Movies and westerns were made for each other. Hollywood came along not long after the era of westward expansion and access to the stunning landscapes of Monument Valley and endless vistas of desert and sagebrush was nearby. The earliest commercial films were cowboy stories and by the time Hollywood hit its stride in the 1930’s-50’s the western was the perfect metaphor for the American experience. Most were action films and dramas, but there were a few comedies, like this week’s “A Million Ways to Die in the West.” Some of the best include:
Cat Ballou Jane Fonda stars as a young woman determined to get revenge for the murder of her father (John Marley, the horse head in the bed guy from “The Godfather”).
A Big Hand for the Little Lady This neglected gem has an all-star cast and one of the greatest plot twists ever, in the story of a devoted wife and mother (Joanne Woodward) who takes over for her ailing husband (Henry Fonda) in a high-stakes poker game.
Ruggles of Red Gap Charles Laughton plays a very proper gentleman’s gentleman who teachers the rough westerners a few things about their own heritage. It was remade with Bob Hope and Lucille Ball as “Fancy Pants.”
Blazing Saddles Mel Brooks’ classic is one of the funniest films ever made, funnier every time you watch it. My favorite part is Madeline Kahn as the dance hall girl.