05 May 2024

How the West has Worn

What defines a Western? Many argue it’s an American phenomenon although European filmmakers have left a sizable stamp. It’s more than six-guns and shootouts and Mama, fetch the rifle.

To me, their morality plays with clearly delineated rôles, good and evil, male and female, peace and violence. Good triumphs over wickedness and although we vicariously enjoy violence in pursuit of justice, peace eventually reigns. All becomes right with the world.

List of Lists

I was thumbing through my feed when it decided I needed more exposure to Westerns. The internet is loaded with articles about the 10 Best Westerns and the 20 Best Western Actors. More than most genres,  opinions differ wildly but not violently. An actor at the top of one list doesn’t appear on other lists at all. I was surprised one film list opened with WestWorld and The Three Amigos comedy on the list. Are those even Westerns?

So be it. When we were children, lists in no special order might include:

 1. Roy Rogers11. Richard Boone
 2. Gene Autry12. Jimmy Stewart
 3. Clayton Moore13. Michael Landon
 4. Jay Silverheels14. Dan Blocker
 5. Duncan Renaldo15. Hugh O’Brian
 6. James Arness16. Gene Barry
 7. James Garner17. Josh Randall
 8. Steve McQueen18. William Boyd
 9. Chuck Connors19. Lash La Rue
10. Clint Walker20. … and many more

Haboob has watched more Westerns than Sergio Leone’s film editor. Some of her favorites are obscure, some she’s watched many times. Her popularity list runs thus:

 1. John Wayne 4. Sam Elliot
 2. Walter Brennan 5. Barbara Stanwick
 3. Yul Brynner 6. Maureen O’Hara

Frankly, I’m not sure Haboob could be trusted in a room alone with Sam Elliot. Similarly, Sharon’s list goes like this:

 1. Kevin Costner 4. no one worth mentioning
 2. Kevin Costner 5.  
 3. Kevin Costner 6.  

To me, the mark of a good film is what we remember five or ten years after viewing it. Some blockbusters (i.e, The French Connection) have left few memory traces, but other less popular movies had scenes that stuck. My own list isn’t as well considered, but I’d hazard my favorite actors include:

 1. Clint Eastwood 5. John Wayne
 2. Lee Van Cleef 6. Charles Bronson
 3. Henry Fonda 7. Jack Elam
 4. Yul Brynner 8. umm…

Jack Elam had a wandering eye. No, not that kind, although he was once called the most loathsome man in Hollywood. Sadly, two of my favorites have been called Mr. Loathsome and Mr. Ugly. Elam injured his eye as a child and it became a kind of trademark, terrifying children with his bad guy portrayals in B-movie after movie Westerns. He appears so often, that he earned a kind of audience affection and went on to become a leading man and even starred in comedies.

I put Fonda on my list not because of his heroic rôles, but when he played a bad guy with chilling ice-cold blue eyes. Fans could easily believe the presence of evil. His interaction with Charles Bronson is memorable.

Since I was a kid, Lee Van Cleef fascinated me. When spaghetti Westerns emerged, Ol’ Squinty Eyes came into his own. He seconded Eastwood in a couple of man-with-no-name Westerns and starred in his own, once matched against a knife-thrower and a psychotic German bounty hunter. He also starred in a near-Western as a ferry operator facing off against an army.

My favorite of the man-with-no-name series was the middle one, A Few Dollars More. Many will challenge that, although I think John mentioned he agreed. The most humane of the films, it combines an intriguing plot with a poignant relationship between bounty hunters Van Cleef and Eastwood. We can see Eastwood doesn’t mind poking fun at himself and we discover Van Cleef is a better nimrod than Eastwood himself.

Train Spotters

I’ll end with a clip not of Van Cleef, but of Eastwood chatting up an old man in his shack by the railroad. The scene is unusual in that you simultaneously know and don’t know what’s coming, laughing when you least expect it.

  To Kill a Dead Man @ Portishead


In modern slang, nimrod means fool, but in traditional use dating back to Biblical times, nimrod refers to a good hunter, a good shot with gun or bow.


  1. And then there are Tom Mix and William M. Hart, you young whippersnapper. Not to mention William Boyd. Fun post, Leigh. The list of favorites is endless. How about George “Gabby” Hayes and Andy Devine. Okay, I’ll desist.
    Edward Lodi

    1. Edward, don't desist! I've watched a number of silents and early talkies, but I don't think I've seen Mix or Hart, although I mentioned Boyd in the first list. I recall Devine and Gabby Hayes. Haboob mentioned Walter Brennan, who seemed cast in similar roles.

  2. Love those Westerns, Leigh. And yes, I agree that the second installment of the Dollars trilogy was the best. Not the biggest budget or the biggest stars, but the best story and the most entertaining.

    Of all Leone's spaghetti Westerns, though, my favorite is Once Upon a Time in the West.

    Great post!

    1. John, I've come to agree with you about Once Upon a Time.

      One of the Westerns that Van Cleef starred in, The Big Gundown, was better than some of the Eastwood films, although not up to the Dollars series. As I recall, it had a reasonably soundtrack, but it's been a long time since I've seen it. Thanks, John!

    2. I saw it again not long ago, Leigh.

      The first time I ever saw Lee Van Cleef was at the very beginning of High Noon. Find the opening scene on YouTube sometime. Music's great.

  3. Fun fact: In an early cartoon Bugs Bunny was being hunted by Elmer Fudd and he sarcastically said "What a nimrod!" And that's how Nimrod came to be an insult.

    1. As, that makes sense. Mentally, I was blaming heard the word and thought it was insulting, like numnutz. Wait… That is kind of what happened, isn't it!

  4. I agree, Henry Fonda as the best villain in a Western.
    The entire cast of "The Magnificent Seven" - Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, James Coburn, Charles Bronson, Eli Wallach, Robert Vaughn, and Vladimir Sokoloff as the old man.
    Val Kilmer for Best Doc Holliday EVER. (Shoutout to Sam Elliott as Virgil Earp - btw, most of us ladies have been fantasizing about Sam Elliott since he first appeared in "Lifeguard". Just accept it.)
    And the best team in any Western (imho) was Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones in "Lonesome Dove".

    1. Eve,, my huckleberry, I entirely forgot about Val Kilmer, and you're right. He was superb. And yes, Sam Elliot was pretty good too.

      Damn, did you rattle off the Mag 7 cast from memory? Well done, Eve. Something is tickling in the back of my mind. Did Robert Vaughn star in another version of the Seven Samuri as a sci-fi parody?

  5. Some of my favourite books are by Louis L'Amour. Sometimes you just need to know there are good guys, and bad guys, and justice in the end, and a nice romance for the protagonist to end his story with. Melodie

    1. Amen, Melodie. Live by a code.

      I read a number of L'Amour paperbacks when I was a kid, but I haven't thought about those in years. They were good reads.

  6. Elizabeth Dearborn05 May, 2024 13:37

    Thank you, Melodie! Louis L'Amour was my cousin. I didn't know it until after he died, because my father never mentioned it. Just didn't think it was important! Anyway the husband & I have watched two John Wayne Westerns this week, "The Undefeated" & "Rio Lobo". My favorite Western of all time is "Treasure of the Sierra Madre" with Humphrey Bogart.

    1. Elizabeth, someone might have mentioned to Louis that he was related to Elizabeth Dearborn before he died, and responded, "Damn, I never got to meet her." At least I like to think so.

      I like Treasure too. You and Haboob could have quite the conversation!

    2. Elizabeth Dearborn05 May, 2024 18:27

      Very funny, Leigh! I doubt I could have told Louis anything he didn't already know, but I know I'd have enjoyed conversating with him anyway.

    3. Indeed, Elizabeth. Unlike many of us, you have a legacy that you can read while curled up in a chair on a lazy evening. That's quite an inheritance.

  7. OMG, Leigh, Vaughn DID - I never saw it, but I looked it up - Roger Corman's "Battle Beyond the Stars". Wow.

    1. Eve, Leigh and I can drive you crazy with this movie trivia stuff. Don't even get me started, on Roger Corman . . .

    2. Thanks for the compliment, John!

      Roger Corman… I never would have recalled Corman or even the title, Eve. I'd almost entirely forgotten it, but your mention of Vaughn teased out the memory. I think I saw it while taking a break during a consulting trip in Columbus, Ohio. Wow, 1980, that was long ago. A hokey spaceship is about all I can remember, but it was entertaining. Now looking it up, I see it had quite a cast of almost top stars and James Cameron did the special effects! Thanks for triggering that, Eve.

  8. Roger Corman mixing it up with James Cameron - I'd never have believed it.
    But I think almost everybody got their start with Roger...


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