With the return of Deadwood comes the chance to examine the genre’s weirdest and most underappreciated gems. My picks include dinosaurs, vengeful ghosts, and noodles. Find these movies on the Mercury’s shelf at Movie Madness (4320 SE Belmont, moviemadness.org) from Sat June 1 to Sun June 30.
Bend of the River (1952, dir. Anthony Mann)—Jimmy Stewart plays an ex-bad guy who just wants to survive the Oregon Trail and spend the rest of his days growing fruit in the shadow of Mount Hood. Bonus: lots of majestic old-timey shots of the Columbia Gorge!
The Great Silence (1968, dir. Sergio Corbucci)—This spaghetti western is about a mute cowboy named Silence who only kills in self-defense. Its climax is so bleak that Corbucci’s producers forced him to film an alternate, “happy” ending.
The Valley of Gwangi (1969, dir. Jim O’Connolly)—A tiny horse named El Diablo is stolen from a secret valley and becomes a rodeo star. Turns out a bunch of dinosaurs also live in the secret valley! *Pteranodon screech*
Duck, You Sucker! (1971, dir. Sergio Leone)—Leone is best known for the Dollars Trilogy starring Clint Eastwood, but Duck, You Sucker! is another excellent film about the Mexican Revolution and—BAROOOM! Sorry, as I was saying—KA-BOOOOOM! IT’S ABOUT DYNAMITE!!!
High Plains Drifter (1973, dir. Clint Eastwood)—Pretty typical Eastwood western: A stranger rides into town and unleashes chaos. But High Plains Drifter is uniquely bewitching; it’s set at Mono Lake in the Sierra Nevada, which looks like an alien planet, and includes an extraordinary sequence wherein the town of Lago is renamed “Hell” and literally painted red.
Tampopo (1985, dir. Juzo Itami)—The first noodle western! A trucker teaches a widow how to cook the best ramen in town, and it is delightful. Food drives all the action in Tampopo, from an unforgettable scene involving sexual tension and a raw egg yolk to a tense standoff in which a jerk takes some kamaboko (fish cake) to the face.
Slow West (2015, dir. John Maclean)—A naïve young Scotsman searches for his lost love in the American West and gets the poop kicked out of him, physically and emotionally. The film was shot in New Zealand, making this a Kiwi western! Cute!