In praise of Western Movies

I close my column this week with a quote that’s been rattling around my brain for at least 40 years. That’s one of the things that make what I do fun.

The line - “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend” - comes from John Ford’s classic “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence,” which includes echoes of the Lincoln County War I wrote about. It’s a wonderful movie with a great cast: James Stewart as the lawyer trying to bring order to a lawless town, John Wayne as the loner who saves it and Lee Marvin as the outlaw terrorizing it.

Now that I’ve revealed myself as a western movie fan, I might as well make a few recommendations. First, a few directly related to the stories I wrote about in the column:

The Left-Handed Gun (1958): Hollywood’s version of the Lincoln County War, with Paul Newman as Billy the Kid.

Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973). Sam Pekinpah’s take on friendship, violence and politics in Lincoln County, with Kris Kristofferson as Billy, James Coburn as Garrett and Bob Dylan as a mysterious stranger. Dylan also supplies the soundtrack, which gave us “Knock, Knock, Knocking on Heaven’s Door.”

Young Guns (1988): The Regulators, portrayed as a collection of young ‘80s hotties, with Emilio Estavez as Billy, and Charlie Sheen, Kiefer Sutherland and Lou Diamond Phillips as his sidekicks.

And here are a few others I fell in love with at an impressionable age:

Red River (1948): John Wayne and Montgomery Clift play out an emotional father-son conflict in this Howard Hawks masterpiece set in a cattle drive. Wayne turns into a tyrant in a fine piece of acting.

How the West Was Won (1962). This was created to play on an ultrawide screen, with three projectors running at the same time. It had three directors, too, and three all-star casts. On the right screen, it can be spectacular.

Rio Bravo (1959): Wayne, Dean Martin, Walter Brennan and Ricky Nelson take on an outlaw gang intent on springing their buddy from Wayne’s jail. It’s another Hawks classic.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969): Paul Newman and Robert Redford in one of the great buddy movies of all time.

There are more I could name, but I’ll leave it there. If you’ve got any favorites, feel free to share them.