We all know that in real life the celebrated “heroes” of the old west were a pack of corrupt and/or outrightly criminal thugs who would have had a pretty redneckish worldview. And let’s face it, by our standards their personal hygiene habits would have been pretty disgusting.
But since the Frontierado holiday is all about celebrating the myth of the West and not the grinding reality of it here’s my list of the Top Four Westerns Based On Real-Life Figures. Coming up with lists like this is one of the perks of being the international commissioner of Frontierado (along with the seven-figure income and a staff of three hundred people).
1. BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID (1969) – Redford and Newman set the standard for the “buddy western” with this magnificent movie. Newman once described this flick by saying “It’s a love story between two guys. The girl is incidental.” It’s tough to pull off an action comedy that doesn’t devolve into slapstick but this movie managed it brilliantly. It’s also one of the most quoted westerns of all time, from “Who are those guys” to “This could be the Atlantic City, New Jersey of all Bolivia for all you know” through “For a minute there I thought we were in trouble.”
2. TOMBSTONE (1993) – “The lawman wore tennis shooooooooes!” Had to be said. Countless previous films had tackled the legendary clash between the Earps and Doc Holliday and the Clanton crime organization, but this one finally got it right (cinematically at least, not factually).
Kurt Russell and Michael Biehn turned in the performances of their careers as Wyatt Earp and John Ringo, respectively, but Val Kilmer stole the show with his “Bohemian artist” portrayal of Doc Holliday. For once we had a Holliday who was the total package – young, charming, taciturn and visibly dying.
3. YOUNG GUNS (1988) – Billy the Kid’s involvement in the Lincoln County War is retold on a large scale in this blockbuster. Emilio Estevez forever made the well-known character wholly his own, much like Val Kilmer did with Doc Holliday in our number two movie.
Estevez as the Kid is charismatic, charming, reckless and more than a little crazy. Ignore the poorly-conceived sequel, which is one of those films that doesn’t even realize how hateable it makes its lead character.
4. TOM HORN (1980) – Forget the David Carradine version called Mr Horn, THIS film with Steve McQueen in his final role is the one to go with if you want a romanticized portrayal of the real-life gunslinger. The movie touches on most of the elements of the Tom Horn legend – his service in the Spanish-American War, his role as a hired gun in BOTH the Pleasant Valley War and the Johnson County War, his time as an army scout in conflicts with Native Americans and even his apocryphal saloon brawl with boxer Gentleman Jim Corbett.
This film employs the perfect biopic approach that the movie Patton used – instead of jumping around to different points in the lead character’s life it just featured the crucial time period with dialogue referring to the other events in that life.
Honorable mention goes to The Long Riders (1980), which is easily the highest quality depiction of the James-Younger Gang. The movie transcends the western genre and is sort of a “Godfather” style dive into the lifestyle of the Confederate die-hard bandits best represented by Jesse James, Cole Younger and their brothers. The Long Riders reeks of atmosphere, but I can’t get past the main characters’ fondness for the late Confederacy.
FOR FOUR NEGLECTED REAL-LIFE WESTERN FIGURES CLICK HERE: https://glitternight.com/2011/08/02/frontierado-week-four-neglected-wild-west-figures/
FOR THE NUMBER ONE FRONTIERADO FILM CLICK HERE: https://glitternight.com/2011/07/06/the-top-four-frontierado-movies-number-one-silverado-1985/
DON’T FORGET – FRONTIERADO IS FRIDAY AUGUST 4th.