Sunday, December 19, 2021

Wintry Westerns - 8 Classic Westerns Set in Winter

I love westerns. I don't review them nearly as often as I should but I certainly do watch plenty of them! And, at this time of year, the best westerns to watch are the Wintry Westerns....those that are set in snowy locales. Most westerns take place in dusty desert areas such as Arizona and Texas or in lush green cattle-grazing lands like Wyoming and Colorado so this is a small niche. They are great to watch on a cold winter's day with a cup of hot cocoa, especially when the snow is falling outside.

I'll share with you some of my favorites ( from the oldest to the newest ) and hopefully, you'll share some of your favorite wintry western titles as well. 

THE WILD NORTH ( 1952 ) 

Stewart Granger plays a trapper accused of murdering a man in a Canadian village. He takes refuge in the mountains but can't shake a Mountie ( Wendell Corey ) off his trail. Instead, during a fierce snowstorm, they band together to battle the forces of nature and survive in the "wild North". This is one of my favorites, not only because of the great location scenery of Idaho ( not Canada ) but because of the presence of Stewart Granger and Cyd Charisse as an Indian maiden. 


Perhaps this might not qualify as a western, but it takes place in the 1870s in snowy Alaska, so that's close enough for me. Rock Hudson plays an American sea captain who is taking a cargo of furs down to the states from Canada via dogsled. Contending with the weather is harrowing enough, but Rock also has a broken leg and two dangerous villains on his heels. 

TRACK OF THE CAT ( 1954 ) 

Robert Mitchum stars in this visually striking western as the son of a ranching family who heads out into the snow to track down a panther who is killing the family's livestock. Diana Lynn and Teresa Wright co-star and yes, that's William Hopper Jr. with a beard. Director William Wellman's son stated that his father created the picture as a "black and white film shot in color" with specific pops of color adding a beautiful splash to the overall monochromatic look. 


"A day you'll never forget!" declares the poster to this Robert Ryan film. Unfortunately, I did forget most of this gritty western, but I do remember the winter landscape and Burl Ives cutting a powerful image on horseback. It's about a cattleman trying to save a small frontier town from Burl Ives and his gang of thugs. 

WILL PENNY ( 1967 ) 

This film starts off as a regular "sunny" western but about half way through we see the winter scenes. Will Penny ( Charlton Heston ) is an aging cowboy who gets a line camp job on a large cattle spread and finds that there is a woman ( Joan Hackett ) and her son already living in the cabin he is supposed to occupy by himself. He lets them stay over the winter and protects his "family" when the wicked Quint ( Donald Pleasance ) invades his home. 


Spaghetti westerns are one of those genres that you either love or hate. I could live without them - especially the brutal ones - but I had to include this film because it is set is a snow-covered Utah and is renowned for being one of the best spaghetti westerns ever made. It's about a mute gunfighter who takes it upon himself to defend a group of outlaws from a band of bloodthirsty bounty hunters. Jean-Louis Trintignant, a French actor who couldn't speak a word of English, starred as the mute gunslinger "Silence". 


Warren Beatty and Julie Christie star as a gambler and a prostitute who become business partners in a brothel in a remote mining town. Their business trives until a major corporation comes to buy them out. This film is often cited as one of the first "anti-westerns" because it features no gunfights and no heroes but our purpose it can be classified as a western. McCabe and Mrs. Miller really captures the cold environment of winter and features some beautiful filming from director Robert Altman. 


Robert Redford stars as mountain man Jeremiah Johnson in this outdoorsman's adventure set in the beautiful hills of Utah ( and filmed on Redford's recently acquired Sundance ski area ). Johnson is a  Civil War veteran who abandons mankind and heads for the mountains of Utah to become a trapper. With the help of another grizzled mountain man ( Will Geer ), he learns to live of the land but must contend with hostile natives when he incurs the wrath of a Crow chief. 

1 comment:

  1. The Great Silence is a wonderful pick--I don't think ANY Western can rival it for a bleak snowbound atmosphere. But that ending...what a shocker! Although it's not awash in snow, one of my favorites is The Far Country, a fine Mann-Stewart Western.