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Monday, 17 January 2011

Top Ten Western Actors No 2 - Clint Eastwood

Clint Eastwood's contribution to the western can not be understated for he more than any other actor/director kept the genre alive during its most lean period. That he also appeared in more than a few all time genre classics also makes him deserving of such a high place in this top ten. In fact on certain days I would place Eastwood at joint number one, but the challenge was for a top ten and so that's what I've produced.

Of course Eastwood's first western work of note was in the TV series Rawhide but apart from saying that this was an excellent series that still holds up today, I will brush over this and instead concentrate on the movies. And what more can be said about the three Italian westerns Eastwood made with Sergio Leone? These films made Eastwood a superstar and it is a position that he still holds today. Indeed could anyone argue that Eastwood is not Hollywood's greatest living film icon?

Out of the three Italian westerns I think the third, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly is the best. Indeed I consider this Leon's best work, even superior to the seminal Once Upon a Time in the West. And Eastwood is impossibly cool in this film, making the cowboy once again favourable with the counter culture audience of the time.

His first American western was Hang Em High which was directed by Ted Post and although the film has a good reputation I don't rate it as highly as the rest of Eastwood's westerns. Indeed alongside Joe Kidd I would say that it was Eastwood's weakest western. That's not to say it's a bad movie because it isn't and Eastwood is always watchable in a western.

Right from the start Eastwood was not afraid to take risks and after the musical Paint your Wagon, and a return to his man with no name persona for Two Mules for Sister Sarah, he teamed with director Don Seigal for an unusual western called, The Beguiled. Eastwood spends most of the picture in bed after being wounded but the entire film is nothing short of captivating. Eastwood then took a break from westerns and made among other movies the classic Dirty Harry before returning to the genre as both actor and director for the brilliant High Plains Drifer, a supernaturally tinged western. And Eastwood was director and star again for masterpiece that is The Outlaw Josey Wales.

Josey Wales was Eastwood's best western since the Italian trilogy and even today I can't decide if this is the best western he ever directed. There are times when I prefer it to Unforgiven which is generally considered Eastwood's best self directed western. It's a tough call - since both movies are amazing.

Such is Eastwood's identification with the western, he is second only to John Wayne, that in the time travel comedy, Back to the Future III, Michael J. Fox uses the name while stuck in the Old West. The actor's next western was Pale Rider which although a good film is something of a remake of Shane.
 Then just when everyone though the western was dead as a film medium Eastwood returned with the Oscar winning, The Unforgiven.

Unforgiven is another masterpiece that can be placed alongside the best the genre has to offer.

These days Clint Eastwood is the western and it is hoped that he will return to the genre as a director. He stated Unforgiven would be his goodbye to the genre as if that does prove to be so then it is indeed a fitting farewell. Unforgiven is a revision of the revisionist western and for many it represents Eastwood's finest moment, but I still think of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly whenever I think of Eastwood westerns.


Anonymous said...

Only number one left.
And you haven't mentioned John Wayne yet.
But you also haven't mentioned Randolph Scott.
I really don't see how this can end in a satisfying fashion.


Walker Martin said...

I'm with John on this. Only one spot left but two great western stars left: John Wayne and Randolph Scott. Looks like the handwriting is on the wall for Randy to be left out. Them's fightin' words pardner!

Tom Roberts said...

You tell 'em, Walker!

"You heard him, Dude. Pick it up."

Cudos for John for airing my sentiments already shared in an earlier post under no.3. We need Randy in here too.

Gary Dobbs/Jack Martin said...

I too love Randolph Scott and I know it may seem odd leaving him out, but because I wanted to include supporting players as well as actors from all stages of the western long history he had to go, but there will be an afterword to the list in which Randy will be mentioned. As well as Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, James Coburn and many others. For the record though I think Scott made some great pictures as well as a lot of average ones. But then so too did John Wayne.

Davieboy said...

No complaints with your picks, a great series.
I'd like to give a shout-out here to Kevin Costner. I know he's unfashionable these days, but "Dances with Wolves" was pretty spectacular in my opinion. Then there's "Open Range" and ....oh my God! What about Robert Duvall?

old guy rambling said...

I put him first if I had a list.

Gary Dobbs/Jack Martin said...

Yeah Costner's done some good stuff - I rate Wyatt Earp pretty high.

Charles Gramlich said...

Eastwood definitely is the west for me. I don't know if I can quite imagine what the western genre would be like today without him.

Anonymous said...

I hate it when people confuse the Man With No Name with Josey Wales. There are pictures of Josey Wales with a caption that says, "Man With No Name." The Man with no name has a poncho, JOsey WAles Does not. Josey Wales is seen wielding two pistols, Man With No Name only caries one. Also the Man With No Name has a different hat than Wales. THey are both really cool western heros, but just because Clint played both characters doesn't mean that they are the same.

And what's this i hear about John Wayne not being on this list. Now i mighta only seen a couple of his movies but it is clear that you can't make a list of great western actors and not add the duke. It is just impossible.

Gary Dobbs/Jack Martin said...

Oi Anon - Waybe is No1 - look again and as for confusing Josey and man with no name - Eastwood was the man with no name in every western he made.