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Darrel Manson

Westerns [was: Moquist: Oaters]

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I see you've been watching westerns all month. You have a favorite out of the bunch?

Edited by SDG

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I'd have to say I have a "top 3" of the bunch, which isn't eliminating very many from a total of 8.

I watched them all in preparation for our local film forum, because I hadn't seen many westerns before, if you don't count a handful of "Gunsmoke" episodes and some really, really shoddy "Christian" westerns made by Church on the Move in Tulsa, OK.

I really like "Unforgiven" (which was the film our group watched), but of course it stands very solidly on the shoulders of the rest of them, and really has a different feel and a different goal. It is deeply reflective in a way the others are not. I like its multi-layered perspective on myth, as the film's realism works against the genre's stereotype, while different characters in the film use and abuse myth: the writer creates it, English Bob and Little Bill feed it, and William Munny avoids it, until he pragmatically uses it in the end to lay down the film's moral law. SPOILER "Not only will I kill him; I'll kill his wife, and all his friends...You bury Ned decent, and don't you cut up or otherwise harm no whore." I like Munny's clear-cut character transformations, and the depth of Little Bill.

I also like "The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly" quite a bit. I think the spaghetti-western trilogy shows an interesting progression in quality, culminating with the wonderful 3-way shootout. The film may be a bit long, but I appreciate that it takes its time. It's pace, like its visuals, is sprawling.

Finally, I enjoyed "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" as the third prototype buddy-movie. (I'm also thinking of Bonnie & Clyde and Thelma & Louise.) The chemistry between Newman and Redford was compelling, and I liked the pseudo-documentary bits, that establish the film as "mostly fact" and conclude with that great mythic image that sticks in your mind.

I think I was in a poor movie-watching mood the night I watched "The Wild Bunch", so I didn't get out of that what I could have. I was amused, however, by the fact that immediately after playing "Angel" in that movie, Jaime S

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Agreed about UNFORGIVEN and BUTCH/SUNDANCE. Re: spaghetti, tho, I found G/B/U repellent in what seemed to me its sadism. Much prefer FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE. The first two Leone films have the moral anarchy in tension with a certain latent humanity in at least the Eastwood character, somewhat reminiscent of the Raymond Chandler "down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean," or however that goes. But GOOD/BAD/UGLY is just mean: there's no tension, there's just anarchy. Goes beyond anti=hero to just plain anti.

Oh, and bad acting.

Nasty movie.

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But GOOD/BAD/UGLY is just mean: there's no tension, there's just anarchy.  Goes beyond anti=hero to just plain anti.

Oh, and bad acting.  

Nasty movie.

I think FAFDM is definitely a more moral piece, and the story is much more emotionally compelling. I *loved* how the soundtrack was part of the storytelling, and how, far beyond bounty, the showdown at the end (prefiguring the end of GBU) was truly about righting past wrongs. Beautiful.

But GBU doesn't seem to be about morality so much as it makes a commentary on American history, and sets up for the viewer three prototypes of people in the mythic Old West. There were the Bad people, who would use and abuse anyone in any fashion to achieve their ends. There were the Ugly people, who seem to hold to the Golden Rule in a general sense, but who are still out just to help themselves. And there were the "Good" people, who still aren't angels, but who generally try to hold to some sort of moral balance even beyond the Golden Rule.

I think FAFDM was purporting a moral standard, and GBU was perhaps more of a documentary of their lack in historical practice. (This is tied nicely into the Civil War, of course.)

This is especially apparent when comparing the showdowns at the ends of the two films: one is centered on justice, while the other is centered on greed. Sure, that's nasty, but there was probably more of GBU in the Old West than there was FAFDM.

As far as acting goes, I am probably the world's worst judge. I can measure whether or not I was convinced by a character, but I can't get much further than that. Sorry to ask what I'm sure is a pedantic question, but what acting in GBU are you thinking is so much worse than the acting in FAFDM?

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Goes beyond anti=hero to just plain anti.

Oh, and bad acting.  

Nasty movie.

I tend to agree with critics that put this on thier top tens because they know not just that they have to have a Western on there, but they have to have a Leone on there. The new print of this is just fantastic.

About the acting, you are certainly right to a point, but I think that is part of the anti-western schtick that Leone is working with. Eastwood is flat out over the top into his minimalist thing. And it pays off through so many scenes. Whereas many westerns made commentary on American forms of morality and justice, GBU is a commentary on these films themselves. It is sort of an internal conversation regarding the Western genre. What westerns out there would you say have good acting? Unforgiven perhaps?

But I may be predisposed to The Man With No Name. I grew up watching that series and have always loved even just the entertainment value of GBU.

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But GOOD/BAD/UGLY is just mean: there's no tension, there's just anarchy.  Goes beyond anti=hero to just plain anti.

Oh, and bad acting.  

Nasty movie.

...GBU doesn't seem to be about morality so much as it makes a commentary on American history, and sets up for the viewer three prototypes of people in the mythic Old West. ...I think FAFDM was purporting a moral standard, and GBU was perhaps more of a documentary of their lack in historical practice. (This is tied nicely into the Civil War, of course.)... ...there was probably more of GBU in the Old West than there was FAFDM.

Nice insight. I'll give this one some thought.

I saw the three films in a similar home-made West Fest about eight summers ago. My family was away on vacation, I stayed home to do some woodshedding on a writing project and try to fight for the survival of my theatre. (Perhaps a little gunslinging and retribution seemed just the tonic I needed?) My main reading of the three films had more to do with them as deconstructions of classic western movies, and of the hero figure in general (very much in keeping with the times) than they were any sort of effort to look at the historical realities of the west itself. But mulling your point, it does seem pretty likely that there was also an underlying sense that this unvarnished, non-heroic view of the old west was probably also more accurate than the myth-encrusted one that had grown around such stories.

At any rate, I saw a progression in the three movies, from "See, these guys were mostly opportunists, and the violence was way uglier than all you Establishment types want to think it was, but even in that context some men found some sort of honour: even opportunists who look amoral actuallyhave some moral code, when pushed far enough" to "each one was worse than the next: ultimately, The Man With No Name is as self-interested and callous (if not quite as sadistic) as all the rest."

It seemed to me that the last movie went so far in portraying the moral ugliness of its worst characters that it caricatured itself - it became a movie that fairly shouted "look how naughty we can be!" But it's so long since I saw it, I can't be any more specific or clear, I'm afraid.

As far as acting goes, I am probably the world's worst judge.  I can measure whether or not I was convinced by a character, but I can't get much further than that.  Sorry to ask what I'm sure is a pedantic question, but what acting in GBU are you thinking is so much worse than the acting in FAFDM?

About the acting, you are certainly right to a point, but I think that is part of the anti-western schtick that Leone is working with. Eastwood is flat out over the top into his minimalist thing. And it pays off through so many scenes. ...What westerns out there would you say have good acting? Unforgiven perhaps?

It wasn't Eastwood's uber-laconic performance I had a problem with: quite like it, in fact. It's the new character - is it Eli Wallach? - Mr Ugly. Rolling his eyes, chewing the scenery, mugging like there's no tomorrow. Yech.

Good acting in westerns? I have to go, so I'll mull that and get back to you. But there's good, there's fully adequate, and there's bad/ugly. As long as we don't degenerate to Number Three, I'm fine.

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Moquist: I urge you to give The Wild Bunch another chance. I have often wanted to write about it, but have demured as it is as full as Romans with stuff to dig out and interpret. Even down to mocking John Ford's favorite hymn "Shall We Gather At The River". What is more, almost all of the shots and sequences out in the wilderness are almost like landscape paintings, just gorgeous (see the restored print versions). I won't quibble with any of your faves. Check out The Searchers and The Outlaw Josey Wales too.

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Finally had my first exposure to Sergio Leone tonight, with a double-bill of A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More at the Cinematheque. I wasn't taking notes and, towards the end of the second movie, I had to fight the urge to sleep a little -- it's been one of those weeks -- but I liked what I saw. It seemed to me that the first movie was funnier (and thus more accessible?) but derivative (and I've never liked the Yojimbo template all THAT much), whereas the first movie was way more cinematic (I noticed the cinematography, which was not the case with the first film; I also noticed the pure-cinema moments like the hat-shooting sequence, as well as the dramatic use of music building up to two of the gunfights) but not as emotionally involving. I was also struck by how the first film never really established Eastwood's place in life -- he just shows up in a town and starts playing two sides against each other, for profit -- whereas in the second film, he has an actual profession, if you can call bounty killing a profession; OTOH, the first film hints at Eastwood's past or background -- WHO was the woman he knew who had no one to help her? his mother, perhaps? -- whereas the second film couldn't care less about such things; he's a bounty killer, pure and simple.

BTW, isn't this guy supposed to be "The Man With No Name"? Why are people in the second film calling him "Manquo" or however you spell that name?

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BTW, isn't this guy supposed to be "The Man With No Name"? Why are people in the second film calling him "Manquo" or however you spell that name?

I haven't sat down to check them all out, but I always thought that this trilogy was famous for inconsistencies. Some of this could have been as a result of the multinational casts and dubbing from various languages.

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Wow, nothing in the first two films prepared me for the sheer scale of the third. Having seen the two Dollars movies, I came away thinking that I now understood some of Tarantino's stylistic flourishes better, and now, having seen The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, I come away thinking that I now understand why Robert Rodriguez's Once Upon a Time in Mexico spent so much time on guest-star Johnny Depp at the expense of the Antonio Banderas character who was, supposedly, at the centre of that series. Clint Eastwood's name may appear above the title in TGtBatU, and his character may get back on top, as it were, in the end, but this is really more Eli Wallach's movie than anyone else's. I also think any concerns we might have about the unsympathetic characters in Rodriguez's film might make more sense if we look at it in the light of this film -- in the words of Rodriguez himself, his film was inspired by Leone's, sort of:

'
Mariachi
is your
Fistful of Dollars
, Tarantino said, and
Desperado
will be your
For a Few Dollars More
. But then you’ll have to make the epic. And you’ll have to call it
Once Upon a Time in Mexico
.'

So Once Upon a Time in Mexico was inspired by The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, which in turn was a film full of unsympathetic characters -- as people have pointed out in the earlier posts in this thread.

Continuity-wise, I thought it was interesting that Wallach wonders in one early scene whatever happened to his friends Pedro, Ramone and Chico -- weren't those the names of the guys in that one gang that Eastwood killed in the first movie? And hey, is Lee Van Cleef supposed to be playing the same character who took up so much screen time in For a Few Dollars More? Cuz he seemed a little less, um, noble might not be the word exactly, but something in that general ballpark, in this film. (And I note that the appearance of the Van Cleef character in the second film was basically the first step towards minimizing Eastwood's role in his own trilogy -- a step that is taken even further in the third film with Wallach.)

Once again, the characters have changed somewhat. In the second film, Eastwood and Van Cleef are both bounty killers, and fairly up-front about what they do, but in the third film, both characters are a bit more devious than that. Van Cleef doesn't just collect bounties, which entails finding a "wanted" person and killing him and bringing his body back and collecting the money; no, now he accepts personal assignments, and he even takes the money BEFORE he goes out and does the job. (And he doesn't think twice about taking money from his victim as payment for killing the guy who hired him in the first place.) Eastwood, meanwhile, has given up real bounty-hunting and now runs a scam in which he turns in Wallach, collects the money, shoots the rope from afar just before Wallach is hanged, and then divides the money with Wallach after Wallach escapes. But Eastwood tires of Wallach early on and abandons him, which leads Wallach to seek revenge -- and he comes within a hair's breadth of killing Eastwood TWICE in the film's first 70 minutes, but on both occasions, Eastwood is saved through pure dumb luck. (Note to those who dislike coincidences in film -- what do you make of these?)

As I said, the scale of this movie is just enormous -- and how odd to think that it was produced just two years after the first, much smaller movie. The third film takes place during the Civil War, and there are hundreds of extras running around in Union and Confederate uniforms; there is also a magnificent crane shot in which we discover a vast cemetery, and we know that ONE of those graves has buried treasure ... but which one? As the crane rose to reveal the graveyard, I was startled by the realization that, this movie being made in 1966, all of those graves had to be real -- the filmmakers couldn't just copy-and-paste a few graves with CGI like they almost certainly would have done if they had made the film nowadays.

I can see what some people mean about the "cynicism" of this film, but I think it's interesting how Eastwood's character, at least, still shows some signs of humanity, e.g. in the scene where he offers his jacket and a smoke to the dying soldier. As for whether Wallach is a bad actor, I must admit I had a problem with the CHARACTER, who annoyed me to no end (motormouth sidekicks like him always make me think of Eddie Murphy these days, and not in a good way), but not with Wallach's performance -- though I can never hear him speak, especially in Spanish, without thinking of the Greek criminal he played in The Moonspinners, one of those Hayley Mills movies that Disney used to produce in the early '60s.

BTW, the version of this film that I saw is the new, restored print with something like 20 minutes of footage that was cut from the original American release. I have never seen this film before, so I'm curious, which bits were cut from the earlier version?

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BTW, the version of this film that I saw is the new, restored print with something like 20 minutes of footage that was cut from the original American release. I have never seen this film before, so I'm curious, which bits were cut from the earlier version?

I wish I could tell you. I recently saw the restored version on AMC, but it had been a few years since I'd watched the theatrical cut of the film, so I wasn't sure which scenes had been added, or lengthened.

I was surprised to find that you hadn't seen any of these films, Peter, but I guess we all have these sorts of gaps in our film viewing. Glad you finally saw the films. If you have a chance to see "Once Upon a Time in the West" on the big screen, it's an absolute must!

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I wish I could tell you. I recently saw the restored version on AMC, but it had been a few years since I'd watched the theatrical cut of the film, so I wasn't sure which scenes had been added, or lengthened.

I'd say that it would be impossible to tell from AMC. Not only do they edit for content, but commercial breaks, and I've even see them edit for time (at least that's the only explanation I could see). I find that channel absolutely unreliable.

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Christian wrote:

: I was surprised to find that you hadn't seen any of these films, Peter, but

: I guess we all have these sorts of gaps in our film viewing.

Oh, yeah, I've got HUGE gaps in my film viewing. Especially when it comes to westerns, which is a genre I've never been all that fond of -- in fact, many, if not most, of the old westerns I've seen tend to be those that were re-stored and re-issued in recent years, like this trilogy and The Wild Bunch; I also saw The Searchers five years ago when Warner Brothers celebrated its 75th anniversary with a week-long festival in which each day was devoted to films from a different decade. I also saw Stagecoach in film school. (Hmmm, what else...)

Ironically, though, two of my favorite Bob Hope comedies when I was a kid were westerns -- namely The Paleface and Son of Paleface.

: Glad you finally saw the films. If you have a chance to see "Once Upon a

: Time in the West" on the big screen, it's an absolute must!

Thanks, I'll keep that in mind!

BTW, know anything about Duck, You Sucker!? It's showing tomorrow night as part of the Leone retrospective, but I've got a preview to go to, so I'm probably gonna miss it.

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BTW, know anything about Duck, You Sucker!? It's showing tomorrow night as part of the Leone retrospective, but I've got a preview to go to, so I'm probably gonna miss it.

GO! It's a tremendous film. It was my first Leone movie, but my film prof had only a cropped 16mm copy to show to our class. I didn't like it.

A couple of years later I revisited it in letterboxed form and completely reversed my opinion of the film. It's more overtly political than other Leone stuff. And that was the original cut of the film; the restored version is arguably better, more fleshed out. The movie's original title was "Once Upon a Time, the Revolution."

The performances are grand -- Rod Steiger hams it up -- and the music ... oh, the music! It has a one-of-a-kind soundtrack. No joke.

I know you have to work for a living, and previews are essential to such work. But if you could find a way to make "Duck, You Sucker!" I don't think you'd be disappointed.

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Oh, you just HAD to say that. I'm actually seeing the preview tonight (it's Paycheck, BTW) not for review purposes but more because my girlfriend is into sci-fi and she's been interested in this film for a while (esp. because it was made here in Vancouver; on one of our earliest dates, we happened to meet at a street corner where they had just filmed a motorcycle scene for this film). And I think she'd rather see the film now, for free, than pay to see it after it opens.

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You're going to see "Paycheck," even though you won't be receiving one for watching it?? Have you seen the early reviews? (Admission: I've seen only one review, but it's awful.)

Look, I know about compromise with the g'friend, but this is an instance where SHE needs to compromise with YOU.

Oh, heck. ... It's Christmas time. I can't get all huffy. Enjoy "Paycheck," Peter. Keep the peace with your girl.

But in the future, when you're watching "Duck, You Sucker" with her on a small TV screen, I want you to look over at her, glare, and say, "Remember when you convinced me to see 'Paycheck' instead of this?"

You'd do that for me, wouldn't you? After all the pain you've caused me today?

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Christian wrote:

: Have you seen the early reviews?

Um, no. And I must confess I'm not sure I have much in the way of hope for this film, but I do believe in giving John Woo a chance. (I loved Face/Off.)

: Look, I know about compromise with the g'friend, but this is an instance

: where SHE needs to compromise with YOU.

Oh, but I've taken her to the 'theque so many times ALREADY ... smile.gif

: But in the future, when you're watching "Duck, You Sucker" with her on a

: small TV screen, I want you to look over at her, glare, and say,

: "Remember when you convinced me to see 'Paycheck' instead of this?"

:

: You'd do that for me, wouldn't you? After all the pain you've caused me

: today?

Sure. smile.gif

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Just spent some time watching DUCK, YOU SUCKER!, the only Leone film I've never really loved. This seems to be the place where we talked about it the most.

I do think that the other two films in Leone's second trilogy, ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST and ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA, are his masterpieces, profoundly melancholy expressions of the way violence infiltrates America's history, and thereby, its dreams. DUCK, YOU SUCKER! fits here, carrying some of the same sense of wartime tragedy that Leone gave us during the "bridge" sequence in THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY, while further foreshadowing his focus on friendship and the destruction caused by betrayal in ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA.

But DUCK, YOU SUCKER! is also quite different from the other Leone films. While the other films had political shadings, DUCK, YOU SUCKER! puts them right up front--it opens with a quote from Mao Zedong!--and the film effectively functions as a rebuttal of the more optimistic Marxist Zapata Westerns of the day. SO DUCK, YOU SUCKER! isn't quite tied to the earlier genre pieces in the way that either ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST or ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA are. Those films are tied to America predecessors, with visual references that are more obvious to me. DUCK, YOU SUCKER! is having a conversation not with American Westerns, but with the Zapata Westerns popular in Italy around the same time. (I don't know of any Zapata Westerns worth checking out, so until I've seen a few, I'm not sure I quite get the push-and-pull between Leone's films and its Marxist contemporaries beyond a recognition of it in abstract.)

Purely for entertainment value, the film offers a lot to admire: I love James Coburn, and Rod Steiger does a decent job of filling in for Eli Wallach. The film does a good job of letting these actors play off of each other. But at the same time, I don't think the film is quite on the level of Leone's best work. The film lacks those unforgettable images that pepper its predecessor and successor, and the film may have the most awkward structure of any film Leone ever made. Still, a very strong film from a director whose small body of work is largely made up of strong films and masterpieces (I can't speak for THE COLOSSUS OF RHODES, having only seen parts of it).

On a side note, I've always disliked that title, though it gets points for being unique. And, to be fair, I don't think either of the film's other titles, A FISTFUL OF DYNAMITE and ONCE UPON A TIME... THE REVOLUTION are very spectacular. I kinda wish that it had been titled ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO instead, although Robert Rodriguez used that title for his own shoddy Leone homage.

Edited by Ryan H.

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Ah, so THIS is the thread where I had that discussion with Peter.

Ryan, if you had a chance to see Duck, You Sucker again on the big screen, or Paycheck, which would you choose? ;)

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The right choice should be obvious. But apparently it wasn't so obvious to Peter.

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Re: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

As I said, the scale of this movie is just enormous -- and how odd to think that it was produced just two years after the first, much smaller movie. The third film takes place during the Civil War, and there are hundreds of extras running around in Union and Confederate uniforms; there is also a magnificent crane shot in which we discover a vast cemetery, and we know that ONE of those graves has buried treasure ... but which one? As the crane rose to reveal the graveyard, I was startled by the realization that, this movie being made in 1966, all of those graves had to be real -- the filmmakers couldn't just copy-and-paste a few graves with CGI like they almost certainly would have done if they had made the film nowadays.

Just saw this tonight for the first time on a big screen. I've seen it many times on video, but my jaw just dropped when seeing the scale of the Sand Hill Cemetery. According to IMDb, the cemetery was built by the pyrotechnic crew of the film, and it still exists...

Sad Hill Cemetery was a very-convincing set piece constructed by the pyrotechnic crew and not a real cemetery. Today the site is marked as a local point of interest. Though the central stone 'proscenium' and parapet are gone, the circles of grave-mounds are still quite prominent.

Also according to IMDb, the bridge that was blown up had to be done twice...

The bridge that Tuco and Blondie blow was an actual bridge built by Spanish army engineers. The Spanish agreed to blow the bridge only if their captain could be the one to do it. When it came to blowing the bridge the captain didn't notify Sergio Leone and just blew the bridge up without any cameras rolling. The army was so sorry with what they did that they rebuilt the bridge only to blow it up again.

The film had a budget of $1.6 million in 1966, which only translates into $10.6 million today. No way that could be filmed for that amount now. Perhaps another 10 times the amount, but with a lot of CGI to cheat the scale, as Peter pointed out in his earlier post.

Edited by Baal_T'shuvah

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The film had a budget of $1.6 million in 1966, which only translates into $10.6 million today. No way that could be filmed for that amount now. Perhaps another 10 times the amount, but with a lot of CGI to cheat the scale, as Peter pointed out in his earlier post.

The rising costs of cinema have gradually eaten away at their ability to provide genuine scale and spectacle. Well, that, and the slowly diminishing group of filmmakers who know how to use cinematic language to evoke scale.

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Can anyone name prominent directors who have said they want to make a Western but never have followed through? I remember hearing long ago that Brian De Palma wanted to make a Western but couldn't get a project together; the closest he came was the sequence in The Untouchables, where Costner and others ride on horses (a raid scene of sorts, if memory serves; it's been a long time since I've seen the film). But that film was in 1987, and I think De Palma's comment may have been made when Westerns were more clearly out of favor in Hollywood -- before a couple of Westerns won best picture in 1990 and 1992. 

 

In any case, I can't find reference to the comment online, nor can I find any list of filmmakers who have stated a desire to make a Western but never have, for whatever reason. So I'm throwing this question out there: Have other filmmakers that you know of expressed regret for not having made a Western?

 

EDIT: I'm not the moderator of this forum, but I was tempted to delete "Moquist" from the thread title here, seeing as how Matt Oquist hasn't posted on the board for years. And I was tempted as well to change "Oaters" to "Westerns" to clarify the topic, but that's just me.

Edited by Christian

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Kubrick almost directed One-Eyed Jacks.

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Can anyone name prominent directors who have said they want to make a Western but never have followed through? 

 

I don't know if this fits, but I remember Duncan Jones saying he wanted to make a western. But he's still young.

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