East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Silverado (1985)

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My late father loved westerns and war movies. He’d re-watch Shane (Alan Ladd was his favorite actor) or From Here to Eternity whenever he had the opportunity, often providing a running commentary for the annoyance of anyone sitting there with him.
You know, the classic “Oh, and now watch what’s coming up…”

Growing old, I find there’s movies I re-watch in the same almost-compulsive way – but mine tend to be adventure movies (Romancing the Stone), spy thrillers (IPCRESS), comedies (Animal House), fantasies (Dragonslayer, or Ladyhawke)… but there is one western I’ll always re-watch with great pleasure. It’s not one of my dad’s faves, but it’s a western that hit the theatres when I was 18. It’s called Silverado, and I re-watched it last night.

Co-written and directed by Lawrence Kasdan, Silverado was abig-budget western, something that was considered a dead genre in the ’80s despite the string of quite good westerns that came out in the decade (another good one? Clint Eastwood’s Pale Rider).
In what was probably a self-fulfilling prophecy, Silverado was considered a box office failure, and a projected sequel never materialized.
Such a pity.

The movie in fact had everything to be a smash hit – a good, traditional story (bunch of oddball characters take on a range baron), incredible locations (the film was shot entirely in New Mexico), a stellar cast of up-and-coming actors (Kevin Kline, Scott Glenn, Danny Glover, Kevin Costner, Brian Dennehy, Rosanna Arquette, John Cleese, Jeff Goldblum and Linda Hunt) giving excellent performances, great action set-pieces, beautiful music score… it even had a cool poster.

  • Jail breakout? Check.
  • Wagons west (including river crossing)? Check.
  • Saloon shootout? A few.
  • The cool guy with the duster and the long rifle? Check.
  • Canyon chase? Check.
  • Attractive young widow? Check.
  • Sleazy gambler? Check.
  • Corrupt sheriff with a horde of disposable deputies? Check.
  • Soiled doves? Check.
  • The kid? Check.
  • Cattle stampede? Check.
  • Final duel? Four of them!

I do not know what did not work.
Back in the day, some of my friends considered it too long at 133 minutes.
Others just were not interested in “horse opera” – it was the year of Back to the Future, of The Breakfast Club, of Commando and The Goonies.
Mad Max was going Beyond Thunderdome, and Rambo was back for seconds.
The kids were looking elsewhere.

But I like it – it’s got some great performances in, and I like the simple storytelling, the way in which the main characters come together, then they separate, and are brought back together again for the final showdown. I love the way in which Linda Hunt plays a great female character, that’s strong and fascinating – and her chemistry with Kevin Kline is perfect.
And yes, there’s melodrama, and a few dialogues sound a little stiff after all these years, but as a one-stop catalog of everything you want in a western, this is still my movie of choice.

As I said, the sequel did not materialize, and it’s a pity – as it killed a possible franchise that would have been fun to follow.
Today, given the success of a series like Deadwood, Silverado would work great as a high-end series – it certainly had enough characters and stories, packed in two hours and odds, to feed a few seasons on some streaming platform.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

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