Western Movies

Feud-Mania

The Hatfield-McCoy films you should watch, plus family feud connections to the Old West.

Costner_Hatifled_McCoys_westerns

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The dictionary defines a “feud” as a “long-running argument or fight between parties—often groups of people, especially families or clans.” This includes vendettas, blood feuds, private wars and, if you ask me, street rumbles, gas station price wars and long-standing neighborhood barbecue battles.

But when people think of feuds, what often comes to mind are the Hatfields and the McCoys, one family fighting with another family, the McCoys in Kentucky and the Hatfields across the Tug River over in West Virginia. How it began is debated, but it seems to have escalated over a few words, a death and a stolen pig who got butchered and et.

It’s curious because a lot more blood, rivers of blood in fact, has been shed in other places. But somehow, this feud is the defining fight of fights, and if this television season is any proof, it’s likely to stay that way.

America is in the middle of feud-mania, and most of it has to do with the Hatfields & McCoys, a three-part, six-hour mini-series that aired on the History Channel and stars Kevin Costner, Tom Berenger and Bill Paxton. Its 13.9 million viewers sat around their big screen televisions, breaking all kinds of records, and this was just the first go-round. Back in the day, people would have watched a single show or series and then waited for reruns, months or even years later. Today you can record it, see it On Demand, watch it on the channel itself and, a few months later, watch it on DVD with a vast number of features, commentaries and extended scenes. The world has changed.

But it’s not exactly clear why the show did so well. Certainly Costner’s star power had a lot to do with it, in the same way that Robert Duvall drew audiences to Broken Trail, and Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones brought in Lonesome Dove. Costner, who has always been a stoic and a minimalist as an actor, really dropped down into first gear for his portrayal of Devil Anse Hatfield, the leader of the Hatfield clan, and he stayed there. Costner’s pipe did most of his acting for him, and it worked perfectly.

Paxton has also pulled in some television recognition from his work on HBO’s Big Love, a polygamist series that ran from 2006-11. This time around, Paxton was distressingly mournful throughout the story as the opposite leader, Randall McCoy, who really got the worst of...

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