Sharp-shooters – our favourite Western DirectorsTCM examines the very best Directors from the western genre...
John Ford became the very first recipient of The American Film Institute’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 1973 for very good reason.
• He’s the most decorated director in OSCAR® history with 6 Academy Awards.
• He made more than 135 films in his career among his 58 Westerns were, The Searchers (1956), 3 Godfathers (1948), How The West Was Won (1962) and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962).
• Collectively his films earned 23 Academy Awards and helped define the Western genre.
• He was responsible for encouraging a young actor John Wayne who became an enduring and much-loved screen icon.
• He worked repeatedly with a group of actors including Henry Fonda, James Stewart and Lee Marvin.
The ‘enfant terrible’ of the Western genre, Peckinpah used extreme violence, bloody climactic endings, slow motion and atmospheric music to add a new twist for audiences of the 60’s.
• He was influenced by the Japanese director, Akira Kurosawa whose work had been reinterpreted by Sergio Leone for European audiences.
• 10 of his films were feature-length Westerns including, Ride The High Country (1962), The Wild Bunch (1969), Junior Bonner (1972) and Pat Garrett and Billy The Kid (1973), although he had started off making several Western television series.
• Peckinpah was only nominated for one Academy Award for the screenplay for The Wild Bunch.
• He used veteran actors Randolph Scott and Joel McCrea for, Ride The High Country, persuading them to come out of retirement for their last picture.
• He often worked with Steve McQueen, Warren Oates, Ben Johnson and Strother Martin and was responsible for introducing McQueen to Ali McGraw.
All-rounder Walsh was forced to give up his acting career when he lost an eye in a car accident, concentrating on directing proved to be a good move, he made over 150 feature films.
• Walsh directed 23 Westerns and starred in three, starting as far back as 1914 with, Sierra Jim’s Reformation.
• His films include, They Died With Their Boots On (1941), Silver River (1948) and Colorado Territory (1949).
• He starred with John Ford in The Birth of a Nation (1915), one of the groundbreaking films of the silent era.
• He made nine films with Errol Flynn as his leading man
• In addition to his Western movies Walsh was prolific in the crime genre during the 40’s making, High Sierra, with Humphrey Bogart in 1941
Sturges work is far better remembered than the director himself, who has almost achieved anonymity. He turned out some of Hollywood’s most memorable movies and worked with the biggest stars.
• He directed 14 Westerns including, Escape From Fort Bravo (1954), Gunfight at The OK Corral (1957), The Law and Jake Wade (1958) and The Magnificent Seven (1960).
• His other major successes were, The Eagle Has Landed (1976) with Michael Caine, Donald Sutherland and Jenny Agutter and The Great Escape (1963), featuring Steve McQueen’s extraordinary motorcycle scene.
• He spent his early career as an assistant to producer David O Selznick.
• Sturges has directed John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Charles Bronson, Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, Spencer Tracy, Rock Hudson and Frank Sinatra, to name but a few.
William A Wellman
Responsible for kick-starting James Cagney’s career in 1931, with The Public Enemy, Wellman cut his teeth on Westerns for Fox Studios in the 20’s and was a maverick, ground-breaking director.
• Wellman’s Western, Ox-Bow Incident (1943, starring Henry Fonda received an OSCAR® nomination for Best Picture.
• Wellman thrived on controversial subject matter and had a reputation that preceded him, he was known as ‘Wild Bill’.
• His other Westerns included, Across The Wide Missouri (1951), starring Errol Flynn and Westward The Women, released the same year and starring Robert Taylor.
• His last Western was Track of the Cat (1954), which starred Robert Mitchum.
• Wellman work received 32 OSCAR® nominations but the only one he received was for co-writing, A Star is Born (1937), which he also directed.
Son of influential Italian director Vincenze Leone, Sergio carried on his father’s pioneering film production, by creating a whole new sub-genre, the ‘Spaghetti’ Western, so called because it gave a new European twist to the US myth.
• Akira Kurosawa was a major influence for Sergio Leone who remade many of his films
• Creating theme tunes for his major characters was a major component of Leone’s work and he used Ennio Morricone to create haunting tunes to accompany the introduction of a character.
• The close-up camera shot was another trademark, in addition to heavily stylised characterisation.
• He made Clint Eastwood an overnight success, casting him as, ‘The Man with No Name’ and continuing the theme of the existentialist cowboy.
• He also worked with Henry Fonda, Charles Bronson, Jason Robards, Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, Klaus Kinski, Eli Wallach, Lee Van Cleef, James Coburn and Rod Steiger.
Mann was responsible for casting James Stewart in his Westerns in vengeful and violent roles. Taking the noir genre, he applied it to the Western creating dark characters battling against sprawling panoramic landscapes.
• Mann made 11 Westerns in total, his first was, Winchester ’73, starring James Stewart and Shelley Winters.
• James Stewart starred in 8 of Mann’s films including, The Bend of The River (1952), The Naked Spur (1953) and The Man From Laramie (1955).
• Henry Fonda took over as Mann’s leading cowboy in 1957 after Stewart had a falling out with the director.
• Prolific Western screenwriter Borden Chase wrote both, Bend of The River and Winchester ’73.
• Mann remade, Cimarron in 1960, the original from 1931 was the first Western to receive a Best Picture OSCAR®
Clint Eastwood’s name for most conjures up images of him in his classic roles for Sergio Leone in his poncho and hat as ‘The Man With No Name’. But over the years he’s shown himself equally as adept in the genre behind the camera too.
• Eastwood made his directorial Western debut in 1973 with, High Plains Drifter.
• He has directed a total of four Westerns including, The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976) and Unforgiven (1992).
• Unforgiven received nine OSCAR® nominations and despite the fact that he lost out on Best Actor, Eastwood won Best Director and Best Film, with other OSCAR’s going to Gene Hackman for Best Supporting Actor and to Joel Cox for Best Editing.
• For a man who has made his name starring and directing Westerns, it is curious to note that his name is an anagram of ‘old west action’.
• He also wore the same poncho in all three of Sergio Leone’s films but never had it washed during the three years of filming.
Zinnemann’s career has included a variety of genres and although he was not a prolific director of Westerns, his work was certainly influential. He made 21 feature films, garnering 23 OSCAR® nominations from just five of them.
• Zinnemann’s first Western was, High Noon (1952) and won an OSCAR® for actor Gary Cooper as Sheriff Will Kane.
• High Noon was considered to be an anti-Western as it reversed many of the usual Western conceits, some in Hollywood took exception to this, branding it as cowardly and Anti-American.
• It was made at a time when Hollywood was paranoid about communist influences and some saw this as a left-wing statement.
• Zinnemann’s other Western was well-known musical, Oklahoma! (1955), which saw Howard Keel as the singing lead cowboy.
• Zinnemann’s other major successes included, From Here To Eternity (1953).
Hawks remains one of the most influential directors in Hollywood and during his long and illustrious career he produced a number of classic films across a variety of different genres.
• Hawks key Westerns used iconic cowboy John Wayne, they collaborated on, Rio Bravo (1959) and Red River (1948).
• Having started off as a production assistant on Westerns during the 20’s, Hawks’ first Western as a director was, Viva Villa! (1934) .
• Other favourite cowboy actors for Hawks were Joel McCrea, Walter Brennan, Harry Carey and Arthur Hunnicutt.
• It is said that, Rio Bravo, was Howard Hawks and John Wayne’s response what they perceived as the cowardly portrayal of Gary Cooper’s Sheriff, Will Kane in High Noon (1952).
• Hawks made a total of 9 Westerns as a director.