My Obsession With…Classic Westerns

The Searchers
source: Warner Bros.

The vast, dusty, open spaces of the western frontier are some of the most magnificent sights one can behold.

States like Utah, Wyoming, Montana, and countless others have all served as backdrops for film directors and actors who had dared dip their toes into the red-blooded, quintessentially American movie genre known as the classic western.

John Ford, Gary Cooper, Joel McCrea, Linda Darnell, John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara, Howard Hawks, Otto Preminger, Nicholas Ray, John Huston, Micheal Curtiz and plethora of other classic Hollywood icons have, at one point or another in their careers, ventured to this extraordinary genre that heavily influenced my movie watching sensibilities.

Mackenna's Gold
source: Columbia Pictures

When I first began to submerge myself into the world of classic cinema, initially, I only watched what was comfortable to me; romance, comedies, dramas, musicals – whatever it was, I vigorously viewed them with the tenacity of a lion.

It wasn’t until I saw a rather peculiar film about a man’s rush to obtain wealth through gold, that I started to take the classic western seriously.

Mackenna’s Gold is a film, unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.

It broke the constraints in what it meant to be a “classic western.” With its special effects, subtly nudity, and coarse language, it left an indelible effect on me.

Starring an all-star cast of Gregory Peck, Omar Shariff, Julie Newmar, Edward G. Robinson, Ted Cassidy, Telly Savalas and Camilla Sparv, Mackenna’s Gold tells the story of a mild manner sheriff named Sam Mackenna (played by Peck) who gets kidnapped by a group of Mexican and Indian bandits (primarily played Omar Shariff, Jule Newmar and Ted Cassidy) who forced him to take them to this ‘so-called’ city of gold.

Mackenna insists that there is no ‘city of gold’ but, his pleas get met with more pistol whippings and beatings. For the rest of the film, I witnessed a cinematic spectacle that shaped the way I looked at the genre that I once loathed.

MacKennasGold
source: Columbia Pictures

There were scenes of violence, skinny dipping,g and mass canyon destruction and I utterly enjoyed every minute of it. I never knew that westerns could be this gritty and real.

Watching Mackenna’s Gold lead to an awakening to other westerns that I normally would’ve skipped over.

The Searchers, Giant, Wichita, The Naked Hills, The Unforgiven and many others I feverously poured over hoping to get the same feeling I did when I watched Mackenna’s Gold.

Luckily for me, I did.

Watching westerns make me feel free. They give me a feeling of pure spontaneity. The films I’ve watched usually involve a man just looking for a place to lay his roots and start a family. He doesn’t where he’ll start, but he knows he’ll start somewhere.

The beauty of the unknown, It gives me a thrill. Just imagine moving to a small, dusty town where the people are (relatively) friendly and the resources are abundant. The world is your oyster in the wild west, and I have Mackenna’s Gold to thank.

thesearchers
source: Warner Bros.

 

 

 

 

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