Philip French’s 10 best westerns

I love a western.

The Observer’s soon to be retired film critic, Philip French, himself a renowned scholar of the genre published this on Sunday.

This got me thinking about my response and westerns in general.

There are few things better than an empty afternoon, flicking through channels and coming across an old friend. sometimes the more obscure the better.

This is the heart of geekdom. We all love the classics in any popular culture. Be it great film, theatre, literature, sport; we all know Jaws, Hamlet, Pride and Bloody Prejudice or the World Cup of 1966 with the Russian linesmen and people on the pitch.

How many 30 something’s know who Randolph Scott is, or Joel McRae? How many film buffs know who Ward Bond was, why Ben Johnson was incredible, or even the great Anthony Mann and James Stewart films?

Anyway, I’ve put together my response to the list, my 10, plus a few thoughts. As ever, I’d love to get a response.

1. Bend in the River, Dir Anthony Mann, Starring James Stewart and Arthur Kennedy and the Mann stock company. Great cinematography, not quite as overtly “psychological”, Laramie or Winchester (both of which are virtually Shakespearean), but has a great scene where a near dead Stewart threatens the gang, “you’ll be seeing me”. You care about the characters.

2. She wore a Yellow Ribbon, Dir John Ford, starring John Wayne, and the John Ford stock company. About war, family, remembrance and romanticism. The funeral of the confederate general and the marriage at the end. My favourite of the trilogy, which are all great

3. The Magnificent Seven, Dir John Sturges, starring, Brad Dexter, Horst Bucholz and 5 very famous Hollywood stars. “all I have to do is take off my hat”

4. Open Range, Dir Kevin Costner, starring Kevin Costner and Robert Duvall. Great, minimalist, tough western. Shows Costner’s love for the genre, with hat tips to Ford (landscape), Mann (Costner’s a psyco), Pekinpah (well staged violence) and Hawks (it’s a mission / lost platoon movie)

5. The Outlaw Josey Wales, Dir & Starring Clint Eastwood. I think it’s probably his best. Has a great line about “Dying aint much of a living” and actually has something to say about post conflict national and character development

6. Ride the High Country: Dir Sam Pekinpah, starring Randolf Scott and Joel Mcrae. It’s about the end of the west and what it is to be a man. Aidan will be watching this in a few years with his dad and granddad

7. The Gunfight at the OK Corral. Dir John Sturges, starring Burt and Kirk (no need for surnames, is there?). Total star power, with Kirk’s .45 calibre dimple and Burt’s 500 MW smile. Actually pretty tough for the time. Great entertainment

8. Rio Bravo, Dir Howard Hawks, starring John Wayne, Dean Martin, Ricky Nelson, Walter Brennan. One of Hawk’s “embattled platoon” films, this is the one with Deano as the drunk, not Mitchum (who is far better in the role) but I actually prefer this version, because it’s got Walter Brennan in it – who pretty much always plays Walter Brennan, but brilliantly – and Ricky Nelson is a more attractive character than James Caan. The song is actually very good.

9. The Naked Spur. Dir Anthony Mann, Starring James Stewart and Robert Ryan. Again, majestic Rockies cinematography, with serious angst from Stewart as the killer trying to be a decent man. Robert Ryan is a great baddie it’s a really tight little film – small cast, small story, powerful film.

10. The Searchers. I don’t particularly love the film, as it’s long, a bit stagey and quite dated. But it is the template for a revenge western, and John Wayne acts against type. He’s a nasty racist that is prepared to kill the niece he’s searched for for years because she’s been racially defiled. This is a film about the development of America and the difficult birth in a savage environment. Wayne walking out of the civilised doorway for the emptiness of the SW desert is an all time great visual metaphor. This is what serious westerns are for – telling the story of America by Americans. This is their creation myth. The Searchers not in a Western top 10? That’ll be the day.

I then thought about other westerns that I love, or that merited comment, having been in the original list.

• Unforgiven. If Eastwood didn’t have such a clear template for his films: dark interiors; use of shadow to create sombre and oppressive mood, graphic violence that often comes from nowhere; I’d have had this in my top 10. It’s a truly great film, with excellent performances by pretty much everyone. However, for me it is slightly less of a western, and more of a film on a western stage (pardon the pun). Josey Wales is a great film that is also a true western. Unforgiven could just as easily be Mystic River or Million Dollar Baby (which similarly is not a boxing film like Kid Gallahad or Fat City)

• Tombstone. A sentimental personal favourite this. For Mitchum’s eligaic and evocative voiceover to Heston’s great little cameo and Val Klimer showing he could really act doing the ultimate Doc. I love getting the chance to suggest that “my hypocrisy only goes so far”. Powers Boothe is a great mad baddie as well, and even Billy Inzane is pretty good. Not sure about Kurt Russell as Wyat Erp. Think they were going for authenticity. Thought it was actually a bit hammy. Suspect Erp was actually far more like Gene Hackmann in Unforgiven.

• 7th Cavalry. Randolph Scott trying to prove his heroism after being accused of running away from the Little Big Horn. Part courtroom drama, part war film, part western. All great for a wet and windy Saturday afternoon. A Blewer family favourite

• Rancho Notorious. A very silly film with touches of genius. Arthur Kennedy as an embattled simple rancher hunting down his wife’s killers. He’s basically channelling James Stewart. A deeply silly musical recurring motif, “Hate, murder and revenge” that keeps on coming. Finally what the hell is Marlene Dietrich doing in a western. That Fritz Lang directed and it’s basically a noirish melodrama is probably the answer. They should be wearing trilbies not Stetsons, and using automatics not revolvers.

• Night Passage. It was meant to be another Mann-Stewart collaboration, and looks and feels it, but he pulled out due to Audie Murphy’s casting. Murphy actually isn’t too bad, Stewart is great, the film looks brilliant and there are a few great toe tapping songs that me and my Dad loved when we first watched this about 28 years ago.

• The Shootist. Really tight film, elegiac farewell to John Wayne and the old west. Great support from Mrs Bogart-Robards and James Stewart. But it’s not a western. Queen Victoria had died the first day of the story.

• Clint’s “supernatural” westerns. Pale Rider / High Planes’ Drifter are nearly two sides of the same coin. Great films, particularly like the echo of Shane at the end of Pale Rider, full of imagery, good pacing and spare storytelling and as we all know, “there aint nothing like a good piece of hickory”

You can tell this is a life long love affair with the genre. I love noirs, war films, modern action films and more, but I keep coming back to westerns. Or as I called them as a small boy, watching with my dad, “cow boys”.

I’ve already watched a few with Aidan asleep on me. Looking forward to watching more with him as he grows up. I hope I pass on the torch. He’s already got a horse to ride.




Tesco: brave or stupid?

A more professional one this.

I’m barely competent to comment on Tesco’s communications as I’ve never advised a consumer facing company and am a capital markets, natural resources and emerging markets expert. BUT I am paid to advice corporations and individuals on their reputation management, and taking the risk of associating your brand with porn raised a titter or two (“you’ve got to raise a titter or two”) in the office and made me think a little.

Tesco is fronting a campaign the cut food waste and demonstrate the entire value chain for food. A noble aim, even if it is to get over the horse meat scandals of this year.

However, the tag line, catch phrase, call it what you will for this is “Love Every Mouthful”

I dare you not to snigger. I double dare you mofo. To put it in twitter language, #LoveEveryMouthful

My industry is incredibly conservative. Because of the constant need to protect “Permission to Operate” or the valuation of an investment, none of my clients would have taken he risk of linking their brand to porn. Amusingly enough on the same day the PM is trying to ban porn in the UK.

So what’s my view on this? Well it’s trending on twitter above the royal baby. The ads are great. Yes, of course there’s some pretty rough associations, some of which I wouldn’t want Aidan to understand or see as they are pretty graphic.

The main thing however is that the campaign makes intellectual sense. So it’s got a silly line to stick in your head. So there’s a nudge nudge wink wink angle to this. Big Deal.

At the heart of this campaign, there is a need for us all to understand the value chain of food. when i was a post grad War Studies student, there were credible academics that thought the next big war would be fought over access to water and basic foodstuffs. We should not be throwing away food.

So congrats to Tesco and its comms agencies, and thanks for giving us all in the office such a good laugh. As a journalist I’ve known for a long time and is far more influential than me said, “good move, but brave move”. As he’s consumer business editor at a national broadsheet, fair enough to give the victory to Tesco.

It’s still filthy though.

Bashing the Aussies: how should it make you feel?

If you’re reading this blog, you’re probably aware that there’s an Ashes cricket series going on. As it happens England are doing rather well, and are crushing Australia, having won a close first test and smashing them in the second.

As part of a narrative of British (and Irish) success this summer, its pretty neat. The Lions, the Tour de France, Wimbeldon, the Ashes – a near unbroken summer of success that leaves me feeling slightly twitchy, as B&I success tends to be very short lived.

Which leads me to the meat of this blog. Do I believe this is part of a new (non football) paradigm, where B&I teams will dominate global sports for the foreseeable future? How does, in that appallingly cliched phrase, “make me feel”?

Well when it comes to Australia, I’m delighted. Their cricket team ground us into the dust for over a decade. It was brutal, efficient, soulless and deeply depressing. Unlike the previous cricketing hegemony of the West Indies, I didn’t ever want to be Waugh, Hayden, Warne or McGrath. I wanted them to break down and retire. I used to moan that they would have been destroyed by a prime Windies team.

I actually bought white sweatbands when I was a 14 year old fast bowler who idolised Curtley Ambrose. I tried to copy the way he cocked his wrist. I tried to copy his moody demeanour. This is silly. I’m not 6’6. I’m not black. I lack talent. But there was something about the Windies that made me love them, and miss them when they were gone.

Which means I am chuckling at the Aussies’ current travails. They seem to have fallen off a cliff. There’s no equivalents to Curtley and Courtney, Lara, Hooper or Chanderpaul – world class players that could occasionally rekindle hope. They’re just not very good. Not a bad bowling attack, but not as good as England’s. Poor limited overs influenced batting. Limited guts. Skittish selection. Corporate issues at the top.

I’m not bored yet. I want to smash them over this and the next series. I will snigger away as I have been listening to TMS. I’ll particularly love it if they get screwed in Australia.

The answer to the title question; you should love this. Because we all know it won’t last don’t we?