Western RoundUp: TCM Classic Film Festival 15

Westerns at the TCM Classic Film Festival 15

Over the years the TCM Classic Film Festival has typically included a couple of Westerns on the schedule, such as Winchester ’73 (1950), which I wrote about here back in 2019, or last year’s opening night premiere of the restored Rio Bravo (1959).

TCM Fest 15 Sign

That said, Westerns have historically tended to be represented in fewer numbers than other genres at the festival, so it was very exciting that Westerns were front and center in a big way at this year’s fest.

This was my 11th time covering the 15-year-old festival, held in Hollywood this year from April 18th to 21st. It always seems as though each year’s festival is the best ever, only to be surpassed by the following year, and the 2024 festival was no exception. It was a remarkable experience start to finish, and I felt lucky to attend.

On Saturday, April 20th, revered film historian Jeanine Basinger was honored with this year’s Robert Osborne Award, following in the footsteps of honorees such as Leonard Maltin and Kevin Brownlow.

HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 20: Jeanine Basinger accepts the Robert Osborne award onstage at the "Westward the Women" screening during the 2024 TCM Classic Film Festival at TCL Chinese Theatre on April 20, 2024 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for TCM)
Jeanine Basinger accepts the Robert Osborne Award onstage at the “Westward the Women” screening during the 2024 TCM Classic Film Festival at the Egyptian Theatre on April 20, 2024, in Hollywood, California. [Photo courtesy of Turner Classic Movies]

It was a deeply deserved honor for one of my all-time favorite writers on film, and it was all the more special as the film she chose to accompany her award ceremony was Westward the Women (1951).

Westward the Women was directed by William A. Wellman and stars Robert Taylor and a large cast of women, headed by Denise Darcel, Hope Emerson, Julie Bishop, and Lenore Lonergan. The screening, which took place at the recently remodeled Egyptian Theatre, was a lovely 35mm print.

Westward the Women Poster

In explaining her selection, Basinger recounted working as a movie theater usher in her teens and that the reaction to the film was striking; instead of getting up to leave as soon as the movie ended, audiences stayed and applauded the cast credits, which was very unusual in that place and time.

Basinger also commented that she liked that the film demonstrates the women’s toughness and determination, while they also retain their essential femininity, as seen in the film’s final scenes.

Westward the Women Still 1
Westward the Women

Westward the Women is one of my all-time favorite films, but I was curious what the audience reaction would be, given that Robert Taylor’s character makes some statements which could be perceived as misogynistic, plus there’s quite of bit of slapping which occurs in the film.

While I noted at least one Twitter reaction complaining about the above, as well as the women marrying strangers, I was gratified that many in the audience appreciated the growth of Taylor’s character as the film went on and were profoundly moved by the film. I gathered from overheard conversations that viewers loved the characters and were surprised by the movie’s gritty tone.

Westward the Women Still 2
Westward the Women

A smattering of appreciative Twitter responses by different audience members:

“All I can say is WOW! One of my favorite fest discoveries ever. Thank you Jeanine Basinger for picking this movie to screen at #TCMFF.”

“Out of all the films so far, the one that affected me the most so far is Westward the Women (1951). William A. Wellman knows how to mess with my emotions.”

“Was overwhelmed. So happy it more than lived up to the reputation…right up there with the best westerns every made and that’s not hyperbole.”

“…I wonder how it’s not already a contender for every list. Maybe new favorite Wellman?”

The next morning was another special Western screening, this time the world premiere restoration of Law and Order (1932). The restoration was by Universal Studios in collaboration with the Film Foundation; it was shown via DCP in the Chinese Multiplex 6, introduced by Brendan Connell Jr. of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The Academy was listed as a “co-presenter” of the film on the festival website.

Law and Order Poster

Law and Order was directed by Edward L. Cahn from a script by Tom Reed, based on a John Huston adaptation of W.R. Burnett’s novel Saint Johnson. The film is also known by the alternate title Guns A’Blazin.

Law and Order had been shown at the festival at 2016, but I missed it that year. It’s said to be the first cinematic spin on the tale of Wyatt Earp, as Huston and company try to tame Tombstone, Arizona. The Earp story has, of course, been filmed many times since, and I’ve written about several versions in past Western RoundUp posts.

Law and Order Still 1
Law and Order

Writer John Huston’s father Walter stars as the Earp-inspired Frame “Saint” Johnson, the “killingest peace officer that ever lived.”

Huston is backed by Harry Carey Sr., Raymond Hatton, and Russell Hopton. Huston and Carey, in particular, are exceptionally good in the film.

Law and Order Still 2
Law and Order

Law and Order has a decidedly gritty tone and feels authentic, whether it’s the costumes or the climactic, fast-paced shootout with the “Northrups” (Clantons) at the OK Corral. The film’s humor is notably dark, particularly when it comes to Andy Devine as a dim-witted fellow headed for the gallows, who’s happy to be going out as the first man “hung legal” in Tombstone.

It’s a movie very much worth seeing and provides fascinating historical context for those interested in the legend of Wyatt Earp on film.

The highlight of this year’s TCM Classic Film Festival came on Sunday afternoon at the Egyptian, with a sold-out 70mm world premiere restoration of John Ford’s The Searchers (1956). The movie stars John Wayne and many members of what we today refer to as the “John Ford Stock Company.”

The Searchers Poster

The restoration by Warner Bros. scanned the original VistaVision camera negative in 13K, with the restoration work done in 6.5K. The Film Foundation gave its approval to the newly restored 70mm print.

The movie was introduced by noted director Alexander Payne. Cast member Patrick Wayne, son of the film’s star, was in the audience and received a nice round of applause.

HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 21: Alexander Payne speaks onstage during the "The Searchers" screening during the 2024 TCM Classic Film Festival at TCL Chinese Theatre on April 21, 2024 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Presley Ann/Getty Images for TCM)
Alexander Payne speaks onstage before the “The Searchers” screening during the 2024 TCM Classic Film Festival at the Egyptian Theatre on April 21, 2024, in Hollywood, California. [Photo courtesy of Turner Classic Movies.]

The Searchers is a favorite film, but I don’t watch it too often as, to borrow a comment above, it really messes with my emotions. I briefly toyed with the idea of going to see Eddie Muller introduce Chinatown (1974) in the same time slot, since I hadn’t seen that one since college, but ultimately the lure of John Ford in 70mm could not be ignored.

The Searchers Searchers Still 1

I can’t say how grateful I am that I chose The Searchers that day; as I wrote at my personal blog, it was “one of the best festival decisions I’ve ever made…a majestic, profound experience which left me awed and deeply moved.”

The Searchers Still 2

I had seen the film twice before on a big screen – one print I saw as a teenager I particularly remember being quite scratched – but this screening made an exceptional impact. My eyes watered with emotion throughout. For anyone who has the chance to see this 70mm restoration, I emphatically recommend the experience!

TCM Fest Theater Logo

All in all, it was a wonderful year for Westerns at the TCM Classic Film Festival. I hope some of my readers who have not yet attended the festival will be able to be there in 2025.

With this column I mark my sixth anniversary writing the Western RoundUp column. Thanks to all for reading!

Related Western RoundUp posts: Westward the Women locations in Kanab, UtahThe Searchers location at Bronson Canyon, Los Angeles.

– 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.

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One Response to Western RoundUp: TCM Classic Film Festival 15

  1. Jerry Entract says:

    Hi Laura
    All three films are, in my opinion, western classics.
    I share your love of WESTWARD THE WOMEN and I share your admiration of Robert Taylor. Great performance.
    I have only seen LAW AND ORDER once and I must dig it out for another watch. A terrific cast led by two of the finest, Huston and Carey. It is also very enjoyable to see Raymond Hatton several years before his long-running screen partnership with Johnny Mack rown.
    THE SEARCHERS seems these days to be widely considered the finest Western ever made and I’m not about to argue with that. A fabulous piece of film-making and an enormously powerful film which contains John Wayne’s finest performance surely.

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