My Top Ten Recommended Westerns by Leigh Podgorski
Okay, just by use of the pronoun “my” this list is subjective, as in mine, not anybody else’s, certainly not a world-wise critic or a western-wise critic. Following are the movies that made me fall in love with the genre, with that wild, wonderful, wide-open, yearning, romantic part of our history. Here, then, in no particular order, because I just couldn’t shave them down that fine, are my top ten Westerns:
LONESOME DOVE (1989)
Okay, so right out the gate, I’m cheating. I’m starting with a magnificent book and a fantastic mini series, but what a sumptious rendering of the West.
The story tells the tale of several retired Texas Rangers as they drive a cattle herd from Texas to Montana. It is the end of an era, the closing years of the Old West, and just as the era is dying, so are these Texas Rangers looking at old age, and its inevitable companion death. However, still present are love, sometimes unrequited, and friendship.
Mr. McMurtry won the 1985 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for his best-selling novel, and in 1989 it was adapted into the extremely popular and successful TV miniseries starring Tommy Lee Jones and Robert Duvall.
BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID (1969)
Whose list would this not be on? Only question? Who’s sexier: Newman or Redford? My answer—wait a minute…
MCCABE AND MRS. MILLER (1971)
The storyline of this film is simple: a mysterious stranger who turns out to be a gambler and a beautiful woman who is a prostitute become business partners in a North West mining town. Their enterprise, a high class brothel with silk sheets, hot baths and great food, thrives so well that it attracts the attention of a large corporation Beyond the sheer artistry of an Altman film and the simple storyline is the attention paid to a female in a leading role and the moving portrait of the little man, who, no matter how confident he portrays himself, is powerless at those with more money which equals more power. Based on Edmund Naughton’s 1959 novel McCabe.
DANCES WITH WOLVES (1990)
An epic Western film produced, directed by and starring Kevin Costner. Much of the dialogue is spoken in Lakota with English subtitles. Dances with Wolves was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”. What’s wonderful about this film is the inclusion of Native American life and history, a subject that we still need to pay much more attention to. Based on the book by Michael Blake.
LITTLE BIG MAN (1970)
Not your usual Western. A deep satire taken from the satirical book of the same name by Thomas Berger, the story is told by 121 year old Jack Crabb as the only white survivor of the Battle of the Little Big Horn as he looks back on his life. Jack, though a white man, was brought up as a Cheyenne. Directed by Arthur Penn and starring Dustin Hoffman, Faye Dunaway and Chief Dan George, it see-saws from a black comedy to slapstick to drama. Highly entertaining and beautifully filmed, it is also the first Western to address Native American rights. Probably the best way to do that then was to present it this whacky yet deeply poignant way.
One word: prejudice. Maybe two: prejudice and enlightenment. Hombre directed by Martin Ritt, screenplay by Irving Ravetch and Harriet Frank Jr. from the novel by Elmore Leonard and starring Paul Newman, Fredrick march and Richard Boone, Hombre tells the story of John Russell spurned by his fellow stagecoach passengers because he was raised by Indians, who becomes their only hope for survival when outlaws attack them. Based on the book by Elmore Leonard.
CAT BALLOU (1965)
When Lee Marvin accepted the Oscar for his performance in the dual roles as Kid Shelleen and Strawn he said, “Half of this belongs to the horse.” If you don’t understand that quote, see this film! A raging comedy with a big heart, and an all-star cast, and the traveling minstrels led by the indomitable Stubby Kaye. I first saw this film as a kid in Dennis, Massachusetts on beautiful Cape Cod, and I have never forgotten it. Cat Ballou remains one of my all- time favorites. Based on a highly rated novel by Roy Chanslor.
HIGH NOON (1952)
Quintessential Oscar-winning Western about the brave man who faces down the outlaw against the wishes of everybody else, including his fiancé. Gary Cooper, Grace Kelly, it just doesn’t get more classic than this. To put a little spin on this one, as a young actress in Los Angeles, I did a scene from High Noon, playing the Grace Kelly role with my best friend as Katy Jurado. That was fine!
THE OX BOW INCIDENT (1943)
Classic American Western, but this one with a film noir twist. Directed by William A. Wellman, starring Henry Fonda, Dana Andrews, with Anthony Quinn, Harry Morgan and Jane Darwell, the story examines mob rule, human cruelty, and remorse that comes too late. This film saw Henry Fonda in a very different role—as a cold-blooded killer. In 1998, it was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”. It was adapted from the novel of the same title by Walter Van Tilburg Clark.
THE MISSING (2003)
Another Western that examines prejudice and looks into forgiveness and religion as well. I was knocked out by Cate Blanchett—this might be the first performance I’d seen of hers. Tommy Lee Jones gives a powerful performance as the dad who disappeared and wants back in. This film presents Native Americans and whites as equally human and complex., making the vivid point that it is what is inside that makes a person good or evil and not the color of their skin. Ron Howard directs.
So, there you have it: my top ten. As I composed this list, I became quite nostalgic, wanting to view these films again. Filled with drama and the vast beauty of the West, these films depict that unique spirit that speaks America—rugged individualism, that yearning to be free, and a constant striving to be better, to rise above.
I had the distinct pleasure to live in Aspen, Colorado, in the tiny community of Basalt in my early twenties. Those mountains filled my soul and heart. We are truly blessed in this country to live amongst such plenty.
Spread the good.
Genre: Contemporary Western Romance
Readers’ Favorite Book Award Winner Bronze 2018.
Contemporary Western Love Story about a bull riding rancher and his deceased best buddy’s Thai immigrant mail order bride. As she discovers the power of freedom, he discovers he’s lost his heart.
When Weston Beaudurant’s buddy, rodeo clown Cody Goode is killed in a rodeo accident — gored by the maniacal bull Baby Face that Weston is riding, Weston is consumed with guilt. The day after the accident, while going through Cod’s papers, lawyer Wynona Vasquez discovers that he had been secretly engaged to a Thai immigrant who is arriving by train that evening.
Elected by unanimous decision to be the welcoming committee, Weston arrives at the train station prepared for anything but the lovely forlorn creature he finds waiting in the rain. Though appearing waif-like, Song Phan-Rang is anything but fragile. Her mettle quickly rises to the surface in her determination to remain in Y-oh-ming.
Forced together by their circumstances, Weston and Song are explosive. Used to solitude, Weston is driven crazy by the obliging Song. But as Song shows her prowess not only as a housekeeper and cook, but as a rider and rancher as well, Weston discovers that against his best efforts (and damned if he’ll ever admit it) — he’s falling in love.
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About the Author: Leigh Podgorski’s stage plays have been produced in Los Angeles, New York City and regionally. She had the privilege of interviewing Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross for her one-act play Windstorm, which was presented as part of the annual festival CelebrateWomen that Leigh also co-produced. We Are Still Here, the story of Cahuilla Indian elder Katherine Siva Saubel, was premiered at the Gene Autry Western Heritage Museum as part of CelebrateWomen 2000. The play has been presented throughout Southern California at college campuses, Universities, and Indian Reservations and Casinos.
In addition to her plays, Leigh has penned several original award-winning screenplays and several of her monologues have been published through Meriwether Publishing, Ltd..
Leigh produced her first documentary, We Are Still Here, based on the play in 2007, which she also wrote and directed. The film has screened at the. American Indian Film Festival, Sherman Indian Film Festival, Cal State San Marcos Native American Film Festival, and the Talking Stick Film Festival.
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