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The American Film Institute recently named their “Ten Best Westerns” of all-time, and to say it is surprising it quite the understatement. There is one “Clint Eastwood” movie on it. There is only one movie that was made in the last 36 years. Yes, 36 years! Rarely has the gap between our current generation’s tastes and the AFI’s desire to preserve heritage been so clear.
“Unforgiven” (1992) is the only movie on the list that was released in the last 36 years and its the only Clint Eastwood film on the list. “High Plains Drifter” didn’t make it. “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly” didn’t make it. “Pale Rider” didn’t make it. There should be some sort of a modern-day rule against that. There must be some really older guys (and gals) on the AFI’s jury. I can only guess that some of the more current Oscar-worthy contenders were just considered too new.


None of what have been my favorites made it, either. “The Magnificent Seven” was yesterday’s version of “Young Guns” with a nobility that transcended race and type. “Big Hand for a Little Lady” was one of the last Westerns that combined dry humor and down-home character. “Silverado’s” all-star cast captured much of what once was great about Westerns and brought it into the current generation. Instead…
“The Searchers,” “High Noon,” and “Shane” are the top three on the list. They’re all wonderful (and inspiring) westerns. They should be on anyone’s list. After that, though, the list gets (at least in my opinion) sketchy.
“Red River,” “The Wild Bunch,” “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” and “McCabe and Mrs. Miller” are next on the list after “Unforgiven.” “Stagecoach” and “Cat Ballou” round out the list.
At least most of us have seen “Butch Cassidy” and perhaps heard of “The Wild Bunch.” As for the others, they certainly show the AFI to either be out of touch with present reality, or that they are being faithful in its task to preserve the standard of what a great film is. If the selecting of this list causes many of us to go out and view one of the classics–perhaps even with our kids–then it will have served a great purpose.
But I believe that the Westerns of old found it easier to be great because our society had such simpler and unified concepts of good and evil–of who the good guys were and who the bad guys were. I think it’s tougher today, and the Western stage is a great setting which I hope more producers and directors will utilize in the near future.

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