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I CAN TELL BY YOUR OUTFIT ...

John Wayne in "The Searchers," filmed in southern Utah.

For Hicksflicks.com, July 5, 2013

There have been a lot of complaints about Johnny Depp taking on the role of Tonto in the new "Lone Ranger" movie, and I have to admit that last year when I read about it, my first thought was, "Why?"

Why would Depp want to take on an ethnic role in this day and age, not just because of the inevitable blowback, but also because there are so many fine actors out there — American Indian actors who could play the role and who aren't getting enough work as it is.

But then again, if Depp didn't take that part, and without Brad Pitt or George Clooney playing the Ranger, the film might never have been made. (And after seeing it, that might have been the better part of valor.)

Westerns are out of favor. Again. And they have been, on and off, since the 1970s.

Which is a shame. I love westerns, and why they are continually kicked to the curb is something I'll never understand. I know it's because young people don't care about them, but that's what I don't understand.

Can it be that they've only seen the myriad by-the-numbers shoot-'em-ups that were churned out as B-movies from the silent era through the 1950s? Those stilted law-and-order "oaters," as they were called, that always told the same story with slight variations and featured actors who delivered their hokey lines in a stiff-as-a-board manner?

If so, here are a few suggestions to get you on the road to understanding why really good westerns can make truly great movies.

Let's start with some 21st century pictures about the Old West, the best of those that somehow sneaked into theaters when no one was looking: "True Grit" (2010), the Coen Brothers' film with Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon; "Appaloosa" (2008), with Ed Harris (who also directed), Viggo Mortensen and Renee Zelwegger; "3:10 to Yuma" (2007), with Russell Crowe, Christian Bale and Peter Fonda; "Open Range" (2003), with Kevin Costner (who also directed), Robert Duvall and Annette Bening; the comedy "Shanghai Noon" (2000), with Jackie Chan, Owen Wilson and Lucy Liu.

The best of the 1990s were "Maverick," "Tombstone," "Dances With Wolves," "Last of the Mohicans," "Geronimo: An American Legend" and "Unforgiven." And in the 1980s, "Silverado," "Pale Rider," and the TV miniseries "Lonesome Dove." And from the 1970s, "Little Big Man," The Outlaw Josey Wales," "Duck, You Sucker" and "The Shootist."

When you get back into the 1960s, you start getting into some genuine classics, from Clint Eastwood and Sergio Leone's spaghetti western trilogy, "A Fistful of Dollars," "For a Few Dollars More" and "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly," to Leone's "Once Upon a Time in the West" to Paul Newman and Robert Redford's "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" to Sam Peckinpah's "The Wild Bunch" to the more traditional "Ride the High Country" (also directed by Peckinpah), "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance," "The Magnificent Seven," "The Professionals" and "How the West Was Won."

But it was during the 1930s, '40s and '50s that the Old West really flourished on the big screen with some of the greatest movies of all time. Here is just a small sampling of my favorites: "The Searchers, "Rio Bravo," "The Ox-Bow Incident," "Shane," "Winchester '73," "Red River," "The Gunfighter," "The Big Country," "Hondo," "The Naked Spur," "Stagecoach" and there are many more.

In my opinion, you can't go wrong with any of these. And maybe they can help you understand my bewilderment at the genre's lack of popularity in the 21st century.