Mel Brook’s comic masterpiece Blazing Saddles is a hilarious slapstick musical comedy starring Cleavon Little and Gene Wilder. A new sheriff arrives in the pioneer town of Rock Ridge to save its citizens from a vicious gang of bandits, but their salvation hasn’t arrived in the proper hue. Blazing Saddles freely pokes fun at the western genre, from its overconfident villains to its history of less than stellar race relations.
During the last decade a resurgence of period dramas and western genre films have been cropping up from every film studio, experimenting within the genre and borrowing themes from films of the past. However, filmmakers have in fact been creating fun and challenging interpretations of the genre for years. Here are some of my favorite selections from film and television series.
Meek’s Cutoff is a stark and haunting western. It is set amidst a wagon train traveling across Oregon territory in 1845. The three families traveling together must find a way to survive despite the overwhelming odds against them. Each member of the group brings with them physical and emotional baggage that could threaten to derail the journey. This quiet and suspenseful film is both a challenge and a joy to watch. Director Kelly Reicharndt brings forth a realistic sense of how the west looked and felt to early settlers, avoiding any romance associated with the genre.
The Searchers stars John Wayne as Ethan Edwards, a man coming home from the Civil War to find his family ripped apart by tragedy. Edwards soon sets off with his nephew to find his niece who was captured by Indian raiders during his absence. The journey they take to find her reveals the evolving history of sacrifice and bigotry in the early American west. Shot on location in the southwest United States, the majestic scenery is only matched by the incredible cast of talented actors including Jeffrey Hunter and Natalie Wood, directed by John Ford.
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is startlingly beautiful and technically brilliant. It is the story of two men. One is an infamous highwayman and the other, is his young companion, who idolizes the outlaw but slowly comes to resent his hero.
Timothy Olyphant and Ian McShane head an incredible ensemble cast, bringing to life the rough and tumble town of Deadwood. Many of the series’ characters are based on those who actually lived in the lawless town during the 1870s. Swarthy saloon owners, righteous lawmen, cunning swindlers and entrepreneurial ladies of the night stalk the streets of Deadwood, making for an exciting look into life on the cusp of civilization.
Thought westerns only took place in America’s untamed wild? Guess again!
This hilarious Korean spaghetti western takes place in the wilds of 1940s Manchuria. A stolen map and buried treasure drive this fast paced film, packed with high speed action and clever stunts. The Good, The Bad and The Weird is indeed weird, with all the hallmarks of the classic Western film.
Lonesome Dove has long being one of my favorite books and I can say with enthusiasm that the miniseries is just as breathtaking. The series follows two retired Texas rangers driving cattle north from the Texas-Mexico border to the beautiful and dangerous wilds of Montana. Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones star in Larry McMurtry’s classic tale of adventure and heartbreak.