Steve Eighinger

Eastwood leads Mount Rushmore of western stars

By Herald-Whig
Posted: Jun. 27, 2016 8:50 am
We're starting a new feature in this space to spotlight from time to time the four best entities -- or Mount Rushmore -- of some element of our culture.

Today we're looking at the Mount Rushmore of American cowboy movie heroes.

My pick for the top four stars of the silver screen in this category are as follows:

º Clint Eastwood: I have heard and read on numerous occasions -- and agree 100 percent -- Eastwood was born to play a cowboy in the movies. The look. The machismo. The mystery. Eastwood breathed new life into westerns in the 1960s and 1970s, and I wish someone would do the same today. I miss the cowboy movies. I suppose you also could volunteer that Eastwood was born to play a detective (Does Dirty Harry ring a bell?), but aren't detectives little more than modern-day cowboys?

My favorite Clint Eastwood westerns: "The Outlaw Josey Wales," "Pale Rider."

º John Wayne: No such list of this nature would be complete without the Duke, but he falls well behind Eastwood in overall cowboy presence. Sorry, John Wayne fans. Wayne was more of a presence than an actor. His reputation always preceded him. Don't get me wrong, I love watching those John Wayne westerns, but I appreciate the Clint Eastwood movies much more.

My favorite John Wayne westerns: "She Wore A Yellow Ribbon," "Red River."

º Errol Flynn: Flynn always has been the most underrated of the old western stars, largely because of his Australian accent, I think. It was, at times, difficult to accept him as the sheriff of Tombstone when he sounded more like Rod Laver. Much of Flynn's greatness may have been lost because the height of his career as a western star came in the late 1930s and into the 1940s. Prior to his time in westerns, Flynn was a swashbuckling star in a number of films such as "The Charge of the Light Brigade," "The Adventures of Robin Hood" and "The Sea Hawk."

My favorite Errol Flynn westerns: "They Died With Their Boots On," "Dodge City."

º Gary Cooper: Like Flynn, much of Cooper's excellence as a cowboy was lost to many because it came early in his career and in films we rarely have the chance to see today outside of an appearance on Turner Classic Movies. Cooper was an incredible talent that too many know too little about.

My favorite Gary Cooper westerns: "High Noon," "The Plainsman."

Favorite western

I don't have to think twice. It's the 1941 black-and-white classic, "They Died With Their Boots On," starring Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland. The film's storyline offers a fictionalized account of the life of General George Armstrong Custer, who is portrayed as a fun-loving, dashing figure who chooses honor and glory over money and corruption. This is a film that will make you stand up and cheer.

And, as many times as I have seen this movie and know how it concludes, I am still deeply saddened every time Errol Flynn dies at the end. I guess that's the sign of a great movie -- and great actor.