by star Charlton Heston, who rashly offered to contribute his own salary if the production were allowed to continue.  The studio quickly took him up on it, and, according to Heston’s memoirs, he even did some directing while Peckinpah was incapacitated by various forms of debauchery.  But the studio did keep a close eye on the film after that, and a tight rein on its anti-authoritarian director.  It took the final cut of the film away from him, and the theatrical release was 123 minutes long, just over two hours.  In 2005, a 136-minute version was released on DVD twenty years after Peckinpah’s death, so we could see at least a part of what we’d been missing.  Supposedly Peckinpah’s own unreleased cut was 152 minutes long.  The episode all but destroyed Peckinpah’s career as a Hollywood director for a time, although some of his best work (The Wild Bunch) was yet to come.  Major Dundee thus became the textbook case study of how a supposed masterpiece came to be ruined by the petty financial concerns of bureaucratic accountants at the studio.


Director Sam Peckinpah with Senta Berger on the set of Major Dundee; and Peckinpah is clearly troubled at the thought of studio interference.

Ruthless studio cutting invariably gives rise to such rumors that the uncut director’s version was a masterpiece, fueled in part by the director’s unhappiness with the studio’s businesslike approach to his work.  Such tensions between the creative impulses of directors and the business instincts of their studios have existed almost as long as movies have been made.  During the silent era, for example, even such legendary directors as D.W. Griffith (Intolerance) and Eric von Stroheim (Greed) had grandly-conceived multi-hour epics curtailed for release in theaters, and almost nobody has seen them as the director originally intended even when it has been possible to restore them to that vision.  In 1954, Judy Garland’s version of A Star is Born was intended by director George Cukor for a three-hour running time.  But the outcry of exhibitors, claiming that they’d lose money because they couldn’t fit as many showings in a day, led to the studio insisting on a cut closer to two hours.  The shorter film reportedly did not give full rein to Garland’s dazzling comeback performance, cheating her out of a chance for an Oscar as Best Actress and virtually ending her career as a major movie star.


D.W. Griffith at work directing Intolerance.

As Major Dundee illustrates, this studio ruthlessness has also applied to westerns.  Major Dundee joins a list of several other good westerns which supposedly existed in longer, better versions before studios either insisted on cuts or made the cuts without the director’s participation.  In legend, the uncut versions were always supposedly masterpieces, and it would be good to see the longer versions to make up our own minds.  But in most cases at least some of the extended footage appears to be lost, so that it would be very difficult, if not impossible to restore the film to what the director originally intended.

One thing that made Dances With Wolves (1990) so remarkable at the time of its release was that, even with westerns out of fashion for almost two decades, it was released to theaters in a highly unusual 181-minute cut—a three-hour running time.  Even that wasn’t enough for some:  in the DVD age it has shown up in an extended cut (224 minutes), a director’s cut (236 minutes) and a special edition (also 236 minutes).  The longer versions are not discernibly better films than the original theatrical release, although it can be interesting to watch the director’s creative processes by comparing versions.  Longer is not always better.

Silent Movies.  Most of the movies made during the silent era (before 1929) have been lost, simply because they were shot and distributed on volatile film stock and not stored well because the studios who owned them did not value them after their initial runs in theaters.  John Ford started as a director in 1917, but 60 of his 70 silent films have been lost.  Luckily such Ford silent masterpieces as The Iron Horse (1924) and Three Bad Men (1929) have survived, but without being able to see the rest of his work, we don’t know what else may have been of similar quality.  Ford was not alone; much of the work of such silent western stars as William S. Hart, Harry Carey and Tom Mix has disappeared as well.  Occasionally even now, decades later, a movie thought to be lost is re-discovered in some distant location, like Argentina, New Zealand or Russia, so we can still hope for similar future finds.

Director Raoul WalshBigTrailRoxyPoster

The Big Trail (1930).  This is one masterpiece that is no longer so completely lost as it once was.  Director Raoul Walsh’s early experiment in 70 mm. moviemaking didn’t make much money on its initial release, because theaters didn’t have the equipment to show it that way.  But we can see from a 122-minute restored DVD that it was visually splendid for its time, and it introduced a young John Wayne in his first role as a leading man.  Some say that the original cut was 156 minutes long, and many would like to see that version with the additional half-hour.  It was originally thought to be a flop, but has been reassessed in the last 25 years with the ready availability of the restored 122-minute version.  In retrospect, it’s a significant achievement and a milestone in the history of movies, particularly in the history of westerns.  And maybe it would be even more monumental in the lost 156-minute version.


Henry Fonda as Wyatt Earp in an iconic image from My Darling Clementine; and director John Ford at John Ford Point in Monument Valley.

My Darling Clementine (1946).  Yes, it’s a masterpiece as it exists, one of the 55 Great Westerns, with one of Henry Fonda’s very greatest performances as Wyatt Earp.  Director John Ford always claimed that he “cut in the camera,” shooting only the footage he wanted to use in the film, reducing the chances for anybody at the studio to tinker with his work.  But in this instance, Twentieth Century-Fox studio head Darryl Zanuck thought Ford’s movie was too long as he submitted it to the studio.  He infamously ordered director Lloyd Bacon (known more for musicals than for westerns) to shoot additional footage, and then Zanuck re-edited the film himself.  Some of Ford’s cut footage has been found, but we don’t have Ford’s complete version as he submitted it to Zanuck.  It goes to show that (a) Ford was right in his paranoia about what studio people might do to his work if given the chance, and (b) even the very greatest director of westerns was not immune to studio interference with his work.  Was this masterpiece even greater in Ford’s original and longer cut?  As of Oct. 2014, there is a Criterion Collection DVD of this available.  In addition to a fully-restored version of the 97-minute theatrical release, it also contains a 103-minute pre-release version, which is not the full John Ford original cut.



Across the Wide Missouri (1951).  Clark Gable didn’t make a lot of westerns, but he wasn’t bad in them (see The Tall Men, for example).  He reportedly insisted on William Wellman as the director of this mountain man story.  For whatever reason, MGM executives didn’t like the version submitted to them, subjecting it to drastic cutting and adding voice-over narration by Howard Keel.  The shortened result (78 minutes) seems to be not terribly coherent and was disowned by Wellman, who washed his hands of the whole project and went off to film Westward the Women.  Asked about it in an interview, Wellman responded, “I’ve not seen it, and I never will.”  The extended cut may not have been a masterpiece, but most viewers agree with Wellman that the theatrical release certainly isn’t.


Howard Hawks blocks out a fight scene with Kirk Douglas for The Big Sky.

The Big Sky (1952).  This was another mountain man epic, made by Howard Hawks, who had an excellent track record as a director going back twenty years, including the cattle drive classic Red River.  Filmed on location in Jackson Hole, this black-and-white theatrical release was 122 minutes long; Hawks had intended it to be a cut of 140 minutes.  The cable movie channel TCM has shown an extended cut, but the re-inserted footage is clearly inferior in visual quality to the rest of the movie.  This is the second best mountain man movie ever made (after Jeremiah Johnson), and one of Hawks’ three best westerns, and it would seem to be a prime candidate for a full restoration.


Director Robert Rossen with Rita Hayworth on the set of They Came to Cordura.

They Came to Cordura (1959).  This late film for Gary Cooper and Rita Hayworth was based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Glendon Swarthout (author of The Shootist and The Homesman).  Set during the Mexican revolutions of the early 20th century and the U.S. army’s fruitless pursuit of Pancho Villa, director Robert Rossen’s original cut was about two and a half hours long; the theatrical release was only 123 minutes long.  The studio also insisted that Gary Cooper’s character couldn’t die at the end.  At the time of his own death in 1966, Rossen was in the process of buying back the film from the studio so he could restore it to its intended length, but so far that restoration hasn’t happened in the fifty years since.  As it exists, the film is watchable but dour and cynical; one hopes it would be better in an extended cut as the director intended.

Major Dundee (1965). The course of Major Dundee and its reputed mutilation is described above and in its own post.  Although we have not yet seen, and may never see, Peckinpah’s own unreleased 152-minute cut, the preliminary verdict is that this is watchable but not a masterpiece. The studio may have been right about Peckinpah’s self-indulgence.

McKennasGoldPeckKennedy McKennasGoldForemanPeck

Presidential candidate Robert Kennedy visits the set of McKenna’s Gold, chatting with the politically-sympathetic star Gregory Peck.  And Peck talks with writer-producer Carl Foreman during filming.

Mackenna’s Gold (1969).  It would be quite a stretch to call this potboiler a masterpiece in its current form, unless perhaps you’re in India, where it was unusually and unaccountably popular for years after it failed at U.S. box offices.  (In the U.S. it returned only $3 million on its then-substantial production costs of $14 million.)  []  It included a huge cast and multiple subplots.  Conceived as a sprawling epic and submitted to the studio in a three-hour cut, the studio nevertheless insisted on cutting it down to a two-hour running length for theatrical release.  Director J. Lee Thompson and writer-producer Carl Foreman would no doubt say the ruthless cutting is what prevented it from being a masterpiece; others would point to such missteps as casting Omar Sharif as a Mexican bandit chieftain and principal villain, or the cheesy (even for 1969) special effects at the end involving earthquakes and landslides while the heroes barely and unconvincingly escape.  Western author and movie aficionado Brian Garfield referred to it as “the most expensive star-studded two-hour B movie ever made, a gargantuan dud of absolutely stunning dreadfulness.”  Even star Gregory Peck said “Mackenna’s Gold was a terrible western.  Just wretched.”  There is a strong likelihood that the longer cut would simply provide more wretchedness.


Executive producer Steve McQueen shouts instructions to the cast on the set of Tom Horn.

Tom Horn (1980).  The 50-year-old Steve McQueen was already dying of cancer in 1979 during the filming of this, his next-to-last film.  It was a troubled production with multiple (at least five) directors; McQueen himself, as the executive producer, seems to have been its guiding intelligence.  Originally intended as a three-hour epic, it was released at only 98 minutes.  From the evidence we have so far, it is more “troubled” than masterpiece.


Heaven’s Gate (1980).  Young writer-director Michael Cimino hit the peak of his profession with a Best Picture Oscar for 1978’s The Deer Hunter, only his second movie.  And his career crashed with his next film: Heaven’s Gate, based on Wyoming’s Johnson County war.  Characterized by some as “a bleak anti-western,” it polarizes viewers, but most agree that the 149-minute theatrical cut is not very good.  Audiences stayed away in droves.  Some claim the 216-minute director’s cut is a masterpiece, but to others it still seems like bloated evidence of self-indulgence.  If you’re going to watch it, the extended cut is the one to see.  Cimino himself said of the film, “It took me a long time before I was able to say, ‘I’m proud of that movie.’ And I am proud of it. I could not have made it any better than I made it.  No excuses, and no regrets.”  But the movie is not universally held in high regard, and Cimino hasn’t worked much since.  Alone among the movies on this list, Heaven’s Gate exists and is available in its fullest version; the question is whether it merits the description of “masterpiece.”


Michael Mann directing Steven Waddington (as Maj. Duncan Heyward) and Daniel Day-Lewis (as Hawkeye).

The Last of the Mohicans (1992). Although this traditional tale from the French and Indian War did well at the box office, the second half seemed too short.  Director Michael Mann had originally submitted to the studio a cut about three hours in length.  The studio insisted on a shorter version, releasing it at 112 minutes.  When he got another shot at it, however, the Mann director’s cut was released on DVD in 2001, but it was not the full three-hour version.  Some things had been changed but not much was added.  There have now been three versions with three different running times:  the original 1992 theatrical release at 112 minutes (used for the VHS release); the 2001 117-minute director’s expanded version; and a 2010 director’s definitive cut at only 114 minutes.  The director’s cuts are all that are available on DVD now, although many prefer the original theatrical release.  This may be a rare instance of the director’s cut being worse than the original (perhaps like the results of George Lucas’ constant fiddling with his original Star Wars movies); it’s not even much longer than the original.  This film is recent enough that one can perhaps still hope for a more extended and better-balanced director’s cut, although longer is not always better.  Or maybe just the original three-hour version Mann submitted to the studio.  Or maybe a better extended cut by somebody who’s not the director.  Even with the original theatrical cut, this is one of the great westerns.


Stars Matt Damon and Henry Thomas, with director Billy Bob Thornton.

All the Pretty Little Horses (2000).  Directed by actor Billy Bob Thornton, this is the conversion to film of Cormac McCarthy’s poetic novel that captures “the adventure of being young, lost, in love, and on horseback at the moment 20th-century modernity crushed the cowboy.”  (Entertainment Weekly)  Miramax reportedly butchered Thornton’s director’s cut and mismarketed the film as a forbidden border romance between Matt Damon and Penelope Cruz, but Thornton is said to still have his original cut.  It would be interesting to compare it with the theatrical release.

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Call Him… Ringo

Nicholas Chennault ~ November 19, 2014

A Gunman Named Ringo

The historical Johnny Ringo was an Arizona gunman associated with Ike Clanton, Curly Bill Brocius and the outlaws known as the Cowboys around 1880 in Cochise County.  He may have been the most feared gunman among them, but that’s not clear.  He was found dead in a remote spot with a bullet in his head in 1882 at the age of 32, and nobody knows how he got the bullet or who put it there.  Since he often shows up as a character in movies about Wyatt Earp in Tombstone, some have been tempted to show Wyatt or Doc Holliday as the responsible party.  (See Michael Biehn’s death in Tombstone, for example—Biehn gives what is probably the best representation on film of the historical Ringo, although he is embellished somewhat.)  But nobody really knows the circumstances of Ringo’s death.  The coroner ruled that he died by suicide.  His reputation may have been exaggerated, but he had a great name for a gunman.  For historical background on the real Johnny Ringo, the definitive biography so far is probably Jack Burrows’ Johnny Ringo: The Gunfighter Who Never Was (1987).


The Ringo KId (John Wayne) stops the stage in Stagecoach (1939).

The name Ringo itself, like “Cimarron,” is redolent of the legends of the American west, and it has been used many times in fictional situations.  The best known are the Ringo Kid, played by John Wayne in Stagecoach (1939), and Jimmy Ringo, an aging gunfighter played by Gregory Peck in The Gunfighter (1950), both sympathetic characters.  The Ringo Kid (John Wayne) has just broken out of the territorial prison, but he was there for a crime he didn’t commit and most people except the Plummer brothers seem to like him.  Jimmy Ringo (Gregory Peck) has led a life of violence, which apparently causes him to draw challengers like flies, but now he wants to leave that life behind and reconcile with his estranged wife, making a family life with a son who doesn’t know him.

Several makers of spaghetti westerns were fond of the name Ringo, too.  Giuliano Gemma seemed to be the most frequent, or at least the best-known, Italian Ringo.  It just seems like a good, all-purpose name for a gunman or an outlaw.  Variations on it (Django, Rango) crop up in a variety of western films.  You never see it applied to a lawman, though.


Above:  Gregory Peck as aging gunfighter Jimmy Ringo in The Gunfighter (1950); the studio hated Peck’s moustache and thought that it was why the movie didn’t do well at the box office, although the film is now regarded as a near-classic.  And Michael Biehn as Johnny Ringo in Tombstone (1993), perhaps the best depiction on film of the actual Arizona gunman.  An educated man, he quotes the Bible and Latin aphorisms with seeming facility, although the real Johnny Ringo was unlikely to have had such an education.

The Oklahoma Kid (1937; Ringo, a sleazy lawyer)
Stagecoach (1939; The Ringo Kid)
The Gunfighter (1950; Jimmy Ringo)
Best of the Badmen (1951; Curley Ringo)
Montana Belle (1952; Ringo [Indian])
Gun Belt (1953; Billy Ringo)
City of Bad Men (1953, Johnny Ringo)
Gunfight at the OK Corral (1958; Johnny Ringo)
Toughest Gun in Tombstone (1958; Johnny Ringo)

Last of the Fast Guns (1958; Johnny Ringo in Mexico)
Una Pistola per Ringo (1965)
Il Ritorno del Ringo (1965)
Stagecoach (1966; The Ringo Kid)
Django (1966; Ringo)
Stagecoach (1986; The Ringo Kid)
Tombstone (1993; Johnny Ringo)
Wyatt Earp (1994; Johnny Ringo)


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Westerns and Religion

Nicholas Chennault ~ November 12, 2014

Westerns and Religion

From at least the 1910s, a common theme in western movies has been the outlaw or gunman whose life is turned around by religion and the love of a good woman (see William S. Hart in Hell’s Hinges, 1916, for example).  In the age of populist directors like Frank Capra and John Ford (the 1930s and 1940s), religion—specifically Protestant Christianity, but also Catholicism—was seen as a constructive and regular part of the American consensus.  A religious community was usually a civilizing influence, often with a significant dose of sentimentality.  Sometimes that religion and its role in American life was central to the story of a western, as in 3 Godfathers, Angel and the Badman and Stars in My Crown (all very good movies).  When Gregory Peck found that his quest for revenge had been misdirected in The Bravados, he sought and found solace by talking with a priest.


Moving into the 1960s, there was increasing disillusionment with many American institutions, such as the military, government and big business, and some of that rubbed off on churches as well.  Religion seemed less comfortable and less a significant part of regular life, and religious figures started to be more often fanatical than helpful or genuinely good.  Priests were more frequently depicted as ineffectual, fallen or corrupt.  By the revisionist 1970s, religion as a constructive force had disappeared almost entirely from westerns.  That trend in part makes the 1999 made-for-television Purgatory kind of a remarkable throwback in its use of religious themes.

Specific religious groups can play interesting roles in westerns.  An obvious example is Quaker pacifism pitted against conventional western violence and guns, as in Angel and the Badman, High Noon and Friendly Persuasion.  Mormons were a part of the history of the west, both in their migration westward and in the Salt Lake City-based empire they built in Utah and surrounding states.  Fictional Mormons in the west had been prominent as villains in A. Conan Doyle’s first Sherlock Holmes story A Study in Scarlet (published in 1887), and in Zane Grey’s first best-seller Riders of the Purple Sage (1912).  Beginning in the 1920s, Mormons were more likely to be seen as genuinely religious people and more part of the mainstream of history.  In California and the southwest, as well as in Mexico, the Catholic church and missions played a significant role historically and in many movies (see Colorado Territory and Strange Lady in Town, for example, not to mention such arguable non-westerns as Black Robe and The Mission).

Sometimes, as in Cowboys & Aliens, both the Christian and the overtly non-religious otherworldly co-exist in the same film.  For more outrageous directions in use of the supernatural in westerns, see our post on Supernatural Westerns.


A Sentimental Christianity

Hell’s Hinges (1916):  When the corrupt town of Hell’s Hinges kills the new reverend, gunman Blaze Tracy (William S. Hart), under the influence of the reverend’s sister Faith, reforms the town with his guns.

The Outcasts of Poker Flat (1937):  This telling of Bret Harte’s story of gold rush California features Van Heflin as a preacher in a saloon.

Bad Bascomb (1946):  Outlaw Wallace Beery falls in with Mormons and turns over a new leaf under the influence of charming child Margaret O’Brien and her grandmother Marjorie Main.

Heaven Only Knows (1947):  Also released as Montana Mike, this is a religious fantasy in which an angel (Robert Cummings) comes to earth to save saloon owner Brian Donlevy.

Angel and the Badman (1947):  Gunman John Wayne is redeemed by his love for Quaker maiden Gail Russell.

3 Godfathers (1948):  Three outlaws in the desert rescue and sacrifice for a newborn baby. The survivor (John Wayne) is redeemed by that sacrifice on Christmas Day.

Four Faces West (1948):  A bank robber (Joel McCrea) trying to go straight saves a Mexican family with diphtheria and is himself saved by a good nurse and a sympathetic lawman.

Stars in My Crown (1950):  Preacher and Civil War veteran Joel McCrea preaches in a saloon and fights disease and bigotry in Tennessee.

Count Three and Pray (1955):  Reformed brawler and womanizer Van Heflin returns from the Civil War and struggles to find acceptance and his way as a preacher.

Strange Lady in Town (1955):  The saintly local Catholic priest (Walter Hampden) maintains a clinic for the poor, at which competing local doctors volunteer, until he is unintentionally killed near the end of the movie.

The Searchers (1956):  Texas ranger captain and Indian fighter Ward Bond is also the local reverend.

Friendly Persuasion (1956):  Husband and wife Quakers (Gary Cooper and Dorothy McGuire) pit their pacifist principles against the violence around them in Civil War Indiana.

Jubal (1956):  Glenn Ford’s Jubal is saved by a Quaker-like group of emigrants to whom he had been kind.

The Bravados (1958):  When he finds that his quest for revenge for the murder of his wife has been misdirected, Gregory Peck seeks spiritual advice from a Catholic priest and from Joan Collins.

Heaven with a Gun (1969):  Ex-con Jim Killian (Glenn Ford) maintains order in his church and defends the helpless with his guns.

Two Mules for Sister Sara (1970):  Prostitute Shirley MacLaine masquerades as a nun while working south of the border with Clint Eastwood.

Pale Rider (1985):  Preacher Clint Eastwood finds himself among beleaguered homesteaders battling mining interests, and reverts to his gunfighting past.

Purgatory (MfTV, 1999):  An outlaw gang finds itself in a curiously religious town which is reluctant to defend itself.

The Outsider (MfTV, 2002):  Wounded gunman Tim Daly is doctored by Quaker-ish widow Naomi Watts; this time the gunman convinces the woman to leave the religion.

The Missing (2003).  Traditional Christianity in the person of healer Cate Blanchett collides with the Indian animism espoused by her father Tommy Lee Jones, with ambiguous results.

Cowboys & Aliens (2011).  The local preacher doctors Daniel Craig’s wounded body and spirit before they both ride off to fight aliens.

Forsaken (2015).  Gunman John Henry Clayton (Kiefer Sutherland), long estranged from his father, Rev. John Clayton (Donald Sutherland), finally returns to his hometown in Wyoming to seek rapprochement after his mother’s death.  However, the railroad is coming to town, and Brian Cox is trying to take over all the land.  The now-reformed killer will have to choose his path ahead.

The Magnificent Seven (2016).  As Sam Chisholm (Denzel Washington) and the rest of the seven defend a California mining town under assault by the forces of a mining baron, a subtext is the role of religion in the community and the rejection of/contempt for religion by the bad guy.


Robert Mitchum as the Rev. Jonathan Rudd in Five Card Stud. Note the gun on top of the bible.

Priests, Fallen and Otherwise

The Outcasts of Poker Flat (Van Heflin, 1937)

Heaven Only Knows (John Litel, 1947)
Stars in My Crown (Joel McCrea, 1950)
Count Three and Pray (Van Heflin, 1955)
Strange Lady in Town (Walter Hampden, 1955)
The Searchers (Ward Bond, 1956)
Stranger at My Door (Macdonald Carey, 1956)
The Ride Back (Victor Millan, 1957)

The Hired Gun (Chuck Connors, 1957)
The Bravados (Andrew Duggan, 1958)
The Outrage (William Shatner, 1964)
Major Dundee (R.G. Armstong, 1965)
The Way West (Jack Elam, 1967)
Guns for San Sebastian (Sam Jaffe and Anthony Quinn, 1968)
Will Penny (Donald Pleasance, 1968)
Five Card Stud (Robert Mitchum, 1968)
Heaven with a Gun (Glenn Ford, 1969)
The Desperados (Jack Palance, 1969)
The Ballad of Cable Hogue (David Warner, 1970)
Buck and the Preacher (Harry Belafonte, 1972)
The Wrath of God (Robert Mitchum, 1972)
God’s Gun (Lee Van Cleef, 1976)
The Frisco Kid (Rabbi Gene Wilder, 1979)
Pale Rider (Clint Eastwood, 1985)
Red Headed Stranger (Willie Nelson, 1986)
The Quick and the Dead (Russell Crowe, 1995)
Riders of the Purple Sage (G.D. Spradlin, MfTV, 1996)
The Outsider (Keith Carradine, MfTV, 2002)

Avenging Angel (Kevin Sorbo, MfTV, 2007)
Cowboys & Aliens (Clancy Brown, 2011)
Klondike (Sam Shepard, MfTV, 2014)

Forsaken (Donald Sutherland, 2016)

The Duel (Woody Harrelson, 2016)

The Magnificent Seven (Mark Ashworth, 2016)

In a Valley of Violence (Burn Gorman, 2016)


Gary Cooper with two Quaker wives:  with Grace Kelly in High Noon, and with Dorothy McGuire in Friendly Persuasion.

Quakers (and Quaker-like Groups) in the West

Angel and the Badman (Gail Russell, 1947)
High Noon (Grace Kelly, 1952)
The Iron Mistress (George Voskovec as Audubon, 1952)
Friendly Persuasion (Gary Cooper and Dorothy McGuire, 1956)
Jubal (Felicia Farr et al., 1956)
Shoot-Out at Medicine Bend (Randolph Scott and James Garner as fake Quakers, 1957)
The Proud Rebel (Cecil Kellaway, 1958)
Cheyenne Autumn (Carroll Baker, 1964)
The Outsider (Naomi Watts et al., MfTV 2002)


Charlton Heston as Brigham Young instructs Tom Berenger in The Avenging Angel.

Mormons and Brigham Young:

Riders of the Purple Sage: Most versions before the 1996 made-for-television film featured Mormons as the bad guys, as in Zane Grey’s 1912 novel. The 1996 re-telling is carefully non-denominational.
Brigham Young–Dean Jagger, Vincent Price, Tyrone Power (1940; Dir: Henry Hathaway)
Bad Bascomb—Wallace Beery, Margaret O’Brien (1946)
Wagon Master—Ben Johnson, Harry Carey, Jr., Joanne Dru, Ward Bond, Jane Darwell (1950; Dir: John Ford)
The Big Gundown—Lee Van Cleef, Tomas Milian (1966; Dir: Sergio Soliima)
Brigham—Maurice Grandmaison, Richard Moll (1977; Dir: Tom McGowen)
Savage Journey—Maurice Grandmaison, Richard Moll (MfTV, 1983; Dir: Tom McGowen)
The Avenging Angel—Tom Berenger, Charlton Heston, Kevin Tighe, James Coburn (MfTV 1995; Dir: Craig R. Baxley)
September Dawn—Terence Stamp, Trent Ford, Lolita Davidovitch, John Voight, Dean Cain (2007; Dir: Christopher Cain)


The vengeful Rev. Dahlstrom (R.G. Armstrong) meets his end in Major Dundee.

Religious Fanatics

Santa Fe Trail (Raymond Massey as John Brown, 1940)
Dawn at Socorro (Forrest Taylor, 1954)
The Hanging Tree (George C. Scott, 1959)
Ride the High Country (R.G. Armstrong, 1962)
Major Dundee (R.G. Armstrong, 1965)
Will Penny (Donald Pleasance, 1968)
Sweetwater (Jason Isaacs, 2013)

The Duel (Woody Harrelson, 2016)

Nuns in the West

Two Mules for Sister Sara (Shirley MacLaine, 1970)
Madron (Leslie Caron, 1970)

September Gun (Patty Duke Astin, 1983)

Sanctified (Tiffany Creswell, 2023)


Clint Eastwood as The Preacher in Pale Rider.

Preachers with Guns

Stars in My Crown (Joel McCrea, 1950)
Count Three and Pray (Van Heflin, 1955)
The Searchers (Ward Bond, 1956)
Guns for San Sebastian (Anthony Quinn, 1968)
Five Card Stud (Robert Mitchum, 1968)
Heaven with a Gun (Glenn Ford, 1969)
Buck and the Preacher (Harry Belafonte, 1972)
The Wrath of God (Robert Mitchum, 1972)
God’s Gun (Lee Van Cleef, 1976)
Pale Rider (Clint Eastwood, 1985)

The Quick and the Dead (Russell Crowe, 1995)
Cowboys & Aliens (Clancy Brown, 2011)

In a Valley of Violence (Burn Gorman, 2016)



Robert Mitchum as Father Van Horne in The Wrath of God. The Thompson submachine gun is not a typical armament for a western. Poster art by Frank McCarthy.

Guns in Bibles

Santa Fe Trail (1940)

The Hired Gun (1957)
Cat Ballou (1965)
Five Card Stud (1968)
Buck and the Preacher (1972)

Lonesome Dove Church (2014)

Sermons in Saloons

The Outcasts of Poker Flat (1937)

Stars in My Crown (1950)
The Deadly Companions (1961)


Blaze Tracy (William S. Hart) romances the Reverends’s sister Faith Henley (Clara Williams) in Hell’s Hinges.

Symbolic Women Named Faith

Hell’s Hinges (Clara Williams, 1916)
Stars in My Crown (Amanda Blake, 1950)










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Wyatt Earp on Film

Nicholas Chennault ~ October 29, 2014

Wyatt Earp on Film:


The young Wyatt Earp at age 21, taken about 1869, probably in Lamar, Missouri; and Kevin Costner as the young Wyatt Earp, in Wyatt Earp (1994).

Wyatt Earp, now an icon in western history, fiction and film, came late to that position.  Many in Hollywood had known the aging Wyatt Earp, who had died in 1929 after a few years of working as an adviser on western films there.  He had moved to Hollywood in 1915, and may have been introduced to John Ford by western star Harry Carey.  John Ford claimed to have known the old man, to own his rifle and to have gotten the version of the OK Corral gunfight shown in My Darling Clementine from Wyatt.  (The last claim does not appear to be correct; the versions in both Tombstone and Wyatt Earp are much more accurate, according to what is known historically.)  Blake Edwards’ movie Sunset is based on Earp’s Hollywood years, although it shows a younger and physically more active Earp than the old man actually was at that time.  At the time of his death he was much more remembered for his controversial role as the referee in the Fitzsimmons-Sharkey prize fight in San Francisco in December 1896 than he was for participation in the gunfight in Tombstone in 1881.  He died in January 1929 at his home in Los Angeles; he was the last surviving Earp brother and the last living participant in the famous gunfight.  The pallbearers at his funeral included old friend John Clum, the former editor of the Tombstone Epitaph, and Hollywood cowboy stars William S. Hart (then retired) and Tom Mix (then still active).

In his current image as courageous lawman and gunfighter, Earp was largely re-introduced to the American public by a quasi-biography, Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshal, by Stuart N. Lake.  This book was an extremely flattering and largely fictional bestseller published in 1931, two years after Wyatt’s death.  Josephine Earp tried to get herself and Mattie Blaylock left out of the book, and wanted Wyatt depicted as a teetotaler, which he was not.  Lake was the first to refer to “the Buntline special” as Wyatt’s gun; in fact, it appears not to have existed.

Wyatt Earprussell-earp

Wyatt Earp in his prime, in 1889, a few years after Tombstone; and Kurt Russell as the Tombstone Earp, in Tombstone (1993), with the fictional Buntline special.

Wyatt’s first appearance in film was as an incidental character in William S. Hart’s Wild Bill Hickok (1923), played by Bert Lindley.  Movies with Wyatt in a more central role picked up after the publication of Lake’s book, beginning with Law and Order in 1932, in which those taming Tombstone are named Frame ‘Saint’ Johnson (Walter Huston) and Ed Brandt (Harry Carey), rather than Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday.  It features the first cinematic treatment of the famous gunfight. Frontier Marshal followed in 1934.  Due to arguments and lawsuits with Josephine Earp, some of the names were changed, and George O’Brien plays “Michael Wyatt.”  This film is now thought to be lost.  The Earp story really became part of the Hollywood mainstream in 1939, with Randolph Scott as Earp, and it has been present ever since in one form or another.  By late 1960s (Hour of the Gun) and 1990s (Tombstone, Wyatt Earp), some of the less savory aspects of Earp’s life, like the Earp brothers’ irregular relationships with women and the quasi-outlaw aspects of Wyatt’s vendetta ride, began to be treated more openly.  Unlike other characters and incidents from actual western history, the Earp story has given rise to an unusual number of good westerns, of which six are recommended below.

In 1927, Earp wrote to Stuart Lake:  “For my handling of the situation at Tombstone, I have no regrets.  Were it to be done over again, I would do exactly as I did at that time.  If the outlaws and their friends and allies imagined that they could intimidate or exterminate the Earps by a process of murder, and then hide behind alibis and the technicalities of the law, they simply missed their guess. [A line in Wyatt Earp echoes this language explicitly.]  I want to call your particular attention again to one fact, which writers of Tombstone incidents and history apparently have overlooked:  with the deaths of the McLowerys, the Clantons, Stillwell, Florentino Cruz, Curly Bill, and the rest, organized, politically protected crime and depredations in Cochise County ceased.”

WyattEarp1928(2)Sunset (1988) Directed by Blake Edwards Shown: James Garner

Wyatt Earp in 1928, during his Hollywood period as he nears 80, still with more than a hint of flintiness about him; and James Garner playing Wyatt Earp during his Hollywood period in Sunset (1988).

Wild Bill Hickok–Hart (1923):  In Wyatt’s first appearance on film, he is played by Bert Lindley as an incidental character in the larger story of Hickok, played by William S. Hart.
Law and Order—Huston, Carey (1932; Dir: Cahn):  Written by John Huston, this features the first example of the OK Corral gunfight on film, albeit with the leads Walter Huston and Harry Carey (in a top hat) using other names:  Frame “Saint” Johnson and Ed Brandt.  This is sometimes available on YouTube.  It was Carey’s 97th western (he started in 1910), and he had a few more to go.
Frontier Marshal—O’Brien (1934):  Silent star George O’Brien, who subsequently shows up in many John Ford films in character roles, here plays “Michael Earp” or “Michael Wyatt” in a film now thought to be lost.
Frontier Marshal—Scott (1939):  The first of the modern versions of Wyatt Earp in Tombstone features Randolph Scott as a Wyatt with no brothers and Cesar Romero as a credible Doc Holliday.
Tombstone: The Town Too Tough to Die—Dix (1942):  An aging Richard Dix as Wyatt Earp, with Kent Taylor as Doc Holliday.  Edgar Buchanan as Curly Bill Brocious?
My Darling Clementine—Fonda, Mature, Brennan (1946; Dir: John Ford):  One of John Ford’s masterpieces, this features Henry Fonda as a superb Wyatt Earp.  Characterized by beautiful black and white cinematography, dazzling use of Monument Valley and one of the most robust-looking tubercular dentists on film (Victor Mature).  It’s not strong on historical accuracy, though.
Winchester ’73—Geer, Stewart (1950; Dir: Anthony Mann):  Will Geer plays Wyatt Earp as the judge in a shooting contest in Kansas early in the film.  James Stewart is the main character hunting his brother in this excellent western that has almost nothing to do with Wyatt Earp.
Masterson of Kansas—Cowling, Montgomery (1954; Dir: Castle):  Bruce Cowling is a curiously ineffective Wyatt Earp during his Kansas years, playing a distant second fiddle to the wooden George Montgomery as Bat Masterson.
Wichita–McCrea (1955; Dir: Jacques Tourneur ):  An aging Joel McCrea plays the young Wyatt Earp in Kansas, before Tombstone. Director Tourneur and star McCrea usually make a good combination, but this isn’t their strongest outing.
Gunfight at the OK Corral—Lancaster, Douglas (1957; Dir: John Sturges):  A glitzy Hollywood treatment is given to Earp and Holliday in Kansas and Tombstone by excellent director John Sturges, featuring two of the biggest stars of the time:  Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas.
Cheyenne Autumn—Stewart (1964; Dir: John Ford) A very miscast and aging James Stewart is a quasi-comic Wyatt Earp during a misconceived interlude, showing that even a master like John Ford is not infallible.
Hour of the Gun—Garner, Robards (1967; Dir: John Sturges):  This is the better of director John Sturges’ two Wyatt Earp movies, with James Garner and Jason Robards both excellent as Wyatt and Doc Holliday.
Doc—Yulin, Keach, Dunaway (1971; Dir: Frank Perry):  A revisionist 1970s take on Earp and Holliday, not seen a great deal these days.
Sunset—Garner, Willis (1988; Dir: Blake Edwards):  This is a buddy-movie/mystery, focusing on Wyatt Earp’s days in the late 1920s as an adviser to Hollywood westerns.  It features James Garner playing Wyatt Earp for a second time (after 1967’s Hour of the Gun), with Bruce Willis as his partner Tom Mix.
Tombstone—Russell, Kilmer (1993; Dir: George Cosmatos/Kurt Russell):  One of the very good recent retellings of the Tombstone story, with an excellent Kurt Russell as Wyatt Earp and Val Kilmer dazzling as Doc Holliday.
Wyatt Earp—Costner, Quaid (1994; Dir: Lawrence Kasdan):  The most historically accurate retelling of Wyatt Earp’s story on film.  Overlong and often slow, sometimes dour, this is nevertheless worth watching.
Hannah’s Law—Holt, Kennedy, Canning (2012; Dir: Rachel Talalay):  This highly anachronistic made-for-television story of a female bounty hunter also features an anachronistic young Wyatt Earp and young Doc Holliday in Dodge City.
Wyatt Earp’s Revenge (2012):  A direct-to-video story, supposedly about the young Wyatt Earp. With Val Kilmer briefly playing an older Wyatt Earp, this makes him the only actor to have played both Doc Holliday (Tombstone) and Wyatt Earp (here).


Bert Lindley as the first Wyatt Earp on film, an incidental character in Wild Bill Hickok (1923); and Kevin Costner as a more recent cinematic Wyatt in Wyatt Earp (1994).
The Best Movies Based on Wyatt Earp’s Story:

1. Tombstone (1993)
2. My Darling Clementine (1946)
3. Hour of the Gun (1967)
4. Gunfight at the OK Corral (1957)
5. Wyatt Earp (1994)
6. Frontier Marshal (1939)

The Best Wyatt Earps on Film:

1. Henry Fonda in My Darling Clementine (1946)
2. Kurt Russell in Tombstone (1993)
3. James Garner in Hour of the Gun (1967)
4. Kevin Costner in Wyatt Earp (1994)
5. Burt Lancaster in Gunfight at the OK Corral (1957)
6. Randolph Scott in Frontier Marshal (1939)

The Best Doc Hollidays on Film:

1. Val Kilmer in Tombstone (1993)
2. Dennis Quaid in Wyatt Earp (1994)
3. Jason Robards in Hour of the Gun (1967)
4. Victor Mature in My Darling Clementine (1946)
5. Kirk Douglas in Gunfight at the OK Corral (1957)
6. Cesar Romero in Frontier Marshal (1939)


Randolph Scott as Wyatt Earp in 1939’s Frontier Marshal; and the poster from the lost 1934 version of the story of the same name, featuring George O’Brien as “Michael Wyatt.”



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Billy the Kid on Film

Nicholas Chennault ~ October 22, 2014

Billy the Kid on Film

It is hard to explain the continuing notoriety and charisma, even popularity, of youthful New Mexico outlaw William Bonney—Billy the Kid.  Young, wild and illiterate, he was only 21 when he was killed by Sheriff Pat Garrett in a darkened room; he was said to have killed a man for each year of his life, although the real total seems likely to be less than that.  Jesse James had an extended period of successful outlawry and a genius for public relations in his letters to Kansas City and other Missouri newspapers.  Butch Cassidy had a magnetic personality and a modern-day Robin Hood streak, and was never known actually to shoot anyone before heading for South America.  Billy, caught up in New Mexico’s Lincoln County War, was a killer.  One sees various photographs on the internet said to be of Billy, but there is only one that is known to be an authentic image.


The authentic scruffy-looking William Bonney (Billy the Kid); and a much smoother (and older) leather-clad cinematic Billy–Robert Taylor in 1941.

The Kid showed up in movies a little later than Jesse James did, beginning around 1930, when he had been dead almost 50 years.  He was especially prominent in the early 1940s, in a series of B movies with Bob Steele and Buster Crabbe.  Billy has been played by such cowboy stars as Johnny Mack Brown, Roy Rogers, Bob Steele and Audie Murphy, as well as bigger mainstream stars like Robert Taylor and Paul Newman.  Like many prominent western figures, Billy has been subjected to revisionist treatment (see Dirty Little Billy, 1972) in the movies.  The most notorious movie about Billy may have been Howard Hughes’ The Outlaw, in which the most prominent character was not Billy, but fictitious romantic interest Rio, played by Jane Russell.  Certainly Russell figured more prominently on the posters. Billy had a cinematic resurgence about 25 years ago, in the two Young Guns movies, in which he was played by Emilio Estevez.

There are a number of biographies and other works on the historical Billy. For historical reliability, you might start with Robert Utley’s Billy the Kid: A Short and Violent Life (1991) and High Noon in Lincoln: Violence on the Western Frontier (1990).  For readability, try Billy the Kid: The Endless Ride, by Michael Wallis (2007).


Billy the Kid—Johnny Mack Brown, Wallace Beery (1930; Dir: King Vidor)
Billy the Kid Returns—Roy Rogers (1938)
Billy the Kid Outlawed—Bob Steele (1940)
Billy the Kid in Texas—Bob Steele (1940)
Billy the Kid’s Gun Justice—Bob Steele (1940)
Billy the Kid’s Range War—Bob Steele (1941)
Billy the Kid’s Fighting Pals—Bob Steele (1941)
Billy the Kid in Santa Fe—Bob Steele (1941)
Billy the Kid Wanted—Buster Crabbe (1941)
Billy the Kid’s Round-Up—Buster Crabbe (1941)
Billy the Kid—Robert Taylor (1941)
Law and Order—Buster Crabbe (1942)
Sheriff of Sage Valley—Buster Crabbe (1942)
The Mysterious Rider—Buster Crabbe (1942)
Billy the Kid’s Smoking Guns—Buster Crabbe (1942)
Billy the Kid Trapped—Buster Crabbe (1942)
The Outlaw—Jack Beutel, Jane Russell (1943)
The Kid Rides Again—Buster Crabbe (1943)
Fugitive of the Plain—Buster Crabbe (1943)
Western Cyclone—Buster Crabbe (1943)
Cattle Stampede—Buster Crabbe (1943)
The Renegade—Buster Crabbe (1943)
Blazing Frontier—Buster Crabbe (1943)
The Kid from Texas—Audie Murphy, Storm (1950; Dir: Neumann)
I Shot Billy the Kid (1950)
The Law vs. Billy the Kid (1954)
The Left-Handed Gun—Paul Newman (1957; Dir: Penn)
The Parson and the Outlaw (1957)
Billy the Kid vs. Dracula (1966; Dir: Beaudine)
Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid—Kris Kristofferson (1972; Dir: Peckinpah)
Dirty Little Billy—Michael J. Pollard (1972; Dir: Dragoti)
Chisum—Geoffrey Deuel, John Wayne (1970; Dir: McLaglen)
Young Guns—Emilio Estevez (1988)
Young Guns II—Emilio Estevez (1990)
Billy the Kid—Val Kilmer (Made for TV, 1989; written by G. Vidal)

1313:  Billy the Kid (2012)
Billy the Kid—Christopher Bowman (2013; Dir: Christopher Forbes)

Billy the Kid:  Showdown in Lincoln County (2017; Dir:  Christopher Forbes)

The Last Days of Billy the Kid (2017; DIr:  Christopher Forbes)

Billy the Kid:  The Beginning (2017; Dir:  Scott Hester)

The Kid–Dane DeHaan (2019; Dir:  Vincent D’Onofrio)

Old Henry–Tim Blake Nelson (2021; Dir:  Potsy Ponciroli)


Billy the Kid for a new generation:  Young Guns, 1988; and Emilio Estevez as Billy.

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Westerns and Technology, Part 2

Nicholas Chennault ~ October 17, 2014

Westerns, Technology and Manifest Destiny, Part 2


A.J. Russell’s famous photograph of the driving of the golden spike on completion of the transcontinental railroad at Promontory, Utah, in 1869.

This is the second of two posts on technology as depicted in westerns.  The previous post described in general terms how westerns have treated the push westward of both population and such technologies as railroads and telegraphs during the 19th century.  Now we get more specific, with lists of movies in which such technologies and business form a significant element.

As always the lists below have likely left out some examples.  If you can think of others that belong, leave a comment.


1871 print by Currier & Ives, featuring “Prairie Fires of the Great West.”  And what would a prairie fire be without a train?

Technological Expansion Westerns, Mostly Featuring Railroads

The Iron Horse (1924; Dir: Ford)
The Telegraph Trail–Wayne (1933)
Wells Fargo—McCrea, Dee (1937)
Union Pacific—McCrea, Stanwyck, Preston (1941; Dir:  DeMille)
Western Union—Scott, Young, Jagger (telegraph, 1941; Dir:  Lang)
Whispering Smith—Ladd, Preston (1948)
Canadian Pacific—Scott, Wyatt (1949)
A Ticket to Tomahawk—Dailey, Baxter, Calhoun (1950)
Carson City—Scott, Massey (1952; Dir: De Toth)
Denver and Rio Grande—Hayden, O’Brien, Jagger (1952)
Kansas Pacific—Hayden (1953; Dir: Nazarro)
Pony Express—Heston (1953)
Overland Pacific—Mahoney, Castle (1954; Dir: Sears)
Rails Into Laramie—Payne (1954)
Santa Fe—Scott (1951)
How the West Was Won—Stewart, Peppard et al. (1962)
Scalplock—Robertson (1966)
Once Upon a Time in the West (1968; Dir: Leone)


The special posse led by lawman Joe LeFors that set out after Butch Cassidy and the Wild Bunch after their train robbery at Tipton, Wyoming, on August 29, 1900.  It didn’t catch them.

Train Robbing Westerns

The Great Train Robbery (1903, Dir. Porter)
The Great K & A Train Robbery (1926, Dir: Seiler)
Most historically-based movies about Jesse James
Dodge City (1939)
The Return of Frank James (1940)
Whispering Smith (1948)
Colorado Territory (1948)
Rage at Dawn (1955)
Night Passage (1957)
Cat Ballou (1965)
Shenandoah (1965)
The Professionals (1966)
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)
The Wild Bunch (1969)

The Five Man Army (1970)
Rio Lobo (1970)
One More Train to Rob (1971)
Red Sun (1971)
The Train Robbers (1973)
The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing (1973)
Posse (1975)
The Frisco Kid (1979)
The Long Riders (1980)
The Grey Fox (1982)
American Outlaws (2001)
The Lone Ranger (2013)


One of the three train crashes in The Lone Ranger, 2013.

Train Crashes

Dodge City (1939)
Union Pacific (1941, two crashes)
Duel in the Sun (1946)
Whispering Smith (1948)
Denver and Rio Grande (1952)
The Spoilers (1955)
How the West Was Won (1962)
Custer of the West (1967)
The Good Guys and the Bad Guys (1969)
100 Rifles (1969)
Rio Lobo (1970)
Two Mules for Sister Sara (1970)
Joe Kidd (1972)
Breakheart Pass (1975)
The Wild Wild West (1999)
The Legend of Zorro (2005)
The Lone Ranger (2013, three crashes)

Catching Trains

High Noon (1952)
Dawn at Socorro (1954)
3:10 to Yuma (original, 1957, and remake, 2007)
Last Train from Gun Hill (1959)

Train Chases

The General (1926)
Rails into Laramie (1954)
The Great Locomotive Chase (1956)
The Lone Ranger (2013)

Private Trains

Cat Ballou (1965)
Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)
Posse (1975)
The Lone Ranger (2013)


Hackman and Coburn are forced to use modern technology in Bite the Bullet.

Motorcycles in the Changing West

Big Jake (1971)
Bite the Bullet (1975)

Automobiles in the Changing West

The Moonlighter (1953)
Ride the High Country (1962)
The Good Guys and the Bad Guys (1969)
Big Jake (1971)
The Shootist (1976)


John Wayne and an unusual steed in 1970, when he was filming Big Jake, a western set in 1909.

Steampunk Elements in Westerns

The Wild Wild West (1999)
Jonah Hex (2010)
Cowboys & Aliens (2011)


A steampunk Kenneth Branagh in The Wild, Wild West, 1999.




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Westerns and Technology, Part 1

Nicholas Chennault ~ October 15, 2014

Westerns, Technology and Manifest Destiny

Beginning in the 1920s, only a generation after historian Frederick Jackson Turner had pronounced the frontier closed, the westward movement of the nation and its accompanying development of technology found their way into the movies in epic form.  After all, there were still people living who could remember the joining of the transcontinental railroad at Promontory, Utah, in 1869.  To most of them, the concurrent triumphs of 19th-century technology and westward movement of the population represented the fulfillment of the nation’s Manifest Destiny, a phrase used in its politics since at least the 1840s.


Many of those making the movies had family who could remember participating in what the movies depicted.  One of the reasons director James Cruze was drawn to the story of westward expansion in The Covered Wagon (1923) was that he was the son of Mormon immigrants and had grown up on such stories.  The next year, John Ford told the story of the railroad in The Iron Horse, another epic of the silent era.  Both were great successes at the box office, and as the movies grew, so did the productions depicting western expansion and technology.

The most obvious such technology was the railroad, but other expansion-related technologies and businesses found their way into the movies:  the telegraph, Wells Fargo, the Pony Express and such.  The course of expansion was seldom smooth, and westerns tended to show expansion as an unmitigated good thing, representing progress.  Of course, trains no sooner entered new parts of the country than they found themselves the object of attention from outlaws.  Jesse James made a large part of his reputation robbing trains, and one of the first notable American-made movies was Edwin Porter’s 1903 The Great Train Robbery, which is better known today than just about any other movie of its time.  And it is used in The Grey Fox as an inspiration to former stagecoach bandit Bill Miner as he tries to figure out what’s next for him in his outlaw career.


In general railroad builders were seen as admirable, and the troubleshooters who solved problems and dealt with Indians and outlaws were the heroes of westerns, representing the forces of good and progress (Joel McCrea in Union Pacific, Randolph Scott in Western Union, Alan Ladd in Whispering Smith, James Stewart in Night Passage, etc.).  That lasted through the 1950s.  The last large-scale triumphalist view of railroads in a western was probably in 1962, in How the West Was Won, with George Peppard as the railroad builder and troubleshooter.

As the decades passed, the post–World War II generation (the Baby Boomers) began to question authority and the motives of those who had been in charge of businesses and technologies during the westward movement.  Big business came to be seen an a tool for villainy, and in westerns, those in charge of the railroads began to be depicted as greedy and corrupt, beginning in the late 1960s with such movies as Sergio Leone’s magnum opus Once Upon a Time in the West.  Nefarious railroads and their tactics out west had long been present in such literary works as Frank Norris’ The Octopus.  But that view became more common in westerns in the 1970s.


By our time, 150 years after the completion of the transcontinental railroad, those who built and operated railroads in the west are routinely depicted as downright conspiratorial, despising individual rights and subverting government.  The evil railroad baron has become a cliché, like the moustache-twirling, top-hatted villains of the early serials.  For a recent example, see Tom Wilkinson in 2013’s The Lone Ranger.

The development of another technology—the use of computer-generated graphics in films—has meant that such flamboyant disasters as train crashes have also become much more common in movies, including westerns.  When Cecil B. DeMille, who seemed to love train crashes, had two of them in his 1939 epic Union Pacific, he could only do that with a huge budget for his time.  Now, if a train shows up as a significant element in a western, it is likely to be wrecked before the movie is done.  The recent The Lone Ranger broke DeMille’s record with three train wrecks, all computer-generated.

Interestingly, the railroads’ drive westward has recently become the setting for one of the very few current westerns on television in recent years, with Hell on Wheels, beginning in 2011.  There have been three seasons so far, and it continues


By the 1960s, there was a new sort of western in which a significant element of the story was the passing of the old west (Ride the High Country, The Shootist, Big Jake, etc.) and the obsolescence of the lone man with a gun as his own law.  In these, even newer technologies appeared: automobiles, motorcycles, and fancier guns, for example.  And with the popularity of steampunk as a genre in literature and movies, elements of steampunk technology have crept into more fanciful westerns (The Wild Wild West, Jonah Hex and Cowboys & Aliens, for example).

This is the first of two posts on technology and westerns.  In our next post, see more extensive lists of movies with technological themes, most involving railroads and railroading.

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Cattle Drive Westerns

Nicholas Chennault ~ September 29, 2014

Cattle Drive Westerns


‘Steers to Market’ by Maynard Dixon, 1936.

Just as one of the iconic figures of the American west is the cowboy, one of the iconic western stories is the cattle drive, depicting the romance and skills involved in moving cattle from one place to another, usually to market in some form.  The drive is often accompanied by hardships and adventures of various sorts: nasty weather, floods, Indians, outlaws, stampedes, lack of water, etc.  The prototypical cattle drive story is north from Texas to Dodge City (Dodge City, Red River), Abilene or even as far as Montana (The Tall Men, Lonesome Dove).  Sometimes the drive involves an unusual location, such as Canada (The Cariboo Trail), Alaska (The Far Country), Australia (Australia) or even the East (Alvarez Kelly).  Sometimes the story of the drive is accompanied by another typical story, such as the-tenderfoot-comes-west (Cowboy, City Slickers) or a coming of age tale in which a young man or men grow up while learning the ways of the trail and the west (Cattle Drive, The Culpepper Cattle Co., The Cowboys, Lonesome Dove).  Sometimes the animals being driven are horses (The Man From Snowy River, Broken Trail).  Among the movies featuring cattle drives are some of the very greatest westerns (Red River, The Cowboys, Lonesome Dove, Open Range, Broken Trail).


Nevada (1936)
The Texans–Scott (1938)
Dodge City–Flynn (1939)
Arizona—Arthur, Holden (1940)
Texas (1941)
The Old Chisholm Trail (1942)
Red River—Wayne, Clift, Dru (1948; Dir: Hawks)
The Cariboo Trail—Scott (1950)
The Showdown—Elliott, Brennan (1950)
Cattle Drive—McCrea, Stockwell (1951)

Gunsmoke–Murphy (1953)
The Far Country—Stewart, Brennan (Dir: Mann)
The Tall Men—Gable, Ryan (1955; Dir: Walsh)
Canyon River—Montgomery (1956; Dir: Jones)
Cowboy—Ford, Lemmon (1958; Dir: Daves)
Cattle Empire—McCrea (1958; Dir: Warren)
The Sundowners—Mitchum, Kerr (sheep, 1960; Dir: Zinneman)
The Last Sunset—R. Hudson, K. Douglas (1961)
Alvarez Kelly—Holden, Widmark (1966)
The Culpepper Cattle Co. (1972)
The Cowboys—Wayne, Dern (1972)
Lonesome Dove—Duvall, Jones (1989; Dir: Wincer)
City Slickers—Crystal, Palance (1991)
Open Range—Duvall, Costner (2003; Dir: Costner)
Australia—Jackman, Kidman (2008)


Thomas Haden Church and Robert Duvall in Broken Trail.

Horse Drive Westerns

Wild Stallion (1952)
Gunman’s Walk (1958)
The Undefeated (1969)
The Man from Snowy River (1982)
Return to Snowy River (1988)
Wrangler (1989)
In Pursuit of Honor (MfTV, 1995)
Broken Trail (2006)


Gene Hackman, James Coburn et al. in Bite the Bullet.

Endurance Horse Races

Bite the Bullet (1975)
Hidalgo (2004)

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