The best western films to watch this summer
A new season, a new watch-list, this time featuring the best family-friend Western films for summer.
For us, summer means an end to the traditional school year in our household. It means time for extra-curricular we cannot fit into the school year: swimming, baking, sewing, horseback riding, art, soccer and so on. There are so many things.
And of course, as the afternoons heat up, we look for indoor activities to fill the time. This year we implemented tea time. Right around 4 o’clock I pour sweet tea or lemonade or in the toddler’s case, milk, and serve up a treat like scones, zucchini bread, blueberry muffins, fruit, cheese and so on in fancy dishes and we have tea time, which holds us over until dinner time.
The English concept of tea time, I learned is intended to give one a mental boost and hold one over until supper time. High tea would present a larger selection of savory foods and takes place later in the day. Tea time need not be fancy. It is essentially snack time. This new tradition allows me to sit with my children, talk a bit, go over upcoming plans, and review what chores need to be done after tea time. When we finish, they begin their evening chores while I clean the kitchen and prepare dinner. They work better when they see an adult working on chores, too. After that the evening begins, the father comes home, and if we watch a movie that night, this is when it happens.
When summer starts, I go for adventure films: Swiss Family Robinson, Robin Hood starring Errol Flynn and the like.
But the hotter it gets in California, the more inclined I am to watch Westerns. I grew up in an age of cynicism regarding this genre, and to be sure, it has many problems. The best western we knew of was Back to the Future III. Over time, I’ve encountered a smattering of really terrific films all available through our local library or Hoopla.
1939, directed by John Ford, with John Wayne’s Hollywood debut. You will see amazing stunt work in this film. This is where all the stereotypes from so it’s worth watching to know their source. It is set during the Apache wars and Native Americans are not given a role beyond this. I do not recommend a steady diet of that kind of storytelling but we counteract with some education, good books and more nuanced movies later. Your typical road movie, for all its simplicity, the characters are fleshed out and interesting.
1939, directed by Michael Curtiz, starring Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland. Errol Flynn smiles and plays the good guy bringing law and order to a wild western town dominated by murderous bad guys. It’s a mafia movie with horses. Olivia de Havilland writes for the newspaper and is a well-enough written character for the genre. The power of the press is on display as the editor puts his life on the line to print the truth.
1962, directed by John Ford, starring John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart and Vera Miles. Jimmy Stewart plays a city slicker lawyer representing law, order and education. John Wayne plays the west in which a man “handles his own problems” by packing a gun. The relationships are rich and nuanced, the moral choices are worth a discussion following the film.
1952, directed by Fred Zinnemon, starring Gary Cooper with Grace Kelly in her 21-year-old Hollywood debut as a supporting character. He plays an old lawman, she plays a Quaker in a Western that shows establishing law does not come easily or always work as it ought. A man Gary Cooper sent to prison gets out and aims to kill him. He can stand his ground and face the man or run. We get the iconic clock ticking scenes, the shoot-out in the deserted, dusty streets, and the trope of the bad guy using the woman to get the good guy to come out and save her.
1950, directed by Delmer Daves, starring Jimmy Stewart and Jeff Chandler. I love this movie. While the female lead character lacks development, like many others, what makes this movie remarkable is its willingness to show good and bad actors on both the US and the Native American side of the Apache Wars. Too many films tell the story, us against them, villainizing either one side or the other. Stereotypes still exist, but if you or your kids enjoy the genre, this one is a must for the list.
These are the family-friendly films. It’s after-hours when my husband requests we watch The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly, and yes, Back to the Future III.