Monday, June 12, 2023

24 Hours of Movies: Westerns!

by Patrick Bromley
Let's marathon one of the very best genres!

Happy Junesploitation Westerns day! Programming 24 straight hours of westerns wasn't hard because I love them; what was hard was programming 24 hours of westerns that weren't completely obvious. At this, I mostly failed. The truth is that I could probably do 12 of these marathons with as many great westerns as there are. Even as I wrote this, I was thinking of the three dozen movies I wanted to include but for which I didn't have time. Programming more marathons would also help me venture out into less archetypal westerns, too, since this one is pretty traditional. Oh well. Hope you enjoy this marathon and watch some westerns today!

10 am - Rio Bravo (1959, dir. Howard Hawks)
I want to start with a classic that spells out everything that can be great about Westerns, not just to set the stage for the next 24 hours but also to convert anyone who might be watching these movies with us that's not already hooked on the genre (read: Erika). High Noon isn't going to get the job done. This is a Top 10 western and probably my favorite of all traditionalist westerns.

12:30 pm - Rough Night in Jericho (1967, dir. Arnold Laven)
Since we just got to see Dean Martin play a good guy drunk in Rio Bravo, I thought it might be fun to follow it up with a rare (maybe only?) villain turn in this underrated and underseen western starring George Peppard as a former lawman who wants to put an end to Martin's hold on the town of Jericho. I only got into this period in George Peppard's career because of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and I'm so glad I did because I've discovered a number of gems as a result. This might be the best among them.

2:30 pm - Blazing Saddles (1974, dir. Mel Brooks) 
When doing these marathons, it's important to mix things up and not just program the same kind of movie over and over. That can be easy to do with a genre like the western. But because westerns as so malleable, it's also easy to avoid that sort of repetition. While Blazing Saddles, probably the biggest and most famous comedy western ever made, still adheres to all the tropes of the genre it does so in the service of subverting them, so it's good we're watching it a few films into our marathon and will have a chance to find our footing before the rug gets pulled out. While he was always a working actor, Cleavon Little should have been a giant star based on his work here.

4 pm - The Quiet Gun (1957, dir. William F. Claxton)
I want to mix in some smaller programmers among the heavy hitters, and this is one of the better ones I've seen. It's a traditional story of a town sheriff (Forrest Tucker) who tries to keep out of trouble until he can't stay out of the fight any longer. Lee Van Cleef on on hand as a heavy, because of course he is.

5:30 pm - The Quick and the Dead (1993, dir. Sam Raimi)
At one point, I was going to make this whole marathon post-1990 westerns. I decided against it, but a few of the titles I planned to program are still making their way into our lineup. Sam Raimi directs the shit out of this spaghetti western homage, with Sharon Stone playing a mysterious gunslinger seeking revenge in a town run by Gene Hackman in Big Bastard mode. Every actor in the film is a welcome face and the shootouts are spectacularly (and always differently) staged. I love that Sharon Stone cashed in some of her clout to get this made and went to bat for Raimi to direct.

7:30 pm - The Man From Laramie (1957, dir. Anthony Mann)
We're not going to let an entire western marathon go by without watching at least one Jimmy Stewart/Anthony Mann collaboration, maybe my favorite pairing in the entire genre (though Eastwood/Leone give them a run for their money). I don't know if this is my favorite of all their movies -- it might be -- but it's the one I feel like watching during dinner. I love the use of Technicolor and CinemaScope in this, one of the first westerns to be shot in the format.

9:30 pm - Four of the Apocalypse (1975, dir. Lucio Fulci)
We've been pretty heavy on American westerns to this point, which ignores the contributions of Italy, the country responsible for many of my favorites. The great Lucio Fulci made a handful of westerns, but this is the best of them and the one that feels the most like him -- dark and violent and fucked up. It's got a great cast that includes Fabio Testi, Michael J. Pollard, and an unforgettable turn by Thomas Milian as the villainous Chaco. I love this movie and can't believe it still doesn't have a Blu-ray. Someone let Arrow Video know.

11 pm - Curse of the Undead (1959, dir. Edward Dein)
Ok, we're getting into the overnight section of our marathon and it's time to pivot to some horror westerns beginning with this, maybe the earliest genre hybrid I can think of. This is a vampire movie set in the old west, and while it's slow and clunky, it's also short and interesting enough to hold our attention for its runtime. I suspect we'll be introducing a lot of people to this one, which is always a good thing.

12:30 am - Near Dark (1987, dir. Kathryn Bigelow)
Now that we're warmed up, let's get to the best vampire western ever made. Kathryn Bigelow's road movie is stylish and darkly funny at times, mostly thanks to Bill Paxton's scene-stealing role as Severen. This is probably the least "obvious" western we've watched to this point, seeing as it contains no real cowboys or horses or typical genre iconography, but it's a western all right -- one of the best horror westerns ever made.

2:30 am - Bone Tomahawk (2015, dir. S. Craig Zahler)
Speaking of the best western horror movies ever made, S. Craig Zahler's Bone Tomahawk is a great western that follows familiar beats until it doesn't, at which point it suddenly becomes a Ruggero Deodato nightmare. Every role is played to perfection, but maybe no one is better than Richard Jenkins. This one gets really fucked up and disturbingly violent, so anyone who doesn't want certain imagery in their heads may want to sleep through it.

4:30 am - Cut-Throats Nine (1972, dir. Joaquin Luis Romero Marchent)
We're kind of coming out the overnight section a little early with this Spanish western, which isn't quite a horror movie but has nasty horror movie violence. A clear inspiration on Tarantino's The Hateful Eight, Cut-Throats Nine is a brutal little film in which a man and his daughter must get a bunch of criminals where they're going as everyone begins turning on one another. I love this movie and we have to have at least one snowy western in our lineup. Snowy westerns might be my favorite kind.

6 am - Rustler's Rhapsody (1985, dir. Hugh Wilson)
Back to comedy! One of the great underrated western spoofs of the 1980s, Hugh Wilson's Rustler's Rhapsody is, for my money, a better movie than Blazing Saddles (though it also has much less on its mind). Tom Berenger proves he can be funny in this very silly movie that's sure to wake us up the right way.

7:30 am - The Tall T (1957, dir. Budd Boetticher)
I needed something short so I could squeeze in one more movie before our grand finale, so I'm thrilled to have thought of The Tall T, my favorite movie that Budd Boetticher made with Randolph Scott. He plays a rancher who is kidnapped by three outlaws (including a very scary Henry Silva) and held for ransom. The movie gets surprisingly dark and psychological, elevating it well above programmer status. And, at just 78 minutes, we still have time for one more movie!

9 am - Open Range (2003, dir. Kevin Costner)
Let's close out our marathon with this, one of the great modern westerns. It never really got the love it deserves because it's kind of square and is directed by Kevin Costner, who by this point had become known for egotistical bloat in his movies. This isn't that. He takes a quiet supporting role and avoids his "epic" tendencies in the story of two cattle drivers who cross paths with an evil Michael Gambon. The scenery is gorgeous and the ending shootout is one of the all-time greats, meaning we're sure to wrap up our marathon on a high note.



  1. I'd like to imagine the sorts of snacks on the menu for western marathons...

  2. As you so aptly state, Patrick, the western is a deep genre to explore. There are so many decades and styles to cover. The list of big titles that I have yet to see is not short.

  3. Back in college, my film professor used to say, “You cannot claim to love film and NOT love Westerns.”

  4. Bone Tomahawk has an incredible quote..i get a lump in my throat just thinking about it...."Say goodbye to my wife. Ill say hello to yours".

  5. My personal fave Jimmy Stewart western is Night Passage. I wonder if Erika might like that because it's sentimental and a little bit about "cute old men". And wow, the scenery of mountains and railroads. Some obviously green-screened, but still so beautiful. I was like "this is what movies are about!"

  6. Some great suggestions from this marathon, thanks! I watched Open Range earlier this year, and was surprised I wasn't aware of a modern Western that good. I might try to squeeze Cut-throats Nine in on a free day. I also love westerns (or movies in general) set in the winter.