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More Dead than Alive

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More Dead than Alive (1969, Robert Sparr) 
The title and the poster of the movie may give you the impression that this is a spaghetti western, but no, More Dead than Alive is an American movie. It stars Clint Walker as a former gunslinger - known as 'Killer Cain' - who has spent 18 years in jail and discovers that it's hard to leave his past behind. 

The film opens with protracted (and remarkably bloody) sequence of a jailbreak that ends in carnage. Cain refuses to help the jail breakers because he wants to serve his sentence and start a new life, but when he is finally released from jail, the world he once knew has become a recent memory and he himself a living anachronism. The only person willing to offer him a job, is a showman named Ruffalo, who asks Cain to perform as a sharpshooter in a traveling sideshow. Also working for Ruffalo is a young man named Billy Valance, who soon starts challenging Cain to a duel, in order to prove himself as a gunslinger ...
The name Bill…

The Undefeated

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A routine western with patriotic overtones that is presented as a homage to John Ford. It was overshadowed by the immensely successful True Grit, released earlier the same year. The story is set in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War and the script is sprinkled with human-interest stories and colorful peripheral characters, most of them played by familiar western actors such as Ben Johnson, Harry Carey Jr., Dub Taylor and others. And of course it stars the Duke, for the occasion paired with Rock Hudson.
The film opens with a remarkably violent and bloody charge, led by Yankee Colonel John Henry Thomas (John Wayne) against a confederate regiment. Overlooking the tragic results of the carnage, the news is brought to the Colonel that the war is over, that the surrender terms were actually signed three days earlier. Thomas is the type of man who will always do his duty, but who also abhors violenceand therefore cannot understand why anybody would keep on fighting when the war is over.…

The Duel at Silver Creek (1952)

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The Duel at Silver Creek
This was Don Siegel's first foray into the western genre. The script combines two archetypes of western stories: the town under terror type and the revenge western. Both stories have their own protagonist, an undaunted sheriff and a young man seeking the murderers of his father.
The father of a young man, Luke Cromwell (Murphy) is killed by claim jumpers, bandits stealing the claims of small time minors. Luke becomes a gambler and a gunslinger but the local sheriff appoints him as his deputy: he's in need of a quick drawing assistant after he has been hit by a bullet and is no longer able to squeeze the trigger. The two fall out when Luke discovers that the sheriff's sweetheart is in league with the claim jumpers and the older man won't believe him. Luke wants to leave town but is then told that the sheriff is about to face a young man called Johnny Sombrero in a duel ...
Most characters are referred to by funny names like The Silver Kid, Lightni…

Jory

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Jory is a coming-of-age western, telling a story about the initiation of a teenager into the realities of frontier life. It's a bit similar to Dick Richards' The Culpepper Cattle Company, released around the same time. Jory (Robby Benson) is a 15-year old boy who is orphaned after his alcoholic father is killed in a barroom incident. He joins a cattle drive and befriends the trail boss (John Marley), a philosophical old timer who takes the kid under his wing. But Jory is not only instructed in the cowboy trade, but also taught how to draw a gun quickly by a likable cowhand, a young man named Jocko, who actually holds himself for a formidable gunslinger, but has never shot a man in a duel ...

Jory is an interesting, but very uneven movie. The first half is rather strong, the second half messed up with clichés. The strong first half is helped enormously by the presence of the popular country singer B.J. Thomas* as the would-be gunslinger Jocko. It is suggested that Jocko, like J…

Madron (1970)

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An obscure western, an American-Israeli production, shot in Israel, the Negev substituting the American Deep South. Madron was one of the first movies produced by GBC Edric Isracine and the first Israeli movie set in a non-Israeli location. It was co-produced by Chicago based Zev Braun productions  (*1). The movie was released a few month after - and almost completely eclipsed by - Don Siegel's Two Mules for Sister Sarah, which told a similar story about a mercenary and a nun and their journey through the desert.
Leslie Caron is Sister Mary, a French-Canadian nurse and the only survivor of an Apache attack on a wagon train (*2). She is picked up, in the middle of the nowhere, by a drifter called Madron, a primitive man who has survived so far by following his instincts. He promises to bring her to safety, but the two must fight off Mexican bandits and marauding Indians. The journey is long and grueling, and poor old Madron also has to deal with a smooth-talking woman who starts di…

Sam Whiskey

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"Sam Whiskey was way ahead of its time. I was playing light comedy and nobody cared." - Burt Reynolds
Most American westerns released in the late Sixties, early Seventies interpreted the genre in revisionist terms. Even the immensely successful, seemingly light-hearted Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was essentially a thoughtful, pessimistic movie. Sam Whiskey anticipates Burt Reynolds' comedic roles in movies like Smokey and the Bandit, and in that sense it was ahead of its time, but it's by no means a revolutionary effort. It's labeled as a western but often plays more like a heist movie; some have characterized it as a caper movie in reverse.
In a genuine caper movie the protagonists - usually a trio of friends or professional partners - perform one or more crimes in order to lay their hands on a treasure. In Sam Whiskey the trio is trying to locate a stash of gold stolen from an army mint and bring it back to where it came from.  In other words: they'r…

Invitation to a Gunfighter

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A flawed but interesting western set in the aftermath of the Civil War. It has been labeled as 'a strong contender for the dullest Hollywood western ever' (*1), but others think it's a minor classic (*2). It's far from perfect, but tells a story about racism and  hypocrisy that is probably even more relevant today than it was back in the Sixties.

Yul Brynner is a professional gunfighter who's commisioned to a small border town in New Mexico. Matt Weaver, a war veteran, has returned to his hometown to reclaim his homestead and his fiancée, but Weaver was one of the few inhabitants of the border town sympathizing with the Confederacy and therefore wasn't welcomed by the others. Moreover the town boss, a banker named Sam Brewster has sold his farm in his absence and his fiancée (Janice Rule) has married another man, a Unionist who lost an arm in the war ...
Both men of course want Weaver out of town and pay the professional to to the job, but this is definitely a w…