Friday, December 14, 2007

Best Westerns

One of my weaknesses: Westerns. I haven't read much fiction, but I enjoy old movies on AMC, like Bend of the River, Rooster Cogburn, Chato's Land, The Cheyenne Social Club, and A Big Hand for the Little Lady.

The genre was dominant in television from the 50s to the 70s. My favorites are:

1. The Rifleman (1958-1963)
Lucas McCain, a former Union cavalry officer purchases a small slice of ranch land in North Fork, New Mexico. A widower, he raises his young son Mark with values like honesty, responsibility, compassion, and industry. He doesn't wear a revolver, but carries everywhere his Winchester .44, modified for semi-automatic fire. Most episodes ended with a gunfight, and then a moral lesson for Mark. The Rifleman was preachy without being cheesy. Easily my favorite western.

2. Bonanza (1959-1973)Thrice-widowed Ben Cartwright raises his sons Adam, Hoss, and "Little" Joe on their enormous ranch on the shores of Lake Tahoe. The show was full of both adventure and humor. I always especially liked Hoss, and once visited the Dan Blocker Museum in the tiny town of O'Donnell, Texas. Bonanza's only failing was that it lasted two long, and should have been cancelled five seasons before it perished in 1973.

3. Kung Fu (1972-1975)
Without a doubt, the oddest Western TV show in history, Kung Fu tells the story of Kwai-Chang Caine, a half-Chinese/half-American Shaolin priest. Caine is a fugitive from justice in China and searches the American West looking for his white half-brother. Along the way, he helps those in need while reflecting on his experiences growing up in the Shaolin Temple. Kung Fu is brilliant in its sheer originality.

What are your favorite Westerns?


Earl said...

Three excellent picks to which I would suggest adding Gunsmoke and Rawhide.

Dan Trabue said...

I loved the Rifleman. But really, be honest. It WAS preachy AND cheesy.

And I really liked Bonanza, but why in the world would any woman marry into that family? It's like a deathwish!

My other two faves would be Alias Smith and Jones (from the 70s - after the Golden Years of Cowboy shows) and Maverick.

Mark Winter said...

Growing up, I watched 'em all. My favorites were the Rifleman, the Lone Ranger and Have Gun, Will Travel. As I grew older, I started watching The Wild, Wild West. I loved the cheeky way that show blended the western and espionage genres.

As far as Western movies, anything with the Duke suits me just fine, Pilgrim.

John said...

Yeah, it was death to marry Ben Cartwright, and about a 50% chance of survival for getting engaged to a Cartwright son.

John said...

I never really cared for Gunsmoke. Festus and Miss Kitty were genuinely irritating characters. But I do vaguely remember Rawhide, and enjoyed it. It's been years since I've seen it on TV.

Tom Jackson said...

How does one go about modifying a lever-action rifle for semiautomatic fire?

That sounds like a gunsmithing project substantially more difficult than it's worth.

Earl said...

With care one can modify a lever action rifle to fire semi-automatically. The work is not something that a garage level gunsmith could handle. John M. Browning used a Winchester lever action rifle for early experiments in developing a self-loading rifle mechanism.
In The Rifleman, the rifle was a Winchester Model 92 with a lever fitted so that as the lever was closed the trigger was pulled. Such a rifle was not a semi-automatic but a manually cycled rifle. A semi-automatic rifle uses either gas pressure or recoil energy to operate the mechanism of the rifle.

Jeff the Baptist said...

You can't modify a lever action rifle to fire semi-automatically. By definition, it would cease to be a lever-action rifle at that point.

The '92 used on the rifleman was reworked so that it could fire whenever the lever was closed. The prop gun used a set screw so they could turn this feature on or off.

His rifle also had the classic big loop lever. What's funny is that this feature was not added for the rifle-spinnging trick shots, but because Chuck Connors had such huge hands that he couldn't fit them in a standard lever.

TV Land used to run Gunsmoke and Maverick, not sure if they still do or not.

Keith Taylor said...

Today, my two favorite westerns are the Movies "High Noon" and "Pale Rider".

When I was a kid, the Lone Ranger with Clayton Moore was it on Saturday afternoon. I had the Lone Ranger and Tonto and Silver and Scout action figures complete with all the accessories. I had cap guns too. The kind with the red paper caps, not the plastic kind.

John B said...

One that I really liked to watch, though I can't remember what it was called, was about a discredited calvary officer, who was stripped of his strips and had his saber broken. He was innocent of course, and always carried around the broken saber as a reminder of the injustice done to him. Anybody remember the name of that show?

I do remember one episode of The Rifleman when a stranger came through town who thought he was Abe Lincoln. He showed the son how to chop wood by thinking about something that really made him made, then channeling that anger into the axe stoke. I don't chop much wood but did learn the lesson about dealing positively with anger.

I am wondering why no one has mentioned "F Troop"?

Mark Winter said...

john b,

The show that you asked about is Branded, another show featuring the Rifleman, Chuck Connors.

John said...

John B wrote:

I am wondering why no one has mentioned "F Troop"?

Too sophisticated for the likes of the Locusts & Honey goobers. F Troop goes over our heads.

John said...

Keith wrote:

When I was a kid, the Lone Ranger with Clayton Moore was it on Saturday afternoon. I had the Lone Ranger and Tonto and Silver and Scout action figures complete with all the accessories. I had cap guns too. The kind with the red paper caps, not the plastic kind.

One of my best Christmas memories is presenting my Father with Lone Ranger videos. It was his favorite show as a boy.

Anonymous said...

i like the rifleman not becuse it was prechey or cheezy i all way whished i had a rifle like his because i do not have a problem with pistol's that because there are shows like nash bridges and miami vice and movies like bervley hills cop and my all time movie was desprodeo