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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

10 Cult Westerns of 1971

1971 was a strange year for westerns. The genre was considered moribund, being propped up by Clint Eastwood, Sergio Leone and Sam Peckinpah, but none of them released a western in 1971. Peckinpah released "Straw Dogs," which took his usual themes urban, modern and indoors; the following year, he'd release "The Ballad of Cable Hogue," one of my favorite westerns. Leone's "Fistful of Dynamite," aka "Duck, You Sucker" came out in early 1972. Eastwood was between "Two Mules for Sister Sara" and "Joe Kidd," but was extremely busy with "Dirty Harry," "Play Misty for Me" and "Kelly's Heroes."

There were a number of old-fashioned westerns released in 1971. "Captain Apache," "Chato's Land," "Companeros," "The Deserter," "The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight," "Saddle Tramps," and "A Time for Dying" all came out that year. Even John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara reteamed one last time for the minor "Big Jake."

The door was left wide open for experiments in film and a number of odd westerns filled the gaps.

El Topo

Easily the strangest film in the group, this could be ignored as hallucinogenic surrealism, except for the complex and intricate plot. Before the internet and DVD's, this film was nearly impossible to find, but was worth the search.

McCabe and Mrs. Miller

I enjoy Altman films, but this one leaves me flat - such is the nature of cult films. Perhaps it's because when I think westerns, I think Arizona rather than Oregon. Great effort was made for an authentic look, but I keep thinking "this is what people in 1970 thought the old west looked like." Much is made of the score, but I can't recall it. Maybe I just don't like Warren Beatty.

Red Sun

Samurai films were a potent source for western film scripts, particularly Kurosawa's films starring Toshiro Mifune, so it may have seemed natural to make a western with Mifune playing a samurai in the west. Anachronisms aside, it doesn't work and Mifune is wasted.

Support Your Local Gunfighter

This was a sequel to "Support Your Local Sheriff!" which is a wonderful comedy. James Garner and Jack Elam return and this is an enjoyable film, just not as fresh or funny as the original.

They Call Me Trinity

Filling the Leone spaghetti western void was this film with Terence Hill. My main memories of it (I saw it at age 9) were that Hill's eyes were so intensely blue they were hard to look at and that I seemed to be missing some plot points (whether it was translation or my age, I don't know). It has some very good laughs and was followed by a sequel.


Musical westerns have always been popular, though 1968's "Paint Your Wagon" (the first movie I ever saw in a theater) nearly killed them off for good. This film, rather than creating typical songs written specifically to reflect the script, used current artists making the music they wanted to make. It's fun in a "It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World" sort of way, to look for all the cameos by television actors and rock stars.

The Hired Hand

Peter Fonda plays a man who, seven years after deserting his wife, returns looking to get a job from her, with expected consequences. Warren Oates, per usual, steals the show.

Billy Jack

Tom Loughlin's first film, "Born Losers," though poorly acted, was an interesting film and suggested something good might be on the way. "Billy Jack" was trash, but enjoyable trash, and it became a hit movie. The idea of spreading peace by beating everyone into submission is ridiculous. It even had a hit song, "One Tin Soldier," which shines in comparison to the rest of the songs because it's actually sung on key. It was followed by two sequels, following the downward spiral of the first two. "The Trial of Billy Jack" is cinematic waterboarding.

Hannie Caulder

This was one of the films in Raquel Welch's quest to be taken seriously as an actress. It's a standard revenge film, except for the fact that it's a woman doing the revenge seeking. It attempted to make a feminist statement, but backfired because the lead character, to shed female stereotypes, also sheds her humanity. Still, it's a guilty pleasure to watch her hunt down Ernest Borgnine and Strother Martin.

Kung Fu

I believe this was shown once on network television as a film in 1971, before it became the premiere episode of the series of the same name the next year. It tries to bring the quiet mysticism of martial arts to the western as well as the fighting, with mixed results.


Glaven Q. Heisenberg said...


...It's fun in a "It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World" sort of way...

So what you're saying is, it sucked, right? Because, to me, even It's a World World World World Mad (as the Mad Magazine parody went) wasn't funny in a It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World way, unless "funny in a It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World way" means "not funny".

"The Trial of Billy Jack" is cinematic waterboarding.

So what you're saying is, it would be legal, in a post-9/11 world, to force people to watch The Trial of Billy Jack?


SteveQ said...

Congrats, G., you finally read all of a blog post! But I said "fun," not "funny;" one can watch IAMMMMW (drunk) and have fun trying to catch all the cameos [bet you missed Selma Diamond!]

Rupert Pupkin said...

Steve, very cool list! I haven't seen like 3(RED SUN, THEY CALL ME TRINITY,HANNIE CAULDER) that I now need to track down.
I love CABLE HOGUE too btw. More lists of odd films by year!

Glaven Q. Heisenberg said...

Well, SteveQ, feel free to change "funny" in my comment to "fun" - I'll still stand by it as steadfastly as I stand by my myriad assertions that Phil Specter - er ... Full Spectrum ... um ... that is, Used Plectrum -

... however you wanna spell his name ...

... was a way better murderer than he was a record producer.

Assuming you can spot any difference between his two avocations.

Londell said...

They call me trinity... such a great deal of memories from that one.. Take care!

Jennythenipper said...

McCabe and Mrs. Miller left me cold too. I could admire it as filmaking but it was so bleak. I think part of the problem was watching it in February. I should only watch Bollywood films and 1930s comedies in February.

The only other film on this I've seen are "Support Your Local Gunfighter" and I may be confusing it with another Garner film, they will blur together in my mind. I do remember "Billy Jack."

dave said...

Wow, what an insane list! It's hilarious to see El Topo next to McCabe and Mrs. Miller (which was my college film professors all time favorite movie, which I do not understand)! And Billy Jack, and Trinity - what a year! If you're into Spaghetti Westerns, you should check out my Spaghetti Western Concept Rap album, called "Showdown at the BK Corral." It's basically an epic Spaghetti Western over 9 tracks - very influenced by Morricone. I'd love to hear what you think of it! You can download it for free at sunsetparkriders.com