Western RoundUp: Streaming Westerns at Home
This month many of us find ourselves unexpectedly forced to stay home for an indefinite period, so I thought this would be the right time to take a look at some excellent Westerns which are available for streaming. A good Western is always a welcome diversion!
The films discussed here are all available from a single streaming service, Amazon. Although there are numerous other streaming services, I feel that Amazon has the best selection of classic-era Westerns; what’s more, all of these titles are currently available at no extra charge for Amazon Prime subscribers.
Please keep in mind that licensing agreements and availability change over the course of time; if at some point in the future these films can no longer be streamed at Amazon, two of the three are currently also available on DVD and are worth seeking out.
Gunfighters (George Waggner, 1947)
This Columbia Pictures film, based on a novel by Zane Grey, is one of my favorite Randolph Scott Westerns. It has a top-drawer cast, an excellent screenplay by Alan LeMay (The Searchers), and eye-catching Cinecolor photography by Fred Jackman Jr.
The film begins with an unusual, colorful opening sequence that skips part of the usual opening credits, a style seen more frequently in modern-day films. The viewer is immediately swept into the action as fast-drawing Brazos Kane (Scott) is forced to deal with yet another man who wants to try to outdraw him.
Kane arrives at a friend’s home only to discover he’s just been killed, after which he finds himself the target of a lynch mob. Kane is saved by the savvy sheriff (Charles Kemper); although the sheriff encourages Kane to hit the trail, Kane wants to stick around and solve the murder.
Soon Kane is involved with lookalike sisters, the good Jane (Dorothy Hart) and the manipulative Bess (Barbara Britton), who loves her father’s shady foreman (Bruce Cabot). Kane also has to deal with an evil ranchhand (Forrest Tucker).
This film packs a lot of story into under an hour and a half, and it has some terrific dialogue, especially for Kemper’s sheriff. It also has some scenes which are startling for the brutality shown in a film of this era, especially a sequence where Kane repeatedly shoots an evil deputy (Grant Withers) until he tells what he knows about the murder.
This is a very entertaining and well-made Western which deserves to find new audiences. I remain hopeful that one day it will have a release on DVD.
Rio Grande is not simply one of my favorite Westerns, but one of my all-time favorite films.
It’s the last of the director’s “Cavalry Trilogy,” following Fort Apache (1948) and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949). It was made as part of a deal with Republic Pictures; studio head Herbert Yates agreed to produce The Quiet Man (1952) if the director and his lead actors, John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara, made a Western first. The rest was two very different films which are both gems.
Rio Grande may be the least regarded of the Cavalry trio, but any Ford Western is still a classic, and I find it a very special film in its own right. It takes place on a remote Rio Grande outpost after the Civil War, where Lt. Col. Kirby Yorke (Wayne) is unexpectedly reunited with the wife (O’Hara) and young adult son Jeff (Claude Jarman Jr.) he has not seen since he ordered his wife’s house burned during the war.
Jeff is befriended by fellow troopers, Travis (Ben Johnson) and Sandy (Harry Carey Jr.) as he works to prove himself in the cavalry. Meanwhile, as Jeff’s parents gradually inch closer to understanding and reconciliation, the children of the fort are kidnapped by Indians.
This film has many great moments, starting early on with the “Roman riding” done by Johnson, Carey, and Jarman; the three actors did the sequence themselves, without stuntmen, and it’s quite exciting. Johnson was a master horseman and former stuntman, but the fact that Carey and Jarman did it as well makes it even more impressive.
I also especially love the beautiful music performed by the Sons of the Pioneers, who at that time included Ken Curtis, later of TV’s Gunsmoke; “I’ll Take You Home Again, Kathleen” is lovely, but even better is “My Gal is Purple.” John Wayne standing alongside the river at sundown while that song plays is one of my favorite movie scenes ever. Pure beauty.
I encourage anyone who hasn’t yet made the acquaintance of this special film to take the time to watch it. I’ve seen it countless times over the years, and I find each viewing more rewarding than the last.
This is another post Civil War film, with Alan Ladd playing John Chandler, a widowed Confederate veteran. Chandler is searching for a cure for his son David (played by Alan Ladd’s real-life son David), who has been mute since he witnessed his mother’s murder during the war.
Through no fault of his own John ends up in a brawl in a small Western town, after which he’s paroled to work on the farm of Linnett Moore (Olivia de Havilland). Linnett grows attached to David and offers to take him to visit a specialist, and John in return works to save her farm from Harry Burleigh (Dean Jagger).
The Western setting is an integral part of the film, as Linnett struggles to eke out a living on the frontier; that said, the main theme of the movie is a pair of lonely people cautiously forming a new family unit, as hardworking Linnett becomes fond of little David — and his father.
The film reunited de Havilland with Curtiz, who had directed her in The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) and other films. She and Ladd are as good as one would expect, and young David Ladd is excellent in a challenging role as the silent boy who blossoms with a home and the care of a mother figure.
The Proud Rebel is a sensitively acted and directed film which touched me very much when I first saw it a few years ago at the TCM Classic Film Festival.
I have more streaming recommendations which I’ll save for a future post, though hopefully there will no longer be an urgent need for them a few weeks from now. Stay well, everyone!
— Laura Grieve for Classic Movie Hub
Laura can be found at her blog, Laura’s Miscellaneous Musings, where she’s been writing about movies since 2005, and on Twitter at @LaurasMiscMovie. A lifelong film fan, Laura loves the classics including Disney, Film Noir, Musicals, and Westerns. She regularly covers Southern California classic film festivals. Laura will scribe on all things western at the ‘Western RoundUp’ for CMH.