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. B+