Isn't there something kind of hot about a cowgirl? I'm not sure what it is. Maybe it's the long hair spilling out from under the cowboy hat, or the way they can gaze out mysteriously from just under the brim. Maybe it's the jeans and the boots, or maybe it's the "southern belle" factor. The fact is that Megan Fox is the latest Western hottie to hit the screens, playing "Lilah" in Jonah Hex. She has her plusses and minuses; whenever she comes up in conversation among female friends, I usually explain how "plastic" she is, as if she's a manufactured pleasure-bot. But truthfully, she's pretty darn hot, with those pale blue eyes, raven hair, perfectly-shaped lips, and perfectly-shaped everything else. Clad in what looks like a cross between Stetson and Victoria's Secret, she is, indeed, the latest in a long line of hot movie cowgirls. Here are seven others.
1. Karen Steele in Ride Lonesome (1959)
I suspect the old term "va-va-va-voom" was invented for Karen Steele; when she walks onscreen in Ride Lonesome, it's hard to keep your eyeballs from snapping out of your head like a Tex Avery cartoon character. Blonde and voluptuous, she's a big presence, and yet she's surprisingly sweet and unassuming throughout the film. Director Budd Boetticher became totally enchanted by her, and cast her in his next movie, Westbound. Ms. Steele had a long career in television after that, most notably appearing in the "Star Trek" episode Mudd's Women (1966).
2. Angie Dickinson in Rio Bravo (1959)
Howard Hawks's films had some of the greatest female characters in the golden age of movies, and they all had great names. Dickinson plays "Feathers," a showgirl who clashes with sheriff John T. Chance (John Wayne); they grow closer over the course of the film, doing a little love dance of back-and-forth bickering, until they finally give in. Like all Hawks girls, she's pretty, but she's no pushover. She's more like one of the guys. Though many pretty girls in Westerns are crammed into huge, frilly dresses and ridiculous hairdos, Dickinson gets to wear either simple, sleek dresses, and/or her sexy showgirl outfit. ("I don't want anyone to see you in that but me," the sheriff growls.)
3. Jane Russell in The Outlaw (1943)
The original. The movie itself is pretty long and dull, and it's actually not particularly sexy. Producer Howard Hughes did the trick in the movie's advertising alone. Just the images of buxom Russell, half-dressed, wearing boots and a hat, and holding a gun, laying back, invitingly, in the barn straw, sold the movie to men everywhere.
4. Salma Hayek & Penelope Cruz in Bandidas (2006)
This Luc Besson production never received a U.S. theatrical release, but I really like it. It's brisk and fun and very sexy, even if it's all fairly ridiculous. Cruz is a naïve farmer's daughter and Hayek is a city-educated banker's daughter; they reluctantly team up to battle a snaky businessman (Dwight Yoakam) intent on taking over several Mexican banks. Eventually the girls switch to sleeker outfits, more conducive to adventure and revenge. Steve Zahn plays an even more ridiculous role as a nervous scientific detective-type. The three stars are pals in real life, and their goodwill is infectious.
5. Raquel Welch in 100 Rifles (1969)
Jim Brown plays a lawman bent on catching an Indian bank robber (Burt Reynolds), who plans to start a revolution against the Mexican government. Welch plays a lovely Mexican maiden who gets in the middle. Directed by Tom Gries (whose Will Penny is much better), this may not be the greatest Western ever made, but Welch is smokin' hot in several scenes, and very often stops the bad guys in their tracks by showering or pretending to remove her top.
6. Millie Perkins in The Shooting (1967)
Perkins was a teen model, which led to her acting career; despite playing Elvis Presley's girlfriend in Wild in the Country (1961), she was interested in playing more unusual characters, like the unnamed, mysterious woman at the center of The Shooting. About 28 when she made this movie, she has a sweet, little girl voice, but her eyes, body and black hat suggest something far more alluring, and dangerous.
7. Veronica Lake in Ramrod (1947)
How can you not love Veronica Lake, with her lock of blond hair draping charmingly over one eye? She attracted the attention of another one-eye, Hungarian-born director Andre de Toth (who wore an eye patch); he married her and cast her in this Western as a spunky rancher who must defend her territory from evil cattlemen. Sadly, this classic was only ever released on VHS video and is hard to see today.
I made up a list of many others, including Sharon Stone in The Quick and the Dead, Jean Peters in Apache, Stella Stevens in The Ballad of Cable Hogue, Jennifer Jones in Duel in the Sun, and Anne Hathaway in Brokeback Mountain, but we'd like to hear your favorites too.