AFI Silver Announces George Pelecanos as Curator of Western Classics Film Series

The AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center has teamed up once again with Silver Spring-based author, producer, and screenwriter George Pelecanos to present a selection of classic Western films, curated by Pelecanos, who will introduce select shows.

The George Pelecanos Presents: Western Classics series kicks off on March 7 and will feature the following films:

4K Restoration, 65th Anniversary — RIDE LONESOME — Thurs, March 7, 7:00*; Sun, March 10, 3:15, 9:20 *Introduction by George Pelecanos on March 7

The five briskly entertaining, vividly performed Westerns made by director Budd Boetticher and strapping star Randolph Scott in the second half of the 1950s transcend their B-movie origins to become rich, unexpectedly profound explorations of loyalty, greed, honor and revenge. Often grouped under the name Ranown (after producer Harry Joe Brown and Scott’s production company), these films seem to unfold in a world unto themselves, staking a claim between traditional Westerns and the subversive genre revisionism of the 1960s — and representing the crowning achievement of the underappreciated auteur Boetticher. In RIDE LONESOME — perhaps the bleakest of the series — mysterious motivations drive taciturn bounty hunter Ben Brigade (Randolph Scott) to capture a wanted murderer. But his quest is complicated when he is accosted by a pair of outlaws who have their own inscrutable reasons for riding along. Masterfully scripted by Burt Kennedy, and featuring supporting turns by James Coburn (in his film debut) and Lee Van Cleef, the first of the Ranown Westerns shot in CinemaScope makes striking use of the enlarged frame — with a final shot that stands as perhaps the single most unforgettable image in the series. (Note adapted from the Criterion Collection.) DIR/PROD Budd Boetticher; SCR Burt Kennedy. U.S., 1959, color, 73 min. NOT RATED

THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (1960) — Sat, March 9, 4:30*; Mon, March 11, 4:30; Tue, March 12, 8:45; Wed, March 13, 4:30 *Introduction by George Pelecanos on March 9

The residents of a tiny Mexican village hire seven gunslingers to save them from a merciless gang of The residents of a tiny Mexican village hire seven gunslingers to save them from a merciless gang of bandits in this adaptation of Akira Kurosawa’s SEVEN SAMURAI set in the Old West. Jam-packed with action, leavened by a heroic score by Elmer Bernstein and director John Sturges’ trademark eye for lavish widescreen staging, it is no surprise that THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN was a hit with audiences upon release, spawning three sequels and even a television show. Led by Yul Brynner, the ensemble cast includes Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, James Coburn, Horst Buchholz, Robert Vaughn, Brad Dexter and Eli Wallach as the bandit’s chief. DIR/PROD John Sturges; SCR William Roberts, from the film SEVEN SAMURAI by Akira Kurosawa; U.S., 1960, color, 128 min. NOT RATED

75th Anniversary — COLORADO TERRITORY — Sat, March 16, 5:00*; Tue, March 19, 6:30 *Introduction by George Pelecanos on March 16

In this Western remake of director Raoul Walsh’s own HIGH SIERRA, Joel McCrea is the longtime outlaw whose hope to make one more score and then retire peacefully to the country goes awry. Virginia Mayo is the dancehall girl he initially mistrusts, only to discover, in the end, that she was in fact his most trusted friend. The same story would get yet another remake, once more as a gangster tale, in 1955, with Jack Palance and Shelley Winters as I DIED A THOUSAND TIMES. DIR Raoul Walsh; SCR Edmund H. North, John Twist, from the novel by W.R. Burnett; PROD Anthony Veiller. U.S., 1949, b&w, 94 min. NOT RATED

THE NAKED SPUR — Fri, March 22, 7:00*; Mon, March 25, 7:00 *Introduction by George Pelecanos on March 22

Jimmy Stewart is a failed farmer turned embittered bounty hunter, tracking down crafty outlaw Ben Vandergroat (Robert Ryan) in a bid for a big payday to get back on his feet. But he didn’t count on acquiring an impromptu posse consisting of old prospector Jesse Tate (Millard Mitchell) and dishonorably discharged cavalryman Roy Anderson (Ralph Meeker). Nor did he plan on falling for Ryan’s tomboy sidekick, Lina Patch (Janet Leigh). The entire cast gives top performances in one of the finest of the Mann–Stewart Westerns, and perhaps the most psychologically intense. DIR Anthony Mann; SCR Harold Jack Bloom, Sam Rolfe; PROD William H. Wright. U.S., 1953, color, 91 min. NOT RATED

RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY — Fri, March 29, 7:10*; Sun, March 31, 5:00 *Introduction by George Pelecanos on March 29

Sam Peckinpah’s autumnal elegy for the end of the West. Steve Judd and Gil Westrum, en route to picking up a gold shipment at Coarse Gold, must carry a bride there first. The end of one tradition and the beginning of another: Western icons Joel McCrea and Randolph Scott, in the final film for each, play former gunfighters uneasily teamed up one last time. DIR/SCR Sam Peckinpah; SCR N.B. Stone Jr., William Roberts; PROD Richard E. Lyons. U.S., 1962, color, 94 min. NOT RATED

THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE — Fri, April 5, 7:00*; Sun, April 7, 4:45; Tue, April 9, 12:15 *Introduction by George Pelecanos on April 5

“This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” U.S. Senator Ransom “Ranse” Stoddard (Jimmy Stewart) returns to the town of Shinbone, where he made his reputation as a lawman, for his friend Tom Doniphon’s (John Wayne) funeral. Revisiting the early days in flashback, it turns out that the town’s famous shootout between Ranse and marauding outlaw Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin) went down a bit differently than history has it, thanks to the rough’n’tumble Doniphon’s noble self-sacrifice. John Ford’s elegiac tribute to the making and “closing” of the West may be his most intelligent and moving film, with standout performances by Stewart, Wayne and Vera Miles as the woman who loves them both, plus a Western “Who’s Who” that includes Edmond O’Brien, John Carradine, Woody Strode, Denver Pyle and Strother Martin. DIR John Ford; SCR James Warner Bellah and Willis Goldbeck, based on the story by Dorothy M. Johnson; PROD Willis Goldbeck. U.S., 1962, b&w, 123 min. NOT RATED

HOUR OF THE GUN — Fri, April 12, 7:00*; Sun, April 14, 5:00 *Introduction by George Pelecanos on April 12

“This picture is based on fact. This is the way it happened.” So opens director John Sturges’ HOUR OF THE GUN, his second — and more realistic — depiction of the infamous gunfight at the O.K. Corral and the legendary Western figures Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday and Ike Clanton. Edward Anhalt’s screenplay, adapted from Douglas D. Martin’s book “Tombstone’s Epitaph,” begins with the fabled gunfight before diving into the extended aftermath. When Clanton (Robert Ryan) guns down Earp’s brothers, the former lawman (James Garner) — with the aid of Holliday (Jason Robards) — turns into a vengeful spirit hellbent on seeking his own justice. HOUR OF THE GUN is a grim take on the morality of the Old West juxtaposed with beautiful widescreen photography from cinematographer Lucien Ballard and filled with potent performances from a stellar cast. DIR/PROD John Sturges; SCR Edward Anhalt, from the novel “Tombstone’s Epitaph” by Douglas D. Martin. U.S., 1967, color, 100 min. NOT RATED

THE BIG GUNDOWN [LA RESA DEI CONTI] — Fri, April 19, 7:00*; Sun, April 21, 4:30 *Introduction by George Pelecanos on April 19

“Here comes Mr. Ugly.” Cool, angular character actor Lee Van Cleef stars in this Spaghetti Western by Sergio Sollima as a sharp-shooting lawman tasked with capturing a man accused of raping and murdering a young girl. The purported criminal, played by Euro-film superstar Tomas Milian in a career-defining role, proves to be smarter than he looks, and the two soon join forces against a corrupt railroad tycoon. A politically charged film co-written by the director and Sergio Donati (ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST) from a story by Franco Solinas (THE BATTLE OF ALGIERS) and Fernando Morandi and featuring a score by legendary composer Ennio Morricone, THE BIG GUNDOWN is a widescreen epic that deserves a seat alongside its more famous peers. DIR/SCR Sergio Sollima; SCR Sergio Donati; PROD Tulio Demicheli, Alberto Grimaldi. Italy/Spain, 1967, color, 110 min/95 min. Dubbed in English/Italian with English subtitles. NOT RATED

ULZANA’S RAID — Fri, April 26, 7:00*; Sun, April 28, 4:30 *Introduction by George Pelecanos on April 26

The shadow of the Vietnam conflict hangs heavily over this revisionist Western from pulp auteur Robert Aldrich, set in 1880s Arizona. Fed up with the U.S. Indian Agency’s mistreatment, Apache Ulzana (Joaquín Martínez, who starred opposite Robert Redford the same year in Sydney Pollack’s JEREMIAH JOHNSON as Crow chief Paints His Shirt Red) goes off the reservation and on the warpath, leading a small band of braves on a brutal, murderous campaign of terror. Grizzled army scout McIntosh (Burt Lancaster) is given the thankless task of tracking down the marauders, alongside Apache scout Ke-Ni-Tay (Jorge Luke) — Ulzana’s brother-in-law — and idealistic, inexperienced Lieutenant Garnett DeBuin (Bruce Davison). DIR Robert Aldrich; SCR Alan Sharp; PROD Carter DeHaven. U.S., 1972, color, 103 min. RATED R

A comprehensive list of movies and screening times is available on the AFI Silver website.

George Pelecanos, a bestselling author with 22 novels and story collections based in and around Washington, D.C., is also known for his work as a producer and Emmy-nominated writer on HBO’s series “The Wire,” “Treme,” “The Deuce,” and “We Own This City.” His newest book, “Owning Up,” has been released today.

Photo: The Magnificent SevenEnglish: Photographer unknown. Distributed by Fox Film Corporation., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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