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#218. John Wayne

In terms of iconic American actors, John Wayne is the most iconic. Not only do westerns epitomize the romance of early American exploration inland, but John Wayne epitomizes these westerns with his sly smile, squinted eyes, and distinctive drawl. Even more to the point, his involvement in many war films also cements his place as the most American actor in the most American films. That’s not to say that he wasn’t prolific, as he acted in almost 200 films in his 50-year career. Still, the roles he’s best known for are definitely the western ones. And while he didn’t have nearly the hardened look of his western successor, Clint Eastwood, he really defined what the western hero archetype should be. This week’s two films highlight some of John Wayne’s roles in some truly great American westerns, pilgrim.

True GritTrue Grit
Year: 1969
Rating: G
Length: 128 minutes / 2.13 hours

Perhaps due to the thought that westerns, much like other action films, are not “high art”, John Wayne only received two nominations for the Best Actor Oscar. As mentioned above, John Wayne also acted in many war films, so it’s no wonder that his first nomination in this category was for Sands of Iwo Jima (1949). His only win would come twenty years later for his portrayal of the one-eyed U.S. Marshall, Rooster Cogburn, in True Grit (1969). Even though the book on which this movie was loosely based was only published a year earlier, Wayne jokingly accepted his Oscar saying, “Wow! If I’d known that, I’d have put that patch on 35 years earlier.” It’s no wonder that Jeff Bridges would be nominated for the exact same role forty years later, coming just short of that gold statue even though the 2010 adaptation was more faithful to the book.

Seeking vengeance for her slain father, Mattie Ross (Kim Darby) sets out to find the best lawman she can in order to track down and kill Tom Chaney (Jeff Corey). Fortunately for her, she hears of a man who has “true grit”, U.S. Marshall, Rooster Cogburn (John Wayne), and sets out to hire him. After he is paid, they set out to Oklahoma where Chaney is hiding in Indian Territory. Along the way, they come across La Boeuf (Glen Campbell), a Texas Ranger also after Chaney. Cogburn and La Boeuf team up and ditch Mattie, who manages to catch up to them just as they find one of the hideouts of Chaney’s gang. Ambushing the gang, they eventually learn Chaney’s location and continue their chase. When Chaney comes across Mattie one morning, she wounds him, but soon finds herself in a more life-threatening condition as Cogburn takes on the rest of Chaney’s gang, guns ablaze.

StagecoachStagecoach
Year: 1939
Rating: Not Rated
Length: 96 minutes/ 1.6 hours

Much of Wayne’s early career was filled with westerns, but these westerns were not taken very seriously. Relegated to the low-budget and “B-movie” films, many of his performances were minor or extra roles. However, some uncredited roles in the late 1920’s helped connect Wayne to director John Ford. If Wayne is the face of the western in front of the camera, Ford is the face of the western behind it. A decade later, John Ford took a leap from the realm of silent films with Stagecoach (1939). Due to their work together previously, Ford cast Wayne in a minor role in his first “talking” picture. Fortunately, this film ended up being a critical and financial success. As such, John Wayne’s name was now inexorably linked to the western. This Wayne/Ford partnership lasted for many more years, resulting in fourteen more films together.

In the late 19th century, an eclectic group of strangers board a stagecoach headed from Arizona to New Mexico. As a substitute shotgun guard, Marshal Curly Wilcox (George Bancroft) is on the lookout for the Ringo Kid (John Wayne), a man who has sworn to avenge the deaths of his father and brother. Along the way, the stagecoach is promised an escort by the Cavalry through Apache territory, eventually picking up two more passengers. At this point, they run across Ringo, who is immediately taken into custody by the Marshal. When they find the Cavalry is not at the designated rendezvous, the group decides to forge onward, eventually coming under attack from Geronimo and his Apaches. The Cavalry comes in at the last minute to save the day and the stagecoach safely arrives in Lordsburg, New Mexico.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 wonderful Wayne westerns

Bacon #: 2 (How the West Was Won / Eli Wallach -> Mystic River / Kevin Bacon)

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One response to “#218. John Wayne

  1. Pingback: End of Act Five | Cinema Connections

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