Director John Ford defined the Western genre. His films captured masculinity at its finest and the harsh and rugged terrain of the wild west. If it wasn’t for him, the world wouldn’t even know about John Wayne. The legendary filmmaker directed 140 films, and while many of them have since become immortalized as classics, these few films shaped the genre we know and love today.
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (John Ford, 1962)
In keeping with the John Ford films, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance tells the story of a skilled gunman and the power of the mythical hero.
It’s Ford’s purest expression of the Old West and a film fit for the quintessential John Wayne character,
Stagecoach (John Ford, 1939)
This is the film that established John Wayne’s career and made him the star we know today. The film balances a good amount of character study with thrilling action sequences (thanks to the daring antics of stuntman Yakima Canutt!)
It also iconized the Arizona- Utah border as one of the most recognizable locations in the western movie genre.
The Searchers (John Ford, 1956)
Of all of the Western films that Wayne starred in, this one is known for being one of, if not his absolute best. It’s both influenced and made an appearance in several other films and television shows, including Martin Scorsese’s 1967 film, Who’s That Knocking at My Door, in which two of the characters have a conversation about it.
The film has high ratings on nearly every movie critic website, including Rotten Tomatoes, Roger Ebert, and IMDb. Directed by John Ford, it follows Wayne, playing a Civil War veteran on the hunt for his abducted niece. Of course, he’s actually hunting her down, not trying to rescue her as one may assume.
Fort Apache (John Ford, 1948)
A typical John Ford portrayal “xenophobic” portrayals of Native Americans. It was 1948 after all. At least we get to see how frontier tradesmen illegally sold weapons and toxic whiskey to the Native Americans.
The final act shows how a terrible decision results in the senseless deaths of men on both sides. A classic and genre-defining film nonetheless.
My Darling Clementine (John Ford, 1946)
This super romanticized version of events involving Wyatt Earp at the OK Corral. Henry Fonda stars as Earp in this highly stylized and even poetic western.
The film is filled with long iconic scenes such as a Fonda on his porch surveying the surroundings, as well as his stiff-legged dance with the “lady fair.”
Ride Lonesome (Budd Boetticher, 1959)
In the name of revenge (although most westerns do center around that) we will follow with Boetticher and Randolph Scott’s superb “Ride Lonesome.” This time the revenge plot is to avenge the murder of a steely Lonewolf’s wife.
The breathtakingly beautiful visuals are all thanks to the settings of Sierra Nevada locations. Also, who can forget the legendary line “There are some things a man just can’t ride around.”