stagecoach

By far the best western film of 1939, Stagecoach is a cinema treasure for a variety of different reasons, the most important being it was the film that put John Wayne on the movie map and also is the first major pairing of director John Ford and star Wayne.

Ford and Wayne made 14 films together. They were friends as well…buddies to the end. And, that friendship comes across on screen in each of their films. But, it all truly began with Stagecoach. I said earlier the pair had made 14 films together…well, that is not counting the seven films Ford made with Wayne as just an extra in the late 1920s/early 1930s.

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Meet the Amlingmeyers. A pair of brothers riding the range from one grub stake to the next. Are they just obsessed cowpokes thinking about food, smokes, horses, women and more food? Nope. Old Red (Gustav) and Big Red (Otto) have other things on their mind. Like detecting. Just like that Sherlock fellow. Welcome to the world of Holmes on the Range by Steve Hockensmith.

Old Red’s obsession with all things Holmes – read to him by his brother from Harper’s Magazine – leads them to adventure. The slightly shady outfit they have signed up with – the Bar VR – ends up having two deaths on the premises. And the foreman really does not seem to care since everyone is supposed to be preparing for the arrival of the foreign owners of the ranch. Just who is lying to whom? And just what is going on with the ranch finances and stock? And those fancy English folks might have a hand in this mess too.
Hockensmith’s characters are great fun. The story is told in Big Red’s voice and he is a perfect doubting Thomas about his brother’s detection skills. But he will stand by him as a loyal “Watson” and family member should. Old Red sometimes doubts himself – he is just an average uneducated cowboy – but he has studied his hero Holmes’ methods.
With wonderful characters and a twisty plot, this series is off to a great start. I’m eager to read the rest. A very fun read!
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Clint Eastwood directs and stars as a former violent cowboy who turns over a new leaf. Now a father and a widower, he finds out whether he still has that violent streak. Eastwood and a friend (Morgan Freeman) decide to collect a bounty in a corrupt town, run by a detestable sheriff (Gene Hackman). Called a “psychological” Western, this film won Eastwood his first Oscar for Best Director, in addition to snagging Best Picture and a Supporting Actor Oscar for Hackman.

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Based on the TV series, Bret Maverick, director Richard Donner brings to the big screen a Western comedy about a handsome gambler (Mel Gibson), a charming lady con-artist (Jodie Foster), and a lawman (James Garner), all heading for a poker tournament held on a river boat with a $500,000 pot for the winner. Much of the film’s success comes from the biting dialogue from screenwriter William Goldman (of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid fame). Gibson and Foster are purely charming together and Garner adds just enough tension to the film to keep the audience on its toes. Look for Graham Greene in a small role as Gibson’s friend, Joseph, who practically steals the movie and many of the laughs!

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When simple-minded, big-city lawyer James Stewart arrives in the town of Shinbone, he butts heads with town bully John Wayne as they fight over a woman and over how to run Shinbone. After notorious outlaw Liberty Valance comes to town, Wayne and Stewart set aside their differences to fight him. Stewart and Wayne shine as both tortured souls in their own ways. Not Ford and Wayne’s finest pairing, but with the addition of Stewart, this one is a must-see classic Western. On a side note, this film trademarked Wayne’s “pilgrim” expression, which he uses too many times to count here.

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Civil War veteran Ethan spends more time wandering the West than he does with his family. When he finally comes home, he soon finds himself searching once again: this time, for his sole-surviving nieces who were kidnapped after a raid on his brother’s home by Indian chief Scar. Many consider (including myself) this the best work from the frequent collaboration of John Wayne and director John Ford. The vistas from Ford’s famed location Monument Valley never looked more stunning. Wayne never was more tormented and troubled, really showing his acting range in this one. What a brilliant combination!

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