Is there a time and setting that has done more for cinema and filmmaking than the Old West?
From 1910 to 1960, approximately a quarter of all films featured hats and horses, and the television landscape was similarly populated with cowboys. No other genre has evolved or branched out quite like the western, either: the journey began with the clear-cut morality that dominated the early classics, and arguably reached its zenith with the darker, more complex revisionist epics that emerged in the sixties.
But, whatever the decade, the best westerns have always been about changing times, clashing ideologies and the unstoppable march of progress. With this in mind, we’ve picked out four of the finest ever made.
Once Upon A Time In The West (Sunday 3 March)
Drawing from all the archetypes of the genre and distilling them down to their mythic core, Sergio Leone’s revisionist masterpiece is fifty years old this year.
Desolate landscapes, fast draws, leitmotifs and long, tense beats – all the key pillars of the spaghetti western are here. But Leone’s frontier fairytale is built around the most powerful staple of them all: a man with no name arriving in a lawless land and imposing a very personal kind of justice. Before the railroad can bring progress and the promise of a brighter future, blood must be shed.Find your local cinema and book now
The Searchers (Sunday 10 March)
Perhaps the greatest collaboration between director John Ford and actor John Wayne, The Searchers is a beautifully shot, harrowing look at the racism that pervaded the West. As Wayne’s obsessive war veteran hunts down the Comanche tribe that kidnapped his niece, the film exposes both the nihilism of the hero (in the end he can never be a part of the community he is necessary to create) and the casual racism of the white settlers as a whole.
★★★★ 4/4 “In the flawed vision of The Searchers we can see Ford, Wayne and the Western itself, awkwardly learning that a man who hates Indians can no longer be an uncomplicated hero.” – Roger EbertFind your local cinema and book now
Shane (Sunday 17 March)
The masterpiece that heavily influenced 2017’s superhero hit Logan follows a hero who rides into a world more complicated than he can cope with.
The eponymous gunslinger tries to leave his fighting days behind, but becomes drawn into a conflict between ruthless cattle barons and the Starrett family over their farmland. Shane tries not to go back to his violent ways, but becomes compelled to stand up for the Starretts against the barons and their hired gun.
“So archetypal it feels like the first Western ever” – EmpireFind your local cinema and book now
The Wild Bunch (Sunday 24 March)
Controversial upon release fifty years ago but now regarded as a classic, Sam Peckinpah’s finest creation is a savage ode to the dying days of the ‘traditional’ West. Brutal, callous and passionate from the outset, this elegiac masterpiece rewrites John Ford’s western mythology by looking at the Old West from the point of view of the marginalised outlaws rather than the law-abiding settlers.
“From The Godfather to Heat, the stamp of The Wild Bunch is self-evident” – EmpireFind your local cinema and book now