The Best of the Tobacco Chew Spit: Seven Overlooked Westerns

No man is complete without the Western film. And you have to hand it to the Western: in most cases you can guarantee what you're going to get.

By Matthew Van Allen
Published March 19, 2009

There is a time in every man's life where doing man things means "doing man things". I admit that these last few years I myself have been brushing off my grandfather's old war books and have been giving a good solid examination of those '50s pinup beauties (dang, they really are sexy, aren't they?).

Yes, I've sorted through my pop's old record collection for a third time, rediscovered the greatness of Willy Nelson and also come quite accustomed to the tobacco and pipe (naturally the smoke comes only after a fine meal). All and all, I suppose, fittingly, these things bring me to the main train on the track - the Western movie!

No man is complete without the Western film. And you have to hand it to the Western: in most cases you can guarantee what you're going to get. You have a beautifully shot film, well-developed characters and strange biblical metaphors. I can think of no better way to nurse a hangover...or a Sunday afternoon.

The following seven films have either been overlooked, buried or are finally being rediscovered thanks to a cleansed form of digital technology (aka DVD or Blue Ray or whatever). Gentleman, after a long and terrible hiatus, here are seven films that for better or worse deserve to get the old nod.

I give you what I'd like to call the best of the tobacco chew spit.

Seraphim Falls (2006)

The hunt is on! An age-old tale of how good and bad spirits bring balance. Beautiful scenery and at the very least a new edition to a genre that seems to a missing link to cinema these days. This one is so-so (but in 2006, it passed the time for fans anxiously awaiting the fourth installment of the Indian Jones films).

P.S - For all you Star Wars fans, be sure to be on the look out for what seems to be something of an open belly ton-ton scene!?

High Plains Drifter (1973)

Forget about the trilogy of the man with no name. This one deserves to be hailed as an epic of its own. I'm not to sure where Clint stands in this one but as a hero for hire I'll leave it to you to try figuring out where he is headed (or more fittingly where he's been). Paint the town red and sing a little ditty... what the...(exactly).

Django (1966)

I think that it would be a good argument if one were to rank Sergio Corbucci right alongside Sergio Leone for best of the west. Both directors are responsible for delivering some of the best spaghetti westerns to the motion picture plate. Proof, you say? Well, if the Django opening, with its main character dragging along a coffin, isn't a good enough start for you then how about that silly, but nonetheless catchy, theme song. Seriously good!

The Great Silence (1968)

Kinski sure has a stare, don't he? Although this one can be seen as a bit of a downer, it did manage to offer an interesting and original entry into the Western genre. Sergio Corbucci mixes snow, silence and gritty spaghetti showdown.

El Topo (1970)

This one blows the lid off the Western genre. Alejandro Jodorowsky isn't for everyone, but love him or hate him, he does warrant some well-deserved recognition. You may have heard some of the stories regarding Jodorowsky's link with John Lennon and Abocco records. No? Maybe his missed opportunity to direct "Dune"? No? Okay, perhaps you've seen his comic collaborations with Moebius? Okay, okay.

Well, anyway, El Topo is considered by many to be the birth of the midnight film. After being held hostage for over 30 years (Not counting those gray versions/bootlegs passed around), El Topo has been returned to this generation better than ever through the Anchor Bay label. El Topo is one man's insane quest to become godly (and to make good use of a few dead rabbits?).

Deadman (1995)

I think that possibly this could be my favorite film to come out of the '90s. Where El Topo seems to attack religion, Deadman seems to attack the human spirit. Deadman is a completely overlooked gem, shot in black and white and loaded with wisdom. I think even after watching this film ten times, you'll get something new out of it. Johhny Depp traveling to a town called Machine...seems pretty good already huh?

P.S - Makes a perfect double bill with Jarmusch's samurai follow up "Ghostdog"(1998).

Living Coffin

What can I say, really? The DVD cover art grabbed my attention, I was pulled in by the read-up (a cowboy and his wolf wandering into a haunted town?) but...the movie sucked! While watching this I felt compelled to write a postcard to a close friend revealing how I was tricked again by some terrible (but effective) DVD cover art. Not happy ... and don't say I didn't warn you.

P.S - I've heard reference trying to link this with Scooby Doo type. This is a great injustice and I would pick an evening with the scoob any day. Total rubbish.

Well, pardners, I leave it to you to find your shot of whiskey and chew that tobacco. I've passed the bucket along and now allow you to do what you got to do. As for me, I'm going to do my best to steer away another movie mule and find my way back to the film ranch. See you again real soon!

Matthew is the RTH film and culture critic. He runs The In Between: Moving Pictures and Culture, which you can find inside Sky Dragon at 27 King William Street.


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