Movies I’ve seen so far that take either a non-traditional or a traditional but particularly distinctive route in portraying the American West, or use tropes of the Western (and some of those tropes’ transition into the road movie).
“Somebody’s always looking for something in this part of the West. To the historian it’s the Old West, to the book writer it’s the Wild West, to the businessman it’s the Undeveloped West — they say we’re all poor and backward, and I guess we are, we don’t even have enough water. But to us, this place is ‘our’ West, and I wish they’d leave us alone!”
—the villainous Reno Smith (Robert Ryan) in Bad Day at Black Rock, 1955.
I’ve added The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly partly because I haven’t seen a western set right within Civil War battles. What I’ve seen tend to be post-Civil War or on the outskirts of the war with no actual battles.
Why Valhalla Rising? The second half, set on American shores, is akin to a Western undergoing identity crisis. Warriors from the “more civilized” east ends up in a western frontier fighting with sudden bursts of insanity. Everything is in exteriors, yet everyone is trapped in confusion.
It’s not included on the list because the rest of the movie takes place in Mexico, but the opening shootout of The Wild Bunch belongs here.
I wanted to include this quote from Jim Ridley at The Scene: “Where the Hollywood Western traditionally concerned itself with the building and maintaining of civilization—the lawman facing down the gunslinger and his ilk in the street—the Italian-backed, Spanish-shot spaghetti Western cut the genre down to cold commerce. Deaths mean money, bodies mean money; killing is business, and business booms.” There’s tension in this list between individualism and community that I hope to address in a more articulate at a later date.
The page for Powwow Highway is down. It fits the road movie and western USA setting, as well as the Western tropes of traveling to save a loved one from corrupt lawmen.
Not yet in the database: Ruth Ann Baldwin’s 1917 meta-Western ‘49-’17.