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Poll: The Best Westerns – Movies And Books

sam elliot


I was in seventh grade when I discovered Louis L’amour in the Junior High library. About two weeks later I had plowed through all of the Sackett books except for Lando, which we didn’t have. I rushed over to the Public Library and pestered a librarian until she located it in another city and had it sent over to me. What had appealed to me about Lando? I read an excerpt in another book about how he could bend silver dollars in his hands. Awesome.

I’d lie in bed every night tearing through books like The First Fast Draw and Bowdrie’s Law. I had a rubber band pistol that I would draw with in the mirror. I would look for ladies of questionable virtue with hearts of gold that I could rescue. I mourned the fact that no Western sage could be written about myself and my siblings, because Hanagarne is just not as catchy or fun to say as Sackett.

I moved into the Zane Grey books, then graduated to Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove and the others in the series.

My discovery of L’amour led to my near-simultaneous obsession with John Wayne and Clint Eastwood movies. I would watch any western I could find, when I needed a break from the books. And the mustache of Sam Elliot needs no introduction.

What was it about these books and films that ensorcelled me so? (ensorcelled is my new favorite word). Who knows? The masculinity. The chivalry. The guns and smoke and the tough guys that didn’t back down. I also love to ride horses and take trips, so that didn’t hurt. I also liked that the books were usually short and I could read three of them in a day.

It hasn’t changed. When I saw that the Coens were remaking True Grit I just about wet my pants. Every time I watch Unforgiven my face locks into the same squinting  scowl Clint walks around with for 99% of the film. Every time some new idiotic movie full of blaring noise and CGI and explosions comes out, I wonder why Sam Elliot can’t just make a short film every week where he puts on a cowboy hat and disciplines bad guys.

In short: I love Westerns. When done well there are few things I enjoy more. And I can’t wait for Cowboys and Aliens.

How about you? Any favorites, or are you one of those nuts who just can’t stand the genre?


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Ray - Pure Spontaneity February 23, 2011, 2:21 pm

    Tombstone is certainly my favorite movie western though I am fond of How the West was Won. My favorite books have to be the Lonesome Dove series.

    • Josh Hanagarne February 23, 2011, 4:49 pm

      Ray, did you have a favorite in the McMurtry series? I’ve yet to hear anyone say anything other than Lonesome Dove.

      • Ray - Pure Spontaneity February 25, 2011, 2:27 pm

        I guess you’ll have to lump me in with everybody else but next I would put streets of laredo

  • Mark Grant February 23, 2011, 4:01 pm

    Tombstone, both the book and the movie. Why? Because I’m your huckleberry. That’s why.

  • Janine February 23, 2011, 5:19 pm

    I love the movie Purgatory. In fact, think I’ll watch it again this week!

  • wil February 23, 2011, 7:31 pm

    Open Range is my favorite. Robert Duvall. Nuff said.

  • cinderkeys February 24, 2011, 12:13 am

    The Steve Dancy series by James D. Best. I have no affinity for Westerns, but his stories have such great characters and dialogue.

    Full disclosure: I work for the company that published this series. 🙂 I wouldn’t say it if I didn’t mean it, though.

    • James D. Best February 26, 2011, 12:32 pm

      Hey, thanks. My favorite Western movie is The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Great story, great stars, great director.

  • Rachel February 24, 2011, 12:26 am

    Does Cormac McCarthy count as a western writer? Thinking specifically of Blood Meridian etc – they get my vote.

    • Josh Hanagarne February 24, 2011, 8:17 pm

      I think you can definitely make the case for Cormac’s books being westerns. At times, at least.

  • Jeroen February 24, 2011, 12:54 am

    Once upon a time in the west. And, The outlaw Josey Wales.

  • disorderlywords February 24, 2011, 7:17 am

    I’ve always been a complete fan of westerns. In movies, favorites include High Plains Drifter and the remake of 3:10 to Yuma. Books by McMurtry and L’Amour and, of course, anything by Zane Grey (Robbers Roost is my all-time favorite). Benjamin Capps’ western novels, particularly Sam Chance, are well worth a read, too. And on TV? Favorite western: The Wild, Wild West (sort of “James Bond in the late-1860s U.S.”). It was just so kitschy, and who couldn’t love Artemus Gordon’s wicked sarcasm?

    I’m with you, Josh: Can’t wait for Cowboys and Aliens! Sci-fi was another favorite genre when I was a kid. 🙂

    • Josh Hanagarne February 24, 2011, 8:16 pm

      Come out to Salt Lake city. We’ll see Cowboys and Aliens together.

  • Todd February 24, 2011, 7:31 am

    Lonesome Dove–both the books and mini series.

    True Grit (the original–Jeff Bridges is NO John Wayne!), The Shootist, and Unforgiven would be three of my fave western movies. To be honest, I love all of the Duke’s movies.

    • Josh Hanagarne February 24, 2011, 8:16 pm

      I loved Wayne and Jeff Bridges. I still remember the day my mom rented The Shootist for me. I was home sick from school. It was a great afternoon.

  • Susan Garvey February 24, 2011, 12:45 pm

    Josh: Not a Western fan in general, but I did read Lonesome Dove and loved it. In fact, my youngest son’s middle name is Augustus after Gus McCrae, since my husband and I both loved his character so much. We just didn’t think the first name Augustus could be carried off so well by an infant. Plus as my daughter pointed out, everyone thinks of Augustus Blook from Willie Wonka. He loves that he has such a different middle name. I did just see True Grit (new one) for the first time and am planning to read the book.

  • Gustavo February 24, 2011, 11:51 pm

    I just wanted to share with you this Clint Eastwood quote:

    “I tried being reasonable, I didn’t like it”.

    It says it all.

    By the way, Unforgiven is my favorite western.