Gary Cooper, Julie London, and Lee J. Cobb star in the 1958 western directed by Anthony Mann

Gary Cooper is a ‘Man of the West’ on Amazon Prime and Criterion Channel

The great western director Anthony Mann and aging western icon Gary Cooper teamed up for the first and only time in Man of the West (1958), a stark frontier drama of a trio of train passengers stranded in the desert after a railway holdup. Taking responsibility for his helpless compatriots (Julia London as a sad-eyed […]

Ben Johnson, Warren Oates, William Holden, and Ernest Borgnine star in Sam Peckinpah's western masterpiece 'The Wild Bunch.'

‘The Wild Bunch’ – Sam Peckinpah’s frontier apocalypse on HBO Max

The film that branded Sam Peckinpah with the nickname “Bloody Sam,” The Wild Bunch (1969) blazed onto theater screens in the era of Bonnie and Clyde, when genre conventions were being blasted away and directors pushed the boundaries of what was once considered “acceptable.” Peckinpah, ever the irascible maverick, rode roughshod over every unspoken rule […]

Burl Ives and Robert Ryan star in the western noir by Andre de Toth

‘Day of the Outlaw’ – snowbound western noir on Criterion Channel

Day of the Outlaw (1959), a western set in a snowbound mountain town on the high frontier, is one of the toughest, most tension-filled pictures from Andre de Toth, a studio filmmaker who could be counted on to bring a savage edge to his assignments. The town is already coiled like a spring thanks to […]

John Wayne , Claire Trevor, Thomas Mitchell, John Carradine, Donald Meek, Louise Platt, directed by John Ford

John Ford’s ‘Stagecoach’ on HBO Max

Stagecoach (1939) – John Ford’s classic western is a landmark of the genre for so many reasons: mature, classically constructed and superbly directed, it made a star of John Wayne, revitalized the western genre, and introduced Ford to the breathtaking landscape of Monument Valley, which would become the mythic backdrop of his west. It was […]

Cleavon Little and Gene Wilder in the classic Mel Brooks comedy

‘Blazing Saddles’ on HBO Max

When singer Frankie Laine was interviewed by Terry Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air many years ago, he confessed that when he was engaged to record the theme song to Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles (1974), he was not told that the film (and the song) was a spoof. He simply thought it was a bad song […]

Warren Beatty and Julie Christie in the 1971 western by Robert Altman

Warren Beatty and Julie Christie are ‘McCabe & Mrs. Miller’ on HBO Max

McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971), Robert Altman’s third film since staking out his claim on 1970s cinema with M*A*S*H (1970), turns the western myth into a metaphor for the fantasy of the American Dream colliding with the power of big business. Warren Beatty is John McCabe, a drifting gambler who rides into the mining camp […]

Michelle Williams in Kelly Reichardt's frontier western

‘Meek’s Cutoff’ – Lost on the Oregon Trail on Amazon Prime

Kelly Reichardt’s Meek’s Cutoff (2010) opens without preamble. We are given a place and a year—”Oregon, 1845,” stitched into a piece of homespun embroidery—and then dropped in the high desert to observe three frontier families ford a river. They wordlessly, almost morosely, march across, then take the opportunity to fill canteens, wash and check the […]

Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Kerry Washington, and Leonardo DiCaprio star in Quentin Tarantino's western

‘Django Unchained’ on Netflix

In Django Unchained (2012), Quentin Tarantino takes on one of his favorite genres: the spaghetti western, with all its extreme violence, operatic drama, eccentric characters, and brutal portrait of frontier existence. But Tarantino being Tarantino, he doesn’t just make a big, violent, sprawling western filled gunfights and clever talk and driven by revenge and Old […]

Burt Lancaster and Gary Cooper in the 1954 western by Robert Aldrich

‘Vera Cruz’ – The proto-spaghetti western on Criterion Channel

“You’re the first friend I ever had,” grins flamboyant mercenary Burt Lancaster to lean, laconic Gary Cooper in with a smile that suggests that he may be the last. They’re a pair of Americans abroad looking to cash in the Mexican revolution by selling their services to the highest bidder in Vera Cruz (1954), Robert […]

Clint Eastwood stars in Sergio Leone's 'The Good, the Bad and the Ugly'

‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’ on Netflix and Amazon Prime Video

There are two kinds of people, my friend. Those who love Sergio Leone’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966) and those who resist the machismo and gallows humor of what is arguably the definitive spaghetti western. Leone’s first real attempt at mythologizing his vision of the American west (shot, of course, in the […]