Since I grew up on a ranch, I've always been partial to cowboy movies. Whether they're set in the Old West or modern times, these tales feature brave men and women struggling to make a living off the sweat of their brow. The stories are distinctly American, and any resident of the U.S. is bound to feel their rugged individualism come bubbling to the surface (at least until the end credits).
Ride 'Em Cowboy (1942) – The comedy team of Abbott and Costello put on their boots for this hilarious tale of a western novelist (Dick Foran) who wants to learn how to be a real cowboy. Abbott and Costello bumble onto the scene while being pursued by Indians, and the film climaxes with a spirited competition at the state rodeo championship. Filled with singing and dancing, Ride 'Em Cowboy is western fun for the whole family.
My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys (1991) – Having been injured in a rodeo event, a cowboy (Scott Glenn) returns home to his family and gets drawn into romance and familial squabbles. But before long, he's ready to get back in the saddle and redeem himself. An inspirational tale of a rodeo competitor, the film features a strong supporting cast including Kate Capshaw, Ben Johnson, Gary Busey, Tess Harper, Balthazar Getty, Clarence Williams III, and Mickey Rooney.
Tom Horn (1980) – Steve McQueen stars in this film based on the real-life writing of Tom Horn, a noted scout and gunfighter during the waning days of the Old West. As he hunts down cattle rustlers and makes them pay for their crimes, a politically ambitious lawman (Billy Green Bush) plans to frame Horn and have him removed permanently. Co-starring Linda Evans, Richard Farnsworth, and Slim Pickens, Tom Horn paints a poignant picture of the death of the west and it's old-fashioned moral code.
The Big Trail (1930) – John Wayne gets his first staring role in this epic Raoul Walsh film about the challenges faced by those traveling the Oregon Trail in the 1800's. Shot with an early widescreen process and in five different states, The Big Trail was an ambitious piece of filmmaking (especially for 1930). Co-starring Ward Bond, Tyrone Power Sr., Marguerite Churchill, and Iron Eyes Cody.
Hud (1963) – Paul Newman is Hud, the man with the barbed wire soul. Set in modern-day Texas, the film revolves around Hud's struggles with his stubborn father (Melvyn Douglas) and the heartbreak it brings both men. Hud's nephew (Brandon de Wilde) is caught in the middle of the conflict, as is the family's attractive housekeeper, Alma (Patricia Neal). Receiving seven Academy Award nominations, Hud won Oscars for Best Cinematography (James Wong Howe), Best Supporting Actor (Douglas, and Best Actress (Neal). In my opinion, the best modern-day cowboy movie ever made.
The Far Country (1955) – Set in Alaska, this western stars Jimmy Stewart as a rugged pioneer who decides to drive a herd of cattle to the Yukon and then participate in the Klondike gold rush. Along the way, he makes an enemy in the form of a corrupt judge (John McIntire) and later attracts the romantic affections of the same individual's female business associate (Ruth Roman). The fourth of five westerns Stewart made with director Anthony Mann, each motion picture featured the protagonist riding the same horse and wearing the same hat. Also starring Walter Brennan and Harry Morgan.
That wraps up our look at some of the great cowboy movies currently available for purchase or rental. Online services such as Netflix carry many more, and a search on the Internet will reveal hundreds of other titles for your enjoyment. So dust off your chaps, put away the saddle, and prepare to get roped in by one of the most entertaining film genres around.