Sunday, June 23, 2019

Reclaiming John Wayne: The Duke's 10 Best Films

John Wayne is one of my favorite actors. 

I love his westerns with director John Ford, such as The Searchers, Fort Apache and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. And I also love John Wayne's war films with John Ford, such as They Were Expendable and The Wings of Eagles.

I also love The Alamo, which John Wayne directed as well as starred in. And I love The Green Berets. Only the Duke had the courage to make a pro-Vietnam War and pro-military film in 1968 when most of the media was against the war. The media hated the film, but the public loved it. 

I also love The Shootist, John Wayne's last film. 

I met the great man briefly at Knots Berry Farm Theme Park in 1971. John Wayne noticed my short hair (for the time) and asked me if I was in the service. 

I replied that I was in the Navy and the Duke punched me in the arm and said, “Well, good for you.” 

The punch hurt.   

Like many of his fans, I can watch John Wayne films over and over. He was a great actor and a great American.

Timothy Mangan at the Orange County Register looks back at what he believes are John Wayne’s 10 greatest films.

John Wayne was a great actor. There, I said it.

It may get me thrown out of certain intellectual circles, it may cause some to wonder about my politics, but that’s my premise and I’m sticking with it.

Sooner or later (usually sooner), anyone who writes about Wayne has to face the topic.

“For years,” writes Scott Eyman in his new biography “John Wayne: The Life and Legend,” “the debate about Wayne centered around the ridiculous question of whether or not he could act, with liberals generally taking the negative position.” That’s a big part of the problem in assessing Wayne’s acting skills. His personal politics (conservative) got in the way of seeing the acting clearly, much in the same way that Mel Gibson’s loopiness or Woody Allen’s family troubles get in the way of seeing them.

…Here, then, are 10 of his best films, most of them Westerns that, when taken together, nevertheless show a surprising range within a limited scope.

… “Fort Apache” (1948): Ford’s fictionalized retelling of the Battle of Little Big Horn, with Henry Fonda as a martinet commander (in the Custer role) who will not listen to the reason of his second in command, Wayne. The actor pulls off a fine balance of toughness, truth-telling and ineffectuality. The film is the first of Ford’s celebrated cavalry trilogy, which also included “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon” and “Rio Grande,” both with good Wayne performances.

… “The Searchers” (1956): Is “The Searchers,” John Ford’s epic widescreen Western, a mess or a masterpiece? I think it’s both, a truly magnificent film with plenty of flaws to go around. What everyone seems to agree on though is that Wayne’s performance as Ethan Edwards is his greatest. He plays a racist veteran of the Confederacy who embarks on a yearslong search for his niece, kidnapped by Comanche who also massacred her parents. Ethan has an uneasy and edgy relationship with everyone in the crowded film, and intends to kill his niece (played by Natalie Wood) when he finds her. It’s a searing, scowling acting job – “What do you want me to do? Draw you a picture?” – held in check by powerful undercurrents of doubt.

… “The Shootist” (1976): In this, Wayne’s last film, he plays an aging gunfighter dying of cancer, trying to go out with dignity. Don Siegel (“Dirty Harry”) directs it with an autumnal feeling (also nicely captured by Elmer Bernstein’s score) that seems to know its star is dying, too. He takes a room in a boarding house run by Lauren Bacall, whose son, played by Ron Howard, idolizes him. Wayne fills the role with tenderness, wisdom and resignation, looking truth in the face without sentimentality. 

You can read the rest of the piece via the below link:

You can also read an earlier post on John Wayne via the below link:

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