As a sidebar to our ‘100 Best Westerns Ever Made’ list, our cover star names his favorite cowboy classics.
Martin Kove is a man who rarely, if ever, backs down from a challenge. So when we asked him to name his five favorite classic westerns of all time, he was ready, willing … and surprisingly contemplative. He wanted to choose carefully, so he asked for a little time while he went reeling through the decades.
“In the 1940s, I think Red River was probably my favorite. Howard Hawks would always be my favorite. I love the story of Montgomery Clift never having done a western before that. The thing is, Howard Hawks saw him in a Broadway play in 1945, and boom! Right away, he asked him, ‘Do you want to come make a movie?’ Six months later, Clift learned how to use a gun, ride a horse. It was the only western he ever made — and he was brilliant. Montgomery Clift was just brilliant, and he played Matt so well. But that whole movie worked because Dimitri Tiomkin did that music. You know that scene where John Wayne says, ‘Take them to Missouri, Matt,’ where they’re crossing the river with cattle, and there’s that brilliant music in the background? I play that music all the time in my car.
“I think in the ’50s, there were a lot of good westerns. Like you had Shane, which was a great western. But what really turns me on in the ’50s is Gunfight at the O.K. Corral with Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster — two giants doing an old story that has been told God knows how many times. I mean, My Darling Clementine was basically a debauchery when it comes to the truth about the gunfight at O.K. Corral. I’ve been to Tombstone, Arizona. I know lots of facts. I’ve sat with the historians in Tombstone, and we’ve compared my movie Wyatt Earp with the movie Tombstone. And they cite My Darling Clementine as the most inaccurate re-creation of that event in history. But with Gunfight at O.K. Corral, you had those two giant actors. I thought Burt Lancaster did a great job as Wyatt, because we’ve seen so many Wyatts over the years. And I think Kirk Douglas was terrific in that hotel room scene where he’s coughing himself to death, and he wants to kill Jo Van Fleet, you know? I mean, this was the heyday of their careers in 1957 when that movie came out. And they even had Edith Head doing the costumes. I can stream that movie over and over and over again.
Martin Kove shared with C&I his personal trove of scrapbook shots and candids from movie sets and Western outings.
“The ’60s are interesting, because you’ve got two major players. You got a love story, an affair between two men who loved each other, and I say that in a very masculine way, in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. And you have to couple that with The Wild Bunch. Two totally different kinds of movies. And there was The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, one of my favorites. But if you start with 1960 — The Magnificent Seven. I mean, what’s better than an adaptation of Akira Kurosawa? And there was that terrific cast. The only real star at the time was obviously Yul Brynner. But you can see everybody, especially McQueen and a couple of these other guys, all trying to upstage Yul Brynner. That’s a classic. And you know, what I think constitutes a classic, especially a western classic, is if you can view it, and watch it three times or more with the whole family — and everybody enjoys it. That to me constitutes a classic western.
“In the ’70s? You know, to me, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid was a ballet. It was too slow, but it was a ballet, you know. I enjoyed that. And I enjoyed the musical choices of Bob Dylan. And I loved McCabe & Mrs. Miller. I would say the two of them are my two favorites in the ’70s.
“But if I had to limit it to just five classic westerns overall, my five favorites would be The Wild Bunch, Red River, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, and then Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and probably, The Magnificent Seven. But it’s hard to choose, because there’ve been so many great ones.”
From our July 2021 issue