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Feeling Lucky, Pardner? The Top Ten Clint Eastwood Westerns

Pardner? The Top Ten Clint Eastwood Westerns” width=”560″/>

A squinty cowboy for a more cynical age, Clint Eastwood was the heir to John Wayne’s throne as King of the West — and perhaps the last actor to be so closely associated with the genre. Breaking in his boots on TV’s Rawhide, Eastwood went on to redefine the Western with his typical taciturn style and some help from an Italian director named Sergio Leone. Eastwood made about a dozen Westerns (the exact count depends on your definition), and they range from masterpieces to, well, why don’t we just begin with…

10. Two Mules for Sister Sara (1970)
This African Queen set on the frontier casts Eastwood as a mercenary whose mission gets hobbled by some unfortunate baggage: a woman and — worse yet! — a nun (Shirley MacLaine). But while they may form an odd couple, behind the tension hides a begrudging affection… If you can see where this relationship is headed, it’s no surprise why this entry rests predictably on the bottom rung. Still, Eastwood’s rare foray into romance makes this one worth a second look.

9. Paint Your Wagon (1969)
You can’t go wrong with a movie starring Lee Marvin and Clint Eastwood — right? Well, if you’re more into show tunes than showdowns, possibly. Adapted from the Broadway show, this musical Western is hardly a disaster, but since it lacks the tough-guy factor it squeaks onto this list at number nine. If nothing else, it’s an interesting curiosity to see Eastwood stretching his vocal cords — even if this oddity won’t appeal to the bloodlust of many of his fans, unlike…

8. Pale Rider (1985)
Eastwood plays a mysterious gunslinger known as the Preacher who takes up the cause of a group of victimized miners. Is he a ghost? A real-life avenging angel? The mysteries surrounding the character make for a compelling cinematic take on a predictable Western scenario. Nevertheless it still suffers in comparison to its sister flick, High Plains Drifter. For that, Pale Rider comes trailing in at number eight.

7. Hang ‘Em High (1968)
When the noose tightens around your neck, it’s pretty certain you’ll be meeting your maker. That’s the situation faced by an innocent man who becomes the victim of a lynch mob in Hang ‘Em High. But if you hang a man, you’d better make sure he’s dead, and you make sure he’s not played by Clint Eastwood, or he’ll soon be looking to settle the score. While this revenge story does have its moments, it still holds back where a director like Sergio Leone would have gone for over-the-top bravado. Thus, its middling spot on this list.

6. For a Few Dollars More (1965)
Eastwood is on the hunt for a killer involved in a dark altercation from his past. This follow-up to Fistful of Dollars is just as inventive as the first, with a great final showdown sequence that not even John Ford and Howard Hawks can top. Still, half of the attraction here is Lee Van Cleef, who partners up with Clint on his quest, and handles shooting duties in the final duel. On this Eastwood list, that leaves the movie at number six.

5. The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976)
We begin with a group of Missouri bushwhackers fighting a guerrilla war for the Confederacy. They’re offered amnesty at the end of the war and they all accept the Union’s offer. All except one man: Josey Wales (Eastwood). As they soon become fodder for a Gatling gun, it’s a good thing he doesn’t. It’s still a Western but a subtly deconstructive one, and flips a lot of the clichés on their heads — especially as it follows someone fighting for the Confederacy, not exactly a popular cause.

4. High Plains Drifter (1973)
This nihilistic Western tosses genre traditions out the window, with Eastwood behind the camera and also starring as a man who looks a lot like a fella the town’s good citizens just watched getting whipped to death. The movie takes a match to many of the genre’s conventions, and even manages to one-up the Man With No Name movies for sheer brutality. While a rape sequence may leave audiences queasy, one admires the audacity of its shock-and-awe campaign, which lands this one at number four.

3. A Fistful of Dollars (1964)
This much-heralded movie delivers a new vision of Eastwood as the scruffiest cowboy this side of Randolph Scott. With a weather-beaten expression and reluctance to speak, his first collaboration with director Sergio Leone makes the genre completely new again for many die-hard fans. Giving birth to the Man With No Name series, and featuring a number of inimitably baroque gunfight sequences, it’s one for the books. It might have cracked the top two, if not for…

2. Unforgiven (1992)
Western swan songs are a genre unto their own. Here, Eastwood’s William Munny has been living at death’s door his entire life. But the most critical confrontation comes at its end. It’s a summing up of a career, and also a look back, with many parallels to Eastwood’s career and prior work. Intent on avenging the death of his friend (Morgan Freeman), Munny may be surrounded, and his shotgun might misfire, but five-against-one still aren’t very good odds when the outmatched fighter is Mr. Eastwood. This masterpiece won him a Best Picture Oscar, and scores the penultimate spot on this list.

1. The Good, The Bad and the Ugly (1966)
Unforgiven might earn points for being more thought-provoking, but make no mistake: This movie is the crowning jewel in Eastwood’s Western legacy. This is the Western at its most operatic, with Eastwood at his gritty best as Blondie (Eastwood), who’s ensnared in a thick plot with Tuco (aka “the Ugly”) and Angel Eyes (the “the Bad”). From Ennio Morricone’s warbling soundtrack to its bleak widescreen compositions, this movie will remain a classic for a long time to come.


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