1. Jack Palance, Shane (1953)
Terrifying as an angry rattlesnake, Wilson is evil incarnate. Director George Stevens awarded Palance the role only after the actor swore he was an accomplished rider. Wilson’s grand entrance was supposed to be a wild tear into town, but Palance, who had lied, could barely remain in the saddle. Furious, Stevens shot his mount walking slowly instead, and this slow-burning sequence ended up clinching the scene.
2. Lee Marvin, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)
“This time, Dude, right between the eyes,” Marvin’s Liberty Valance snarls at poor Jimmy Stewart. Thankfully, John Wayne stands in a nearby alley and delivers deadly frontier justice with his Winchester. Director John Ford encouraged Marvin to take his acting over the top, intending the role to be a caricature of Marvin’s previous roles.
3. Walter Brennan, My Darling Clementine (1946)
Best known as Wayne’s lovably toothless sidekick in Red River and Rio Bravo, the three-time Oscar-winning character actor brought a hard, cold quality to Old Man Clanton in this O.K. Corral classic. In John Ford’s telling, the facts are played fast-and-loose, and Brennan’s mean patriarch shoots Virgil Earp in the back—pure Hollywood fabrication.
4. Walter Huston, The Virginian (1929)
Gary Cooper created the first iconic sound-era Western hero, and Walter Huston as Trampas was his nemesis—a double-dealing scoundrel who dared call Cooper a “son of a b—-!” Cooper responds by sticking a gun in Huston’s ribs and snarling: “When you call me that, smile!” Huston’s smoldering response remains a classic.
5. Barbara Stanwyck, 40 Guns (1957)
“They call her the woman with a whip,” the singing narrator explains. And we soon see Babs cheat, kill, and maim every man she meets, until Barry Sullivan seduces the black-clad harridan—then shoots her. This was the best of many “mature” bad girls played by Stanwyck in the 1950s, others appearing in The Violent Men and The Maverick Queen.