The Western

west texas stormLast weekend, I went on a road trip to West Texas to visit family. If you have ever made that trip yourself, you know that driving across Texas is always a crazy experience. First, it takes a really long time to get anywhere by car because Texas is just that big. Not even the 80 mph speed limits make that much of a dent. Second, the scenery outside the car window is always changing as you travel across the state. From cityscapes and flatlands to the green trees of hill country and the brown expanse of West Texas, it is hard to believe it all belongs in one state.

Passing through the wide open lands of West Texas, feels like taking a step back into history. That part of the state never seems to change, at least not drastically, and it is easy to picture what might have greeted those first cowboys, ranchers and farmers who came through and settled the land. Sure, there are cities, interstates, wind turbines and pump jacks scattered across what was once empty land, but the spirit of the West lives on.

That spirit of the West has long influenced filmmakers, with a particular upsurge in westerns produced during the 1950s and 60s. Actors and filmmakers like John Wayne, Gary Cooper, Clint Eastwood and John Ford embraced that particular period in American history and used it to build successful careers and, in some cases, public personas. The westerns they produced spanned the genre, with some featuring a softer, more romanticized version of the West, and others delving into the reality, the grit and disorder, of the period. Popular westerns didn’t even necessarily focus on the same side of the law, with some telling the story from the outlaw’s point of view, and some from the lawmaker’s. Regardless of their approach, all of these movies had at their core a firm sense of purpose and justice. 

Below, I have put together a list of westerns that epitomize the genre. Most are classics filmed during the heyday of the western, but a few newer titles also made the list, proving that the fascination with the West will never die.

On a semi-related note: While visiting the Buddy Holly Center in Lubbock, I learned that his hit song with The Crickets, “That’ll Be the Day” was written after hearing John Wayne use that phrase in the movie The Searchers. The more you know!

Flickr CC: Desert Storm Photo by: Gary Nored