To celebrate the release of new western The Timber, we explore the tradition of these breathtaking, snow-covered classics that showcase both sides of the beautiful rugged landscape. The stunning white mountains decorate the scenery but the freezing, unforgiving weather is how many meet their fate.

In The Timber, set during the 1898 gold rush of the Old West, two brothers take a job as bounty hunters to save their family home and track down their father. But in this tale of greed and redemption, what they find is more than they bargained for. With the extreme weather serving eight feet of snow during the first week of production, fact imitated fiction to give the film its incredible scenery and atmosphere.

Following this tradition, we revisit a range of favourites from this chilly genre…

The Great Silence (1968)

An Italian-French co-production and revisionist spaghetti western from legendary Italian director Sergio Corbucci. Starring Jean Louis Trintignant (Under Fire) and Klaus Kinski (Nosferatu the Vampyre), the story follows a mute gunslinger fighting to defend a group of outlaws and a vengeful young widow against ruthless bounty killers.

Cited as hugely influential by Quentin Tarantino who paid homage in Django Unchained and The Hateful Eight, the film is also considered one of the best non-Sergio Leone spaghetti westerns, with its soundtrack composed by Ennio Morricone.

Jeremiah Johnson (1972)

Directed by Sydney Pollack (The Firm) and starring Robert Redford (All is Lost), the titular hero is a Civil War veteran who abandons civilisation in 1850 to learn about survival in the Utah mountains. In time, he becomes at one with nature and lives off the land until he and his new family are threatened by hostile Natives.

Having lived in the Utah region, Redford was familiar with the gruelling sub-zero temperatures which came as a great shock to the film crew. However, his expertise came in handy with Redford acting as a tour guide for locations and recces. As the first western film to be accepted into the Cannes Film Festival, it also earned a spot as one of the most popular films of the year.

Heartbreak Pass (1975)

Starring Charles Bronson (Death Wish) and based on the novel by Alistair MacLean, a train carries an assortment of passengers through America’s frontier mountains towards a remote army outpost sometime during the 1870s. With the passengers including an accused arsonist and thief, a corrupt US Marshall and a territorial governor, tensions and paranoia reach breaking point when a murder is committed on the train with each of the passengers becoming a suspect.

Less acclaimed by critics at the time but loved by genre fans, the title refers to a location in Nevada’s Rocky Mountains which trains pass in order to reach the destination of Fort Humboldt, Nevada. One famous scene involves a fight on top of the moving train between Bronson and former prizefighter boxing champ Archie Moore which was filmed without stunt doubles.

Death Hunt (1981)

A fictionalised account of one of the most famous manhunts in history, with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police pursuing a fugitive known as the “Mad Trapper of Rat River”. Starring Hollywood tough guys Charles Bronson and Lee Marvin (The Killers), lone trapper Albert Johnson shoots and kills a man in self-defence near his remote cabin. When a tough Sergeant brings an armed posse to arrest him for murder, a violent chase follows through the treacherous frozen mountains.

While it was criticised for fabricating many aspects of the real manhunt, the movie is considered an exciting and highly entertaining story and showcased stunning scenery as a backdrop for two scenery-chewing Hollywood legends.

North Star (1996)

Starring James Caan (Misery) and Christopher Lambert (Highlander) and based on the 1956 novel of the same name, this revenge western is set during the Alaskan gold rush of the late 1800s. Hoping to gain control of a small mining town, a ruthless criminal buys up every mining claim that becomes available by arranging the deaths of previous owners. He meets his match when one miner, a highly skilled hunter, escapes the criminal’s hired thugs and returns seeking revenge.

Despite being set in the state of Alaska, the movie was shot entirely in Norway in Maridalen, Møsvatn and Orre bach and is a UK, French, Italian and Norwegian co-production.

The Hateful Eight (2015)

After the success of Django Unchained, Quentin Tarantino returned to the Old West for his next outing. Set after the Civil War, a stagecoach navigates through the wintry Wyoming landscape with passengers including a notorious bounty hunter and his high-price prisoner. Sheltering new passengers along the way and with a storm brewing, the group seeks overnight refuge at a stagecoach stopover. But not every guest is who they say and others may also be out for the bounty…

Legendary composer Ennio Morricone won an Oscar for his music, the first western he’d scored in 40 years. Notably, this was only the eleventh film ever to be shot in the Ultra Panavision 70 process (65mm film with 1.25x squeeze anamorphic lenses, for an aspect ratio of 2.76:1). This extremely rare process had not been used since Khartoum in 1966, nearly 50 years before. Tarantino sent the film on a “roadshow” tour complete with an intermission at select cinema chains in the correct format.

The Revenant (2015)

With Leonardo DiCaprio taking on Tom Hardy in this epic inspired by true events, the story follows an expedition into the uncharted wilderness where legendary explorer Hugh Glass is brutally mauled by a bear, then abandoned by members of his own hunting team. Alone and near death, Glass battles the 200 mile odyssey across the untamed land on the trail of the man who betrayed him.

The movie was a phenomenal success with DiCaprio finally earning his long overdue Oscar for what he called the hardest role of his career. Other awards that same night went to director Alejandro G. Iñárritu and Emmanuel Lubezki for Best Cinematography. The movie was nominated for the most awards of a single film that year.

The Timber (2016)

Paying homage to its genre roots, during the 1898 gold rush of the Wild West, two desperate brothers take a job as bounty hunters to save their home and track down their father who also has a price on his head. But in The Timber, brutality and bloodshed is the law of the land and what they find along the way is much more than they bargained for in this tale of greed and redemption. Josh Peck (Red Dawn) and James Ransone (Sinister, The Wire) are the brothers at the centre of this gripping Western which also stars Julian Glover (Game of Thrones, Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back), Maria Doyle Kennedy (Orphan Black, The Tudors) and William Gaunt (EastEnders, The Champions).

Filmed in extremely tough weather conditions, with the average shooting temperature being -32°C, sometimes reaching as low as -57°C, the team persevered and veteran cinematographer Phil Parmet (The Devil’s Rejects, Halloween), added that the film is “the most beautiful thing I have ever photographed.”

About The Author

Simon Fitzjohn

Simon is a journalism tutor in London, who also just happens to be a movie fanatic, with a craving for the darker side of cinema. He has written two books, one on the horror films of director Bob Clark (2014) and the other on the history of the character Norman Bates (2015). His third book, on the work of British exploitation director Pete Walker, is due in 2017.