“There is perhaps no other genre in film so geared towards American sensibilities as the western. While the elements within the western–the good vs. bad, the revenge scenario, or even the tortured loneliness of a hero—can all be translated through different categories of film and to different cultures, it is the setting that makes the western so unique.” – Film Slate Magazine
On Saturday, March 24th, “Best of the West” a celebration of the western film genre and a fundraiser for the Nevada City Film Festival, will screen some of the most iconic and influential western films ever made from 11 a.m.-midnight at the Nevada Theatre, one of the most iconic and historic venues west of the Rockies.
From John Wayne’s breakthrough performance in John Ford’s Stagecoach (1939) and B-Westerns like Nevada City (1941) starring Roy Rogers to the birth of the spaghetti western with Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars (1964) starring the formidable anti-hero Clint Eastwood and Sam Peckinpah’s star-studded revisionist masterpiece Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (1974), this collection of Westerns aims to not only entertain the die-hard film lover, but introduce a new audience to the genre. Also included in the line up are two films – John Sturges’ 1960 film The Magnificent Seven and Clint Eastwood’s 1992 film Unforgiven – that have rightfully earned their place in the US National Film Registry as a culturally, historically and aesthetically important film that should be preserved for generations to come.
“There is no denying it, Westerns are super fun to watch,” says Jesse Locks, Festival Director, Nevada City Film Festival. “It’s hard to not get caught up in all of the action, drama, beautiful locations and of course, unforgettable soundtracks. And for so many, it will be the first time they’ve seen these films on the big screen with proper projection and sound.”
Helping to breathe new life into these classic films are digitally remastered prints. Audiences at Best of the West will enjoy enhanced quality of the sound or of the image, or both, from the original versions of these films. Audiences will also be treated to the Director’s Cut of Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid will be screened.
The all-day event is a fundraiser for the Nevada City Film Festival. Dubbed the “Sundance of the Sierra,” the Nevada City Film Festival has brought top independent and international film and filmmakers to Nevada County for the last 18 years. Each year the festival screens nearly 100 award-winning short and feature length films at historic locations throughout Nevada City. The festival also produces the popular Movies Under the Pines outdoor summer film series, student film workshops, filmmaker residencies, local screenings with other non-profits, and comedy shows.
“One of our goals this year is for the local community to become more involved with the festival,” explains Locks. “Best of the West is a fun way to support the film festival and learn more about how each and everyone can be part of, and proud of, this legacy of filmmaking, broadcasting, and media making in Nevada County.”
Tickets are $10 per screening and available by phone (530) 362-8601 or online at www.nevadacityfilmfestival.com.
Nevada City (1941)
Showtime 11 a.m., Doors 10:45 a.m.
dir. Joseph Kane starring Roy Rogers, George “Gabby” Hayes, Sally Payne
Stagecoach drivers Jeff Connors (Rogers) and Gabby Chapman (Hayes) try to get their fueding stagecoach owner boss Hank Liddell to combine business with competing railroad owner Mark Benton. Lidden refuses and fires Jeff and Gabby for their efforts. However, when a gang of outlaws begin sabotaging the stage coach line and the railroad, Liddell and Benton are forced to grudgingly put aside their differences and work together. Jeff and Gabby investigate the identities of Black Bart’s gang members, and try to stop their next raid. Jeff even finds time to romance pretty lady Jo Morrison. (54 min. Rated PG)
Showtime 1 p.m., doors 12:45 p.m.
dir. John Ford starring John Wayne, Claire Trevor, Andy Devine
Although there were Westerns before it, Stagecoach quickly became a template for all movie Westerns to come. Director John Ford combined action, drama, humor, and a set of well-drawn characters in the story of a stagecoach set to leave Tonto, New Mexico for a distant settlement in Lordsburg, with a diverse set of passengers on board. Dallas (Claire Trevor) is a woman with a scandalous past who has been driven out of town by the high-minded ladies of the community. Lucy Mallory (Louise Platt) is the wife of a cavalry officer stationed in Lordsburg, and she’s determined to be with him. Hatfield (John Carradine) is a smooth-talking cardsharp who claims to be along to “protect” Lucy, although he seems to have romantic intentions. Dr. Boone (Thomas Mitchell) is a self-styled philosopher, a drunkard, and a physician who’s been stripped of his license. Mr. Peacock (Donald Meek) is a slightly nervous whiskey salesman (and, not surprisingly, Dr. Boone’s new best friend). Gatewood (Berton Churchill) is a crooked banker who needs to get out of town. Buck (Andy Devine) is the hayseed stage driver, and Sheriff Wilcox (George Bancroft) is along to offer protection and keep an eye peeled for the Ringo Kid (John Wayne), a well-known outlaw who has just broken out of jail. While Wilcox does find Ringo, a principled man who gives himself up without a fight, the real danger lies farther down the trail, where a band of Apaches, led by Geronimo, could attack at any time. Stagecoach offers plenty of cowboys, Indians, shootouts, and chases, aided by Yakima Canutt’s remarkable stunt work and Bert Glennon’s majestic photography of Ford’s beloved Monument Valley. It also offers a strong screenplay by Dudley Nichols with plenty of room for the cast to show its stuff. John Wayne’s performance made him a star after years as a B-Western leading man, and Thomas Mitchell won an Oscar for what could have been just another comic relief role. Thousands of films have followed Stagecoach’s path, but no has ever improved on its formula. (96 min, NR)
The Magnificent Seven (1960)
Showtime 3 p.m., doors 2:45 p.m.
dir. John Sturges starring Yul Brynner, Eli Wallach, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, James Coburn
A Mexican village is being terrorized by the bandit Calvera (Eli Wallach) and his gun blazing goons. Seven American mercenaries are hired to protect the village. The group trains the townsfolk in gunplay as a trap is set for Calvera. The bandits suffer casualties after a raid, but they regroup to capture the seven gunmen. Yul Brenner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, Robert Vaughn, Horst Buchholz, James Coburn and Brad Dexter star as the seven guns who must escape wrath of their captor Calvera. The story is taken from the Japanese film “Seven Samurai” which served as a blueprint for this near classic Western saga. (126 min, Rated R)
Fistful of Dollars (1964)
Showtime 5:30 p.m., Doors 5:15 p.m.
dir. Sergio Leone starring Clint Eastwood
By the time Sergio Leone made this film, Italians had already produced about 20 films ironically labeled “spaghetti westerns.” Leone approached the genre with great love and humor. Although the plot was admittedly borrowed from Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo (1961), Leone managed to create a work of his own that would serve as a model for many films to come. Clint Eastwood plays a cynical gunfighter who comes to a small border town and offers his services to two rivaling gangs. Neither gang is aware of his double play, and each thinks it is using him, but the stranger will outwit them both. The picture was the first installment in a cycle commonly known as the “Dollars” trilogy. Later, United Artists, who distributed it in the U.S., coined another term for it: the “Man With No Name” trilogy. A Fistful of Dollars contains all of Leone’s eventual trademarks: taciturn characters, precise framing, extreme close-ups, and the haunting music of Ennio Morricone. Not released in the U.S. until 1967 due to copyright problems, the film was decisive in both Clint Eastwood’s career and the recognition of the Italian western. (101 min, Rated R)
Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (Director’s Cut) (1973)
Showtime 7:30 p.m., Doors 7:15 p.m.
dir. Sam Peckinpah staring James Coburn, Kris Kristofferson, Bob Dylan
A former friend betrays a legendary outlaw in Sam Peckinpah’s final Western. Holed up in Fort Sumner with his gang between cattle rustlings, Billy the Kid (Kris Kristofferson) ignores the advice of comrade-turned-lawman Pat Garrett (James Coburn) to escape to Mexico, and he winds up in jail in Lincoln, New Mexico. After Billy theatrically escapes, inspiring enigmatic Lincoln resident Alias (Bob Dylan) to join him, the governor (Jason Robards Jr.) and cattle baron Chisum (Barry Sullivan) requisition Garrett to form a posse and hunt him down. Rather than flee to Mexico when he can, Billy heads back to Fort Sumner, meeting his final destiny at the hands of his friend Pat, who, two decades later, is forced to face the consequences of his own Faustian pact with progress. With a script by Rudolph Wurlitzer, Peckinpah uses the historical basis of Billy’s death to eulogize the West dreamily yet violently as it is desecrated by corrupt capitalists. Both Pat and Billy know that their time is passing, as surely as Garrett’s posse knows that they are participating in a legend. Using familiar Western players like Slim Pickens and Katy Jurado, Peckinpah underscores the West’s existence as a media myth, and he even appears himself as a coffin maker. Just as the bloodletting of Peckinpah’s earlier The Wild Bunch (1969) invoked the Vietnam War, the casting of Kristofferson and Dylan alluded to the chaotic late ’60s/early ’70s present; the counterculture has little place in a corporate future. Also like The Wild Bunch, Pat Garrett was truncated by its studio; the cuts did nothing to help its box office. Key scenes, particularly the framing story of Garrett’s fate, have since been restored to this version. In this director’s cut, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid stands as one of Peckinpah’s most beautiful and complex films, killing the Western myth even as he salutes it. (106 min, Rate R)
Showtime 9:45 p.m., Doors 9:30 p.m.
dir. Clint Eastwood staring Clint Eastwood, Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman, Richard Harris
Dedicated to his mentors Sergio Leone and Don Siegel, Clint Eastwood’s 1992 Oscar-winner examines the mythic violence of the Western, taking on the ghosts of his own star past. Disgusted by Sheriff “Little Bill” Daggett’s decree that several ponies make up for a cowhand’s slashing a whore’s face, Big Whiskey prostitutes, led by fierce Strawberry Alice (Frances Fisher), take justice into their own hands and put a $1000 bounty on the lives of the perpetrators. Notorious outlaw-turned-hog farmer William Munny (Eastwood) is sought out by neophyte gunslinger the Schofield Kid (Jaimz Woolvett) to go with him to Big Whiskey and collect the bounty. While Munny insists, “I ain’t like that no more,” he needs the bounty money for his children, and the two men convince Munny’s clean-living comrade Ned Logan (Morgan Freeman) to join them in righting a wrong done to a woman. Little Bill (Oscar-winner Gene Hackman), however, has no intention of letting any bounty hunters impinge on his iron-clad authority. When pompous gunman English Bob (Richard Harris) arrives in Big Whiskey with pulp biographer W.W. Beauchamp (Saul Rubinek) in tow, Little Bill beats Bob senseless and promises to tell Beauchamp the real story about violent frontier life and justice. But when Munny, the true unwritten legend, comes to town, everyone soon learns a harsh lesson about the price of vindictive bloodshed and the malleability of ideas like “justice.” “I don’t deserve this,” pleads Little Bill. “Deserve’s got nothin’ to do with it,” growls Munny, simultaneously summing up the insanity of western violence and the legacy of Eastwood’s Man With No Name. (131 min, Rated R)
Content and photos provided by Jesse Locks