Edwin Porter's The Great Train Robbery was released in 1903 while "Buffalo Bill's Wild West" (a show William F. Cody started in 1883) still had another decade to go before closing. These shows (including famous Western figures like Sitting Bull, Annie Oakley and Calamity Jane) along with their cinematic counterparts (even Cody himself in 1913 made the lost film The Indian War), were presenting a mostly romanticized, falsely heroic, re-imagining of historical events that their audiences voraciously consumed. Literary figures Bret Harte and Zane Grey made a significant contribution to this popular 'revised' representation as well.
Cinematic portrayals of famous heroes and anti-heroes in numerous Westerns to come, including those featuring Wild Bill Hickok, General Custer, Billy the Kid, Frank and Jesse James, Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday, would continue the "mythologization" of the West from one turn of the century to another.
During this one hundred plus years of the Western's cinematic evolution, filmmakers preoccupied with promoting either the ‘legends’ or the ‘facts’ limited their capacity to explore greater forms of human truths and conflicts. In contrast, some visionary filmmakers would embrace this simple setting for a different reason: To create, and focus on, deeper issues, such as trust, friendship and sacrifice. When no longer obligated to explain the why and wherefore, these themes could freely play out against their opposing forces of betrayal, antagonism and greed.
The Western's familiar environment permitted its audience to witness these stories in a more personal fashion, giving us the opportunity to clearly perceive their timeless insights and applications. It afforded the enlightened breed of storyteller greater freedom to advance their stories beyond the boundaries of historical accuracy and steer the genre's evolution in a more meaningful direction.
Aside from the paltry 10 Western motion pictures (from the thousands upon thousands made) that will be covered here, many more will be reviewed in a follow-up series entitled "Plundering the Genre."
Generally speaking, the criteria for selecting the Top Ten from this category are in regards to the fictional narrative's authenticity in respect to its characters and their motives. This, and the depth of their relationships have become decisive factors in determining the best from the rest.
Continuing the Top Ten Western Treasures:
#5. Man of the West (1958, U.S.A.)
Director: Anthony Mann