The 50 greatest westerns

We count down the greatest westerns of all time


Decision at Sundown (1957)

Dir Budd Boetticher (Randolph Scott, Noah Beery Jr, HM Wynant)

Wife! Be like a rose

There’s surely a piece to be written comparing Budd Boetticher’s ‘Randown cycle’ – the seven films he made in collaboration with Randolph Scott, starting in 1954 with ‘Seven Men From Now’ and concluding in 1960 with ‘Comanche Station’ – with French maestro Eric Rohmer’s Six Moral Tales. Their similarities may not be immediately obvious, but both series of films saw their directors dealing in simple, moral conundrums and essentially making small but calculated variations on the same simple set up. Where Rohmer traded in the subtleties of temptation and desire, Boetticher examines the specifics of revenge, its applications, its outcomes and its psychological tolls.

In the relentlessly grim ‘Decision at Sundown’, Charles G Lang’s script ramps up the moral ambiguities in Randolph’s Scott’s quest for reprisals. He’s typically out to find the varmints what shot his wife (‘Ride Lonesome’) or who left buckshot in some cheeky scamp who asked him to pick up some taffy from town (‘The Tall T’), but here the stakes are less easy to fathom. Conventional notions of heroes and villains are thrown out. Good has the capacity for evil and evil the capacity for good. Bart Allison (Scott) has got his crosshairs fixed on Tate Kimbrough (John Carroll), the dandy gang boss and head honcho of the grubby border town Sunrise. Kimbrough, we’re told – and for a while, we believe – killed Allison’s wife, but as the dark details of this accusation emerge, we soon appreciate that Allison is out to defend a severely warped memory of his late wife that is rooted in his conservative conception of womanhood rather than the bleak reality of the situation. Stunning. DJ