Smooth and slick gunslingers seem to be born for the dangers and adventures of living in the Old West. John Wayne and Clint Eastwood have built careers playing calm, cool frontier heroes. Other characters appear to have more to learn before surviving and thriving in the Wild West.
While some Westerns feature-wise and respected protagonists, a few highlight the characters who still need to break in their cowboy boots and learn the ropes. Whether comedic or dramatic, these portrayals of inexperienced guys and gals facing outlaws and foes are entertaining and memorable.
‘City Slickers’ (1991)
Are two salesmen and a supermarket manager the right guys to handle a cattle drive? At first, it appears they are not. In City Slickers, Mitch (Billy Crystal), Phil (Daniel Stern), and Ed (Bruno Kirby) are just three guys from New York City looking for experiences to help them escape their unfulfilling lives.
As the “city slickers” travel from New Mexico to Colorado, their friendships and lives are on the line. The men return to the city after their adventurous, obstacle-filled drive with new perspectives. Oh, and a pet calf named Norman, as well.
‘Three Amigos!’ (1986)
Just as three silent film actors lose their jobs, they receive a telegram asking them to come to the Mexican village of Santo Poco. While Lucky Day (Steve Martin), Dusty Bottoms (Chevy Chase), and Ned Nederlander (Martin Short) head south for what they believe is a gig, there are endangered townspeople needing their help.
In Three Amigos!, the mix-up over the guys’ roles in saving the town from El Guapo and his gang create some hilarious and dangerous drama. In the end, “justice has been done.” Refusing the money offered by the grateful Santo Poco residents, the trio rides off into the sunset.
‘Back to the Future: Part III’ (1990)
In the trilogy’s final installment, Marty (Michael J. Fox) finds himself traveling to the Wild West. As Doc (Christopher Lloyd) and his DeLorean go from 1955 to 1885 in Back to the Future: Part III, Marty goes back in time to save his friend. The out-of-place protagonist, going by the name “Clint Eastwood,” is trying to get the pair back to the right century.
While in the Old West, Marty has run-ins with a bear, the cavalry, and Biff’s great-grandfather, Buford “Mad Dog” Tannen. As the guys avoid hangings and shootings, it’s clear they need to escape before they become Mad Dog’s victims. Using a locomotive to help the DeLorean hit its necessary speed, Marty and Doc end up exactly where they’re meant to be.
Of course, there are reptiles living their dream lives in the southwest. In Rango, when a pet chameleon (Johnny Depp) finds himself accidentally deserted in the desert, his chances of survival are far less likely. After receiving advice to head to the Old West town of Dirt, the little lizard introduces himself as a drifter named Rango.
After confrontations with birds of prey and an outlaw Gila monster, Rango is given the title of sheriff. While the novice tries to navigate his new role, it is revealed that the pampered pet is not who he says he is. After leaving town, Rango discovers the crooked ways of Dirt’s mayor and returns to save the day.
‘Cat Ballou’ (1965)
Before Jane Fonda‘s character becomes a notorious outlaw, she is known as Catherine, a finishing school graduate, and aspiring schoolteacher. As the young woman heads home to her father’s Wyoming ranch after the completion of her schooling, she finds herself working with some unlikely allies to protect her father’s home.
When her dad is killed by the group scheming to take the ranch, Catherine quickly makes a name for herself as the justice-seeking outlaw, Cat Ballou. As Cat and her crew take on those who have done her wrong, the once out-of-place lady becomes an infamous rebel of the West.
‘The Paleface’ (1948)
No one would dare question Calamity Jane’s place in Westerns. In The Paleface Calamity Jane (Jane Russell) is busted out of prison to help the government track down some illegal activity. She hitches a ride with Peter “Painless” Potter, a dentist fleeing town after another botched procedure.
The clumsy dental doc (played by Bob Hope) doesn’t seem to know his way around the Old West quite like his new partner. As Calamity Jane finds herself in trouble, the out-of-place character figures out a way to save his gal, ensuring continued comedic adventures.
Son of Paleface
Speaking of Bob Hope playing an out-of-place character in a Western, he returns as Peter “Junior” Potter in Son of Paleface. As a recent Harvard graduate, Potter heads West to claim his father’s fortune. He stands out, wearing his striped jacket and speaking of his wealth to those who will listen.
After discovering that his father’s treasure chest is empty, Junior makes his way to a neighboring ghost town. He finds himself in trouble, luckily having the help of his buddy and new love interest. As Junior comedically defends himself by shooting in circles from a spinning barber’s chair, he hits a moose head filled with the missing gold.
‘High Noon’ (1952)
Marshal Will Kane (Gary Cooper) seems content with his duties in Hadleyville. However, his new wife is ready to leave the Old West town to start a more peaceful life elsewhere. In High Noon, Amy Fowler (Grace Kelly) wants to get out before trouble comes in.
Her groom has other ideas. He’d like to meet face-to-face with the recently released Frank Miller. The criminal is arriving on the noon train, and Kane wants to greet him. Amy gives her husband an ultimatum, telling him she’s leaving with or without him. In the end, the seemingly out-of-place character shows her Wild West roots and saves the day.
‘The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance’ (1962)
The tale begins with Ranse Stoddard (James Stewart), a wealthy and put-together senator arriving for the funeral of a poor rancher. Questions are answered with a flashback revealing the history between the likely vice presidential candidate and Tom Doniphon (John Wayne).
25 years earlier, Ranse was a young lawyer who was beaten and robbed by Liberty Valance and his gang. Tom and Ranse have their sights set on the same woman, but in the end, Tom saves the aspiring politician without taking the credit. The seemingly out-of-place Stoddard is returning to the frontier town to pay his respects to the man who helped him out long ago.
‘Blazing Saddles’ (1974)
In the Mel Brooks classic, Sheriff Bart (Cleavon Little) has a tough task ahead of him. He’s a Black sheriff in a racist town controlled by attorney general Hedley Lamarr and the bad guys looking to make money on a new railroad. To protect the townspeople, he teams up with Jim, “The Waco Kid” (Gene Wilder).
The satirical Western and its characters are all perfectly out of place. As the brawl between the residents of Rock Ridge and their enemies heats up, the fight takes them from the Wild West to Hollywood. The epic scenes are so entertaining even the characters have to stop and watch the action.
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