Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid directed by George Roy Hill:
Cleverly billed as a ‘mostly true story’, Butch Cassidy (Paul Newman) and the Sundance Kid (Robert Redford) are definitely two of the most charismatic outlaws from the storied history of the Wild West. They are the leaders of the Hole-in-the-Wall gang filled with bank and train robbers who make their living taking the money away from the rich banks. Butch plans all the robberies and The Kid executes them. Because they are so successful and charming their legend grows, so much so that one town forms a ‘super posse’ to hunt down the two. Once they realize that the super posse is on their trail Butch and the Kid decide that they have to get out of the United States. After running to keep ahead of the posse by sheer luck they end up losing them. They realize, though, that they cannot go back.
Butch, the Kid and the Kid’s girlfriend, Etta (Katharine Ross – Donnie Darko, The Stepford Wives) run off to of all places, Bolivia. The old saying that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks rings true with these two and they are shortly back to their ways of thieving. Their luck definitely starts to run out when they are finally cornered and outnumbered by the Bolivian army. As they are used to being in tight scrapes the two try to figure a way out of this with their lives.
What can be said about this classic cowboy film? It won 4 Oscar Awards (Best Cinematography, Best Original Score, Best Original Song, and Best Original Screenplay) and it generally considered one of the best Westerns ever made. There are numerous reasons why. The chemistry between the leads is what makes the whole film. Newman and Redford actually seem like the buddies that they portray onscreen and everything they do seems so natural that they almost seem to be doing no acting at all.
Another strong suit of the film is the script by William Goldman (Misery, All The President’s Men), which is funny and occasionally touching. It is consistently good all the way through. Though director George Roy Hill (Slap Shot, The World According to Garp) does a great job what stands out most is the way the film looks and was shot, which a large part of the credit must go to cinematographer, Conrad L. Hall (American Beauty, Cool Hand Luke). The film looks beautiful! The deserts, towns and scenic landscapes of the West never looked better. Even the music by revered composer Burt Bacharach (Arthur, The First Wives Club) is perfect with “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head” being my favourite cowboy song ever.
There is very little not to like about this film, which is an adventure film that provided the impetus for moviemakers to start making more ‘buddy’ movies and it will also make you laugh. You cannot ask for much more from a film.
The Good, The Bad and The Ugly directed by Sergio Leone:
This is not your typical cowboy, shoot-’em-up type film. There is plenty of emotion and thought involved in this Sergio Leone (Once Upon a Time in America, A Fistful of Dollars) film. It truly is his coming-of-age as a director and reminds us how tragic it was that he died at such an early age (60).
Blondie (Clint Eastwood) – aka as The Good – is a gun for hire who is always looking to make some cash. Angel Eyes (Lee Van Cleef – The Magnificent Seven Ride, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence) – aka as The Bad – is a killer for hire who, as long as he is paid, will always deliver a body. Tuco (Eli Wallach – The Godfather: Part III, Nuts) – aka as The Ugly – is a wanted man who is desperate not to be captured. Blondie and Tuco find a way to make money off of the bounty on Tuco’s head.
It all goes bad when Blondie decides to dissolve the partnership and Tuco hunts down Blondie. In the meantime they come across a horse carriage with only one survivor, Bill Carson (Antonio Casale – Duck, You Sucker). Bill reveals that he and several other men buried some gold in a cemetery. He dies and has revealed the cemetery name to Tuco and the grave stone to Blondie. Now they have to work together again in order to find the gold. Angel Eyes has been following Bill and now decides to follow Blondie and Tuco in the hopes of them leading him to the gold.
Many argue that this was the best spaghetti western (Italian-American Western) of all time. That could argued about adnauseum, but whatever side of that particular fence you come out on we would all agree that this is a classic. It did elevate the whole genre and many have tried to imitate its look and feel. Not many have been successful, however.
Every aspect of the film is perfect from the casting of Eli Wallach and Clint Eastwood to the music by composer Morricone that lends plenty of atmosphere to the story which is riveting. It is almost like watching an opera. There is humour, grit, sadness, and violence within it. The film is long (clocking in at over 2 ½ hours), but you are never bored. Even if you are not a fan of Westerns I recommend you checking this one out.
The Magnificent Seven directed by John Sturges:
Fifty years ago John Sturges (The Great Escape, The Eagle Has Landed) made a fantastic cowboy film. It was great because it wasn’t your typical cowboy film. The Magnificent Seven was originally released in 1960. This was the end of the height of the Westerns. Sturges’s film was a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s classic samurai film, Seven Samurai. It is a character and moral drama. At that point in film’s evolution the examination of the morality of being a gunfighter was unheard of. Gunfighters are portrayed as lonely rather than heroic figures. The crossing of new frontiers made this a very influential film.
A band of bandits led by Calvera (Eli Wallach – The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, The Godfather: Part III) repeatedly raid a small Mexican village. The residents of the farming community have had enough, so they decide to hire a band of American gunfighters. They first hire Chris Larabee Adams (Yul Brynner – The Ten Commandments, The King and I), who then hires Vin Tanner (Steve McQueen – Bullitt, Papillon), Bernardo O’Reilly (Charles Bronson – The Dirty Dozen, Death Wish), Lee (Robert Vaughn – The Man From U.N.C.L.E., BASEketball), Harry Luck (Brad Dexter – The Asphalt Jungle, Run Silent Run Deep), and Britt (James Coburn – Monsters, Inc., Charade). A young Mexican gunfighter named Hilario (Jorge Martinez de Hoyos – television’s Lonesome Dove) tags along with them. These are seven very talented gunfighters, but the odds are against them. It is seven against fifty – a suicide mission.
Some genre films transcend and become more than merely horrors or action or Westerns. The Magnificent Seven had a universal appeal to it because it touches on emotions that we have all felt at times. Feelings of loneliness, doubts concerning our choice of careers and cheering for the underdog.
Much of the success of the film has to be attributed to the excellent cast. The film also launched the careers of Steven McQueen, Charles Bronson and James Coburn. They all went on to become stars. The film also had the benefit of a marvellous score courtesy of Elmer Bernstein (Cape Fear, My Left Foot). Recognized for its excellence, Bernstein’s score was nominated for an Oscar.
The Magnificent Seven is not the best Western ever made, but it is a heck of a lot of fun. Put it on your must watch list and hop to it.
Behind The Scenes Featurette, Deleted Scenes, Documentary, Featurette, Interviews