MGM and Twentieth Century Fox are releasing a passel of Westerns this week, everything from Raoul Walsh’s huge, hokey 1930 John Wayne epic The Big Trail to the fascinatingly claustrophobic Mexican-set psycho-Western Garden of Evil (1954). The latter stars Gary Cooper and the recently departed Richard Widmark as fortune hunters whose lust for gold is complicated by a dame — a steely Susan Hayward.
Resist the temptation of NAVAJO JOE (1967), a dubbed Italian botch starring a lithe Burt Reynolds as a Native American, but snap up Man of the West (1958), a justly revered six-gun opera from director Anthony Mann, with Gary Cooper as a former outlaw unable to escape his past, thanks to the return of his old gang. And treasure The Gunfighter (1950), a ruthlessly heartbreaking tale of a famous gunslinger (Gregory Peck in a black mustache and a little black hat) grown weary of facing down an increasingly young bunch of challengers to his quick-draw supremacy.
Bob Dylan sings about this movie in his 1986 song ”Brownsville Girl.” No wonder it stuck in his head: Peck, who said this was one of his favorite roles, plays a conflicted man who, like Dylan, wants to change his identity and avoid being trapped by unwanted celebrity. What he really wants — like Cooper and Widmark in Garden, and like Cooper in West — is an earthy but unattainable woman. Cowboys make some of the best romantics. D