The 50 greatest westerns

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We count down the greatest westerns of all time

1

McCabe

Dir Robert Altman (Warren Beatty, Julie Christie, Rene Auberjonois)

Another good man done gone

By the early 1970s, the western had boxed itself into a canyon. Woop-wooping Indians, fusty range wars and duded-up gunslingers were the stuff of mockery in films like ‘Blazing Saddles’. It was only by breaking the western down and reassembling it bit by bit that it could break new ground. No film re-imagines the western myth as powerfully and heartbreakingly as Robert Altman’s dreamlike, snow-covered masterpiece, ‘McCabe & Mrs. Miller’.

This deceptively simple frontier story follows John ‘Pudgy’ McCabe (Warren Beatty), a gambler, businessman and alleged gunfighter – a fact he never confirms or denies – as he arrives in the mining town of Presbyterian Church, high in the cold, damp, muddy folds of the Pacific Northwest. He plans to open a brothel with the aid of Julie Christie’s plain-talking cockney madam, Constance Miller. Clad in a huge bearskin coat and wearing a bowler hat and beard, McCabe bears no relation to western protagonists of old. Sure, he wears a gun, but only for form’s sake. Our hero is a pimp, dandy, coward and fool. McCabe’s thriving brothel, under the stewardship of Mrs Miller, becomes a civilising influence. It’s also a democratic concern, where one man’s money is no better or worse than the next man’s.

No doubt many will quarrel over Altman’s film topping our list ahead of favourites such as ‘The Searchers’ or ‘Unforgiven’. It’s not even set in what we think of as the west. But we should remember that the frontier expanded in all directions – into the harsh northern territories as well as the furnace-hot dog patches of California.

Some may argue that the film lacks suspense or action. And yet, it contains one of the sweatiest stand-offs on celluloid as McCabe fronts up and then caves in to three company stooges sent by mining barons to persuade him to relinquish his holdings. And the film’s finale is one of the most gripping, explosive and naturalistic gunfights in all cinema. It’s also an extraordinarily beautiful film. Altman offers a portrait of the west that’s dingy, grimy, hazy, stinky and chilled to the bone. The soundtrack is also eminently important to the film’s success, with Leonard Cohen's ballads lending the proceedings a fateful air, a sense that some things are written in stone, and Pudgy McCabe’s fate was sealed the moment he arrived in Presbyterian Church. ALD


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10 comments
RSP
RSP

I guess enertainment doesn't count. Why isn't True Grit on the list?

Sabrina
Sabrina

And "El Dorado"?? "El Alamo"? "Un dollaro bucato"???? C'mon!

Wez
Wez

Not a mention of two of my all time favorites: 'Hombre' and 'The Culpepper Cattle Company'. Explain these omissions. Enjoyed the list otherwise, Wez

robin
robin

Where is 1958 ''The Big Country ''surely one of Greatest Film Scores&enjoyable westerns in Film history? ''Warlock''&'' Last train from Gunhill'' 1959. Silver Lode from 1954>? Western TV Series ''Rawhide 1958-66 Cheyenne 1959-63 Sugarfoot 1957-621 Maverick 1961-63 Lawman 1958-63 are worth noting

sly
sly

no disrespect but this list sucks balls...hahaha ...although the films on this list are not contested, the order most definetlly is ,not counting important omissions and your number 1 stunned me for a second before making me laugh real loud....all in all thanks for the laugh

James
James

Yo, I like you and imma etc, etc, but Once Upon a Time in the West is one of the best films of all time! For a Few Dollars More is also, in my opinion, better than Good+Bad+Ugly.

mark
mark

lonesome dove is the best western ever made hands down

JG
JG

That is one weird list - some bizarre choices.

Sam
Sam

Open Range in the late 40's , that m yfriend should be in the top 5 ever made. Unforgiving wasn't half as good as Open Range.

Jerry
Jerry

Utterly scandalous! Unforgiven down at No 15? The Outlaw Josey Wales at No 5 instead of the obvious No1? And two of The Dollar films not even featuring in the Top 50? No way.