Not long ago, I recommended several movies telling the astonishing true stories of some women of the past, while today, we switch to the more violent and dusty western genre.
How romantic was the new continent in the early days of colonization? Leaving the slaughter of Native Americans out of the discussion, of course.
Just as we must ask how dangerous it was for ladies to ride unrestrained in that world where men measured their masculinity by the size of their guns.
That period ended at the beginning of the twentieth century, with the overwhelming spread of urbanization and the birth of an incredibly new popular entertainment medium, the cinema.
Western movies were among the first to accompany its birth in this new art form, stubbornly riding all the way into the early 1970s.
The decline began with the death of one of the foremost exponents who contributed to revolutionizing the genre, the brilliant Italian Sergio Leone.
From then on, we had a few flashes and a few directors who occasionally churned out something genuinely noteworthy, such as Clint Eastwood‘s twilight Unforgiven, which though magnificent, seemed more like a swan song than a true revival of the genre, nevertheless.
However, regarding women, what is their current and past contribution to the boundless landscape of western movies?
Let’s find out together with some new and old cinematic gems that any true lover of cowgirls hats cannot miss.
Table of contents
Jane Got a Gun (2015)
Indeed, the actress is the revenge target of a handful of ruthless criminals, whom she managed to escape with the help of one of them, who she later marries and has a daughter.
However, his buddies have not forgotten the offense and the men they killed while on the run, relentlessly searching for them all those years from coast to coast in the United States.
Catching her husband unaware, they shoot him repeatedly, seriously wounding him, although he still gets home to warn her about the danger.
At that point, the woman has no choice but to ask for help from her old partner, another man she loved but believed was dead during the war.
When he returned and found her married to someone else, he had undoubtedly not been thrilled, running away with disappointment and resentment.
However, for a fee, he now agreed to protect her and her new love by organizing a last desperate stand before the arrival of the whole criminal gang.
Together with fellow actor Noah Emmerich, these two men are the pinnacles of a love-hate triangle rounding out with the beautiful and tiny Natalie Portman.
Small as she is, I don’t think the woman in this western movie is not equally belligerent, often wielding a pistol, though she shoots better with a rifle.
In short, all you need is a good cast and an excellent director to enjoy an irrepressible escalation of revenge where fate seems already sealed for everyone.
True Grit (2010)
In today’s second western movie, the protagonist is not yet a woman but a teenager, having just lost her father at the hands of a petty criminal.
Because the man reunited with his gang fleeing to an Indian Reservation, the local sheriff is unwilling to do anything except uphold the complaint.
At that point, the child is fed up with the inefficiency and legal delays, so she decides to act independently.
So she finds an old gunslinger familiar with Indian territory, persuading him stubbornly to agree to track down the criminal and bring him back to town.
They are joined by a young ranger who seeks the same man to bring to Texas to serve out a futile crime committed against an influential politician.
Having divergent interests, the group struggles to stick together. Still, ultimately the two brutal gunmen will put aside their silly rivalry when the little girl ends up kidnapped by the man they are looking for.
In this case, the two gunslingers perpetually on horseback are the excellent Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon, hot on the heels of the rough and somewhat idiotic ( yet still brilliant) criminal Josh Brolin.
However, the movie’s real star is the little woman Hailee Steinfeld, rigid as a rock and stubborn as a mule who won’t admit to being trampled by even the most violent of western criminals.
The story successfully holds good realism and a romantic narrative, with flawed characters in flawless filmmaking and brilliant dialogues always being the trademark of these great cinema brothers.
The Quick and the Dead (1995)
After two intense dramatic stories, we come to an action-packed with crazy last-blood duels where the most dangerous gunfighter is the magnificent Sharon Stone.
Having survived the slaughter of her family as a child, this incorruptible woman becomes the most classic avenger in any western movie.
Unfortunately, her enemy is the ruthless Gene Hackman, who leads an army of mercenaries with whom he rules a small town abandoned by law and justice.
Every year in this town, there is a tournament where the fiercest gunfighters in the west face off on the main street, opening fire at the stroke of noon.
The woman signs up for the competition hoping to face this man and kill him, finding some unexpected sidekicks in a priest with a shady past and the criminal’s son.
It is impressive how many forgot about this little Sam Raimi cult hit, created immediately after he concluded the famous Evil Dead trilogy.
This project came under tremendous pressure from the star Sharon Stone, who strongly wished to have a director with the right style to give this story the right epic and adrenaline in duels.
Being the heroine, of course, she needed a potent antagonist, and filling the role is the outstanding Gene Hackman, slimy and unforgiving but also elegant and funny in his mad and pure evil.
These great characters meet and collide in an orgy of cinematic references featuring everything Raimi love, from all-time John Ford to Sergio Leone western.
So what the heck are you waiting for, haven’t clicked play to watch it yet?
Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)
Mentioning Sergio Leone, how could we not include one of his western masterpieces where the woman plays a central role for all the other characters in the movie.
Indeed, it all revolves around the beautiful hooker, Claudia Cardinale, who leaves the New Orleans brothel, where she is like a goddess, to start a new life in the heart of Monument Valley.
However, upon her arrival, she finds a nasty surprise because her new husband and children have been slaughtered in broad daylight by bandits led by the ruthless Cheyenne.
At least that is the official version because when she meets the real Cheyenne inside an inn, she realizes that he can’t be the killer, as he has just escaped from prison.
In the same inn, the woman meets another gunfighter, a man whose name she does not even know but whom everyone simply calls Harmonica since the whistling of this instrument always precedes his entrance.
The two gunslingers and the woman, albeit for different reasons, will come up against the small private army of Mr. Morton, an arrogant businessman who wants that land vital to his railroad.
Sometimes it does not take many words to explain a pure and simple masterpiece whose characters and atmosphere survive generation after generation’s test of time.
Alternating between the amusing dialogue and the constant bullet hissing, as usual, Ennio Morricone‘s sublime music gently backs up Sergio Leone‘s enveloping narrative and visual style.
To not see or not love this movie is simply sheer madness.
River of No Return (1954)
To conclude this Western women’s movie lineup in a big way, how could we not mention a classic starring the most beautiful of beauties, Marilyn Monroe?
The divine star in this story plays a petty singer who charms the patrons of an inn in a small mining town with her voice and guitar.
Of course, this is not precisely the life of her dreams, so she quickly accepts the offer of her lover, who has won a rich gold deposit in poker, offering her a chance to make a fresh start in faraway Council City.
Except the losers of the poker match have something to say about it, not accepting defeat and beginning to chase them as they flee in a boat.
Not knowing how to navigate, the couple soon runs aground along the riverbank near the cabin where Robert Mitchum lives with his young boy.
Son and father have recently reunited after he recently served a long sentence for murder, beginning to get to know each other from scratch.
But when the singer’s lover slips away, leaving them without a horse or a rifle, it’s up to them to mount the boat and slip away only to be scalped by Indians.
At the helm of this classic movie is the untouchable Otto Preminger, who signs a family western of rare delicacy more dedicated to the female audience.
With his invisible but tangible direction, Preminger wisely doses adventure, danger, romance, and a few sweet country ballads performed by the divine Marilyn.
For Robert Mitchum, it’s bad luck along the rivers again after his terrifying role as the mad preacher in The Night of the Hunter.
So let us set out with this magnificent 1950s crew, experiencing emotions that modern cinema often seems unable to recreate anymore.