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Was John Wayne A ‘Draft Dodger’ During WWII? – My Blog

So I got into a brief exchange on Twitter the other day About John Wayne being a draft dodger in WWII. These claims go back for decades, leveled by biographers, some historians, and some who hate John Wayne for the image he enjoys as the expression of American manhood: Stoic, fair-minded, moral, and forthright. In his films, he tended to portray strong characters that protected the weak and meek often at the cost of great personal sacrifice.

To say that John Wayne was patriotic is an understatement. John Wayne for many Americans is patriotism itself. This is not to say that John Wayne always lived up to the high ideals that his characters embrace, he was a bit of a philanderer and was married three times. That is the problem with high ideals, they tend to be very hard to live up to. Much easier I suppose to embrace low ideals, no ever gets accused of failing to live up to low expectations, do they?
The draft dodging claims are offered under several variations:
Who is John Wayne?

John Wayne was a phony who didn’t want to fight in WWII, basically an accusation of cowardice.
John Wayne stayed home and made millions starring in motion pictures while others died in his place.
John Wayne was having a fling with Marlena Deitrich and didn’t want to leave her. This claim is put forward by Marc Eliot in his book “American Titan: Searching for John Wayne,” where he writes, “When she came into Wayne’s life, she juicily sucked every last drop of resistance, loyalty, morality, and guilt out of him, and gave him a sexual and moral cleansing as efficiently done as if she were draining an infected sore.”
Defenders of John Wayne are met with the rebuttal that other famous movie actors had served in uniform like Jimmy Stuart, Clark Gable, Ronald Reagan, and Henry Fonda and Wayne should have done the same. That is a rather simple rebuttal that fails to account for several things, like the way the draft worked during WWII versus voluntary enlistment, and the way Hollywood was brought directly into the war effort by President Roosevelt in a country fully mobilizing for total war against the Axis powers. Finally, as hard as it may be to believe, Gable, Fonda, Reagan, and Stewart were all much bigger stars at the time than John Wayne was. Those guys could pretty much do whatever they wanted in the military(or not do), Wayne was not in that position.
The Draft In World War II Was Nothing Like The Selective Service System That Replaced It
The U.S. adopted a draft system for enlistment in 1940, prior to the start of WWII, the original age was set between 21-35, it was later expanded to age 64.  Citizens were responsible for filing registrations themselves.  More than 45 million men registered.  A lottery system was used to induct new enlistees. After three of these national lotteries, the system then went to one using birthdates, and groups were inducted by age, as in calling up every male born in March 1920.  After being called up, there was a pre-induction physical with a rejection rate that ran between 33%-51%.  Contrary to uninformed opinions, the military didn’t just take anyone with a pulse.  Given the vast numbers being called up, the military rejected lots of enlistees for conditions that were treatable because the government didn’t want to pay for 100,000 hernia operations or replace hundreds of thousands of missing teeth to make men passable on the physical.  Some enlistees with skills the military needed, doctors, machinists, mechanics, dentists who were too old or had physical defects would be inducted as not-suitable for combat duty and would remain stateside working in the long logistics tail of a military machine numbering over 12 million men and women in uniform. Nearly 40% of those in uniform were rear-echelon types working in clerical, supply, medical, and other administrative duties.
John Wayne registered for the draft(which is not the act of someone trying to dodge being drafted) and was told he was ineligible to serve because he was married and supporting four children.  When Pearl Harbor was attacked, Wayne was just a year short of the age cut off. In 1941 there was no shortage of young men the military could pick from so he received a 3A classification, which was Uncle Sam saying to John Wayne, “Thanks, but we don’t need you.”
John Wayne Pictures: Behind the Movie Scenes in 1969
By 1943 however, the military still needed men and Wayne was given a 1A eligible status again since the maximum age had been extended to 63.  You could no longer just enlist voluntarily either. As it turned out, guys were getting draft notices from the Army and they would dash over to the Coast Guard or Navy office and enlist instead.
When the government caught on to this President Roosevelt signed an Executive Order that ended voluntary enlistments in 1943.  The draft system would be the only way into the military. As a result, about 75% of the enlisted men who served in WWII, were draftees.
Upon induction, enlistees were allowed to state a preference for either land or naval forces and by late in the war, even the Marine Corps was receiving draftees, but it all depended on the needs of the government.  They would send you where they wanted you to go.
So this was the environment that John Wayne was living in at the time. The only way into the military was through the draft system, and that involved a physical that as many as half of the inductee would fail.
That 1A status that Wayne received was then challenged by Republic Studios which had him under contract to make a picture a year.  Under that contract, they could also loan him out to other studios taking half the money paid to him as a commission.  John Wayne in 1942 was not yet the star he would become. In 1939 he was ranked the 9th favorite cowboy movie star by fans being polled by trade papers in the movie industry.  He had a starring role in Stage Coach that had brought him some fame, but he wasn’t Robert DeNiro in terms of stature yet by any means.  Early in the war the Government fully enlisted Hollywood to make movies that kept up morale at home.  Perhaps the most famous directors of their era, Frank Capra, John Ford and John Huston were all directly commissioned into the military to make films about why America needed to fight this war. We tend to think of Nazi Germany and Josef Goebbel’s when we turn the word “propaganda” into an image in our heads, but the truth was that Germany’s own propaganda efforts were modeled on our own.  They admired us when it came to cranking out propaganda.  Republic Studios needed to stay in the picture business to meet its obligations to the war effort at home and they wanted John Wayne deferred.  And John Wayne didn’t have any say in that, he wasn’t a free agent, he was an employee.
So the government granted the request.  This wasn’t treatment only meted out to celebrities.  I had a distant relative who was a Captain in a New York National Guard unit when WWII began.  His unit was activated and rolled into the 1st Infantry Division. So he packed his gear, told his employer he was recalled to active duty and was going off to war.  His employer happened to be Standard Oil, the largest oil company in the country and he was a petrochemical engineer.  Standard contacted the government, told them he was essential to the war effort, and before he could get on the train to go, he was involuntarily but honorably discharged and exempt from further military service.  He didn’t like it one bit and tried to protest not just the government’s decision but also Standard Oil’s. He was politely reminded that there was a war on and what he personally wanted didn’t amount to a hill of beans. He would do as he was told, for the good of the country.
So John Wayne really didn’t have any choice here. He wasn’t a free agent, he was working as an employee of Republic and they had asked the government to defer him.  Apparently, Wayne didn’t take it very well either.  The head of the studio told him that if he tried to quit to join the military the studio would sue him for breach of contract. This begs the question: If the Duke was so determined to avoid being drafted, why would the studio head of Republic have to threaten him with a lawsuit if he left to join the military?
Critics of John Wayne have said that threats like these were common and never enforced, but John Wayne would have had no way of knowing that in 1943, would he?
John Wayne Would Have Failed The Induction Physical
I think there is very good reason to believe that even if John Wayne had been able to break his contract and volunteer he would have failed the induction physical on several disqualifying conditions.
Wayne stood 6 feet 4 inches and was quite an athlete in high school. So good that he had a full scholarship to USC as a football player.  There are various reports of his suffering several injuries while in college. He suffered a broken collar bone at some point. Then while body surfing in the ocean off Southern California, he tore a shoulder muscle that never healed properly.  Then he had his leg broken during practice his freshman year.  Wayne’s injuries were sufficient to prevent him from playing football and he lost his scholarship to USC and dropped out.  If these injuries were enough to keep him from playing football in his early twenties, they would certainly have prevented him from finishing boot camp in the Army or Marines at age 34.
Wayne was able to find work as a stunt man for John Ford in numerous westerns.  These stunts would have been high falls from roofs and off horses.  Wayne suffered injuries to his back that plagued him for the rest of his life.  Later in his career, he took to wearing three-inch lifts in his shoes because slipped disks had reduced his height by some three inches.
That’s a lot.
Wayne also suffered from chronic ear infections which affected his hearing.
Wayne’s injuries combined with his age would have probably resulted in his being classified as 4F had he been called up and given an induction physical.  Later in the war, the Draft Boards were looking past some things like flat feet, and missing fingers(not thumbs though) to make it’s manpower quotas, but it was doing this for young men, not men in their mid-thirties.
John Wayne in his USO uniform with Lt. Col. William Bleckwenn during Wayne’s three month USO in the South Pacific, December 1943
John Wayne Wasn’t A Big Star Like Clark Gable or Henry Fonda Who Did Serve In The Military.
As for the Hollywood leading men who did go to war like Jimmy Stuart and Clark Gable, a couple of points.
Jimmy Stuart was drafted in March of 1941 before the war had broken out.  He was initally rejected for service for being too skinny.  It is said he then drank a lot of beer for the carbs to get his weight up. The Army accepted him and Stuart got himself into the Air Corps and was taking correspondence courses to become an officer.  Stuart was also a private pilot with 400 flight hours as a civilian.  When the war did break out, he was already in the military and seemingly bent on a second career(or a change of careers) as a bomber pilot. Jimmy Stuart went on to fly combat missions in bombers over Europe, resumed his acting carreer, and retired from the Air Force a Brigadier General in the reserves.
Clark Gable was 40 when the war started and was beyond draft age or even voluntary enlistment age.  He wrote a letter to President Roosevelt after the Pearl Harbor attack asking to join the military and FDR’s response was, “STAY WHERE YOU ARE,” meaning for him to stay in Hollywood making movies and doing war bond drives.  His wife Carol Lombard was then killed a month after Pearl Harbor in a plane crash returning from a war bond tour.  By some unknown means, Gable managed to enlist, get a billet to officer candidate school and be trained in aerial gunnery and photography.  He was then assigned to the First Motion Picture Unit (FMPU) located at what was called “Fort Roach” – the Hal Roach Studios in Culver City, California. The FMPU was commanded by producer Jack Warner, as in Warner Brothers Studio.  Jack Warner was probably the string-puller that got Clark Gable into the Army Air Corps at age 40 to go into his unit.  Gable spent part of the war stateside making training films but managed to get himself over to Europe to make a propaganda film about B-17 bombing missions over Germany called “Combat America.”  He even managed to get himself aboard to for bombing missions several times to film footage and take up a gunners position, as an officer.  This was a job for enlisted men. Clark Gable never went to college and had dropped out of high school, and he still ended up with a commission as a Captain.
Gable would finish the film and see it released and requested being dismissed from active duty in 1944 because he was past the age for combat duty and returned to making movies.  That request was granted and his discharge was signed by then Captain Ronald Reagan.  This was pretty special treatment given to Gable given that a world war was raging. Very few officers could ask to be discharged and go back to being a civilian, you were in for the duration of the war, plus six months according to a decree by FDR.  But it was Clark Gable asking and he was a big star at the time, the “King of Hollywood.”
Ronald Reagan was inducted and passed the physical.  He didn’t take on Nazi Panzers single-handedly during the Battle of the Bulge, he spent the war in Hollywood making training films for the Signal Corps.
Henry Fonda joined the Navy in August of 1942 because he wanted to be in the war, and not make movies about the war. He refused a commission with two years of college preferring to earn it on merit.  He was already a very famous actor when he enlisted making the equivalent of more than $2 million per movie in today’s dollars.  He was a Quartermaster on a Destroyer, the USS Satterly. Fonda was 37 when he volunteered, technically past the age of enlistment, but he got a waiver.  A year after enlisting Fonda was offered a commission as a full Lieutenant junior grade(O-2), rather than an ensign, again, the justification was his advanced age and success as an actor.
So, Clark Gable wrote his own ticket as the biggest star in Hollywood, the Army initially rejected Jimmy Stuart when we were desperately short of pilots and Ronald Reagan went into the Army to make movies for the Army. All received some special treatment from the government(maybe not in Stewart’s case) to enter the military based on their high celebrity status. In contrast, Wayne did not receive special treatment on his own, but only by the intervention of his employer who wanted to retain him for the war effort.
Vietnam. John Wayne signs Private First Class Fonsell Wofford’s helmet during his visit to the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines, at Chu Lai..: 06/20/1966. Fleetwood, SSgt, Photographer; Department of Defense. Department of the Navy. U.S. Marine Corps.
John Wayne Didn’t Get Rich Sitting Out The War
Which brings me to the next point of criticism about Wanye not serving, that he stuck with the movies so he could cash in as a multi-millionaire while Americans were dying on the Sands of Iwo Jima.  I was able to look at what John Wayne was actually getting per movie and it was by no means a shower of riches.  Wayne had been on a year-to-year contract with Republic from 1938 to 1943.  He made eight films in a serial format called “The Three Mesquiteers.” His lavish salary amounted to just $3,000 a film.  That would be worth about $60,000 today. Is that rich?  Republic then offered John Wayne a longer contract that ran from just 1943 to 1945. He made eight movies in that time period, including the “Fighting Seabees,” “They Were Expendable,” and “Back to Bataan.”  He wasn’t paid big money for any of these pictures.  For “Fighting Seabees” Wayne was paid $24,000.  That would be about $460,000 today. That’s a pretty good payday, but it isn’t a king’s riches.  Last year, Duane, “The Rock” Johnson was paid $50 Million for one movie. It should also be remembered that Wayne paid big taxes on that money in the 1940s, the IRS took 51% of it.
Unlike Clark Gable or Jimmy Stuart, John Wayne was not a big star in 1943, he was a B movie actor, and getting paid like one.  He didn’t really become the Legendary John Wayne until at least 1949 with “Sands of Iwo Jima” and “She Wore A Yellow Ribbon.” He was still working for Republic but getting paid better, about $100,000 a picture. This payday jacked John Wayne’s taxes up to 85%. He was probably keeping more money on the movies that kept him in the 51% tax bracket.
People who accuse Wayne of wanting to cash do so imaging him as the megastar John Wayne of the 1950-60s rather than the B movie actor he was in the 1940s.
As to whether he really wanted to serve, it very much appears that he did.  He wrote to Director John Ford who was a Commander in the Navy Reserves and headed up a motion picture unit documenting the war practically begging him,
“Have you any suggestions on how I should get in? Can you get me assigned to your outfit, and if you could, would you want me? How about the Marines? You have Army and Navy men under you. Have you any Marines or how about a Seabee or what would you suggest or would you? No I’m not drunk. I just hate to ask for favors, but for Christ sake you can suggest can’t you? No kidding, coach who’ll I see..”
In the National Archives, there are records of John Wayne writing to William Donovan at the OSS begging to give him a job in what would become the CIA.  Those archives include his application and an acceptance letter from Donovan himself inviting Wayne into the OSS photographic unit.  The letter never reached Wayne.  It was sent to his ex-wife who was probably thinking of the alimony she would be giving up and never told him about the letter.  It is ironic that biographers give her statements about John Wayne being ashamed about not serving such weight when she herself played a major role in preventing him from serving. It is possible that Wayne contacted Donovan on advice from John Ford for reasons stated above, he really wasn’t the kind of big-name star that Steward, Gable or Fonda were, guys who could pretty much write their own ticket
It is easy,(and also intellectually lazy and bordering on dishonest) to take a single point of data regarding John Wayne’s life in that time and build a draft dodger claim on it while excluding the totality of other things which directly point away to his avoiding service in the military in some way.  On some points, like getting rich, the plain facts just don’t support it.
Finally, I think the “John Wayne was a Draft Dodger” claims fail most completely on this single point.  In order to “Dodge” the draft it would require at minimum that the dodger get a draft notice, and John Wayne never got a draft notice, something even his most determined critics are forced to acknowledge.

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The Christmas Western That’s Also One of John Wayne’s Best – My Blog


 3 Godfathers is a touching story of redemption, highlighting the capacity for even troubled characters to change. The film uses deliberately slow pacing to emphasize character development and showcase stunning natural environments. Christmas is an important part of 3 Godfathers, but the film’s positive message about humanity and forgiveness resonates beyond religious beliefs.

Few partnerships in cinematic history are quite as successful as John Wayne and writer/director John Ford. Ever since their first collaboration on the breakthrough 1939 adventure film Stagecoach, Wayne and Ford have told innovative stories about the American experience that revolutionized the Western genre. While Wayne starred in many Western classics, his work with Ford often embraced the darker side of the genre; 1956’s The Searchers featured one of cinema’s definitive anti-heroes, and 1962’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance examined the rise of political tension at the tail end of the Western era. Despite the gravity of many of their best collaborations, Wayne and Ford were also able to take a lighter approach to the genre. This is best evidenced by their delightful 1948 western 3 Godfathers, a Christmas-themed adventure movie that drew from Biblical passages. While on the surface it looked like a typical crowd pleaser, 3 Godfathers used its Christmas themes to tell a positive story of redemption.
3 Godfathers Film Poster
3 GodfathersThree outlaws on the run risk their freedom and their lives to return a newborn to civilization.
Release DateJanuary 13, 1949DirectorJohn FordCastJohn Wayne , Pedro Armendáriz , Ward Bond , Mae MarshRuntime106 minutesGenresDrama , Western
‘3 Godfathers’ Is a Touching Story of Redemption3 Godfathers follows the cattle raiders Bob Hightower (Wayne), Pete (Pedro Armendáriz), and William “The Abilene Kid” Kearney (Harry Carrey Jr.), who rob a bank in the wholesome town of Welcome, Arizona. Ford intentionally starts the film like a typical Western and uses the opening sequence to examine the characters’ morality. Welcome is virtually undisturbed by violence, and is decorated with eloquent festive decorations. While the heist sequence itself doesn’t cause any significant damage and leaves no casualties, it’s enough to disrupt the fragile peace. Depicting Bob, Pete, and William as troublemakers that damaged a community gives them the capacity for redemption. Although many of Wayne’s leading roles were as nearly flawless heroes, 3 Godfathers forced him to play a character of a more checkered morality.
While the heist sequence is an exciting way to start the film, the inciting incident comes shortly thereafter when the three bandits become trapped in a brutal sandstorm and discover a covered wagon that has been damaged by the weather. Within the wagon is a pregnant woman (Mildred Natwick) who is dying; despite their best efforts, Bob, Pete, and the Kid are only able to save the child. Her dying wish is for the three men to protect the boy and bring him to safety. While the prospect of three quirky outlaws trying to bring an infant to safety seems rather silly compared to Wayne and Fords’ other collaborations, the film shows that the child’s innocence is at stake. Collateral damage has never been a concern for Bob before, but seeing an innocent infant in danger forces him to reconsider his life’s work.While the woman’s death and childbirth are treated with gravity, 3 Godfather is a more humorous film compared to Ford’s other westerns. Wayne is often not given credit for his talents as a comedic actor, as he wouldn’t star in the western comedy McLintock! for another decade. Watching Bob, Pete, and William attempt to bathe, feed, and entertain the baby is immensely entertaining, as it’s clear that none of them have ever seriously considered fatherhood. Their lives as bandits are so exciting that the prospect of “settling down” never felt like a possibility. Although watching over the child initially seems like a burden, all three men discover that empathy has its own rewards.
John Ford sits with a pipe in front of a train in a custom image for The Iron Horse (1924)
‘3 Godfathers’ Uses Deliberately Slow Pacing
Ford is a favorite filmmaker of directors like Steven Spielberg because of the deceptive simplicity of his stories. 3 Godfathers is relatively light on action, saving the majority of its set pieces for the opening and closing moments. While the lack of forward momentum could have been a determinant of the film’s pacing, the straightforward story allows 3 Godfathers to put a greater focus on its characters. It’s entertaining to see how Bob, Pete, and William each draw from their own experiences as they figure out what they must do to ensure the infant’s help. While their disagreements over the best parenting practices (including one particularly amusing argument over when to bathe the child) occasionally spark arguments, the characters are never aggressive and cruel to each other. The positive depiction of masculinity has made 3 Godfathers age very well in comparison to other Westerns from the classic era.
The gradual pacing also allows Ford to focus on the gorgeous natural environments. A recurring hallmark within Wayne and Fords’ collaborations is their grand scope, and 3 Godfathers uses its vivid cinematography to show the characters’ changing perspective. Bob, Pete, and William are only able to take note of the landscape’s natural beauty after they are forced to slow their pace to keep the infant safe; by moving at a slower rate, they finally recognize the natural beauty that has been in front of them the whole time. However, the gradual nature of their quest also exposes the characters to greater danger. While initially, the open Arizona desert feels exciting, the brutal weather constraints ultimately make their mission more strenuous. This is a piece of clever thematic storytelling on Ford’s part; he can suggest that the hectic lives that these men had been leading were unsustainable.Christmas Is an Important Part of ‘3 Godfathers’
colorized still of John Wayne as Robert Hightower, Harry Carey Jr. as William Kearney holding a swaddled infant and Pedro Armendáriz as Pedro Roca Fuerte standing next to each other in a desert in 3 Godfathers (1948)Image via MGM
3 Godfathers serves as a loose retelling of the Biblical story of the Three Wise Men and Jesus of Nazareth; Bob even quotes specific lines from scripture during the bandits’ first encounter with the dying mother, and the characters head for a town literally named “New Jerusalem.” While some faith-based movies risk being impenetrable to a non-Christian audience, the film doesn’t require knowledge of its religious allusions to be entertaining. If the references to Biblical verse are ignored, 3 Godfathers still works as an entertaining adventure story. The themes of kinship, humanity, and forgiveness are universal, and not exclusively bound to Christian beliefs.With its open-hearted characters and tactful humor, 3 Godfather proves that sentimentality isn’t a bad thing. The film has a positive message about the inner goodness within everyone, and how even the most unlikely of characters can become heroes. While the Western themes make 3 Godfather perfectly suited for fans of Wayne’s filmography, it’s the film’s faith in humanity that makes it a Christmas classic.
3 Godfathers is available to rent or purchase on Apple TV.

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Best Western Movie of Each Decade – My Blog

The Western genre has evolved greatly through its more than a hundred years of existence. From silent tales of honor and dignity, through the iconic look of John Ford and the coolness of Clint Eastwood, all the way to the deconstruction of the genre, each decade has had its share of the genre. The first years of the 20th century saw the Western become part of Hollywood’s agenda, and from the ’40s to the early ’60s, the genre reached its “golden age.”

From the ’60s onward, a much-needed reinvention of ideas and conventions found the genre-shifting toward the present. A new generation of filmmakers gave Westerns their own twist, eventually spawning a variety of subgenres that have been explored all the way into the present. Contemporary works like The Keeping Room, Power of the Dog, or The Rider, where a female-led cast or non-traditional masculinity is at the forefront of the movie, respectively, show just how exciting and diverse the genre has become.

With a rich past, an exciting present, and a bright future, Westerns are more alive than ever. These are the best of each decade, ever since the dawn of the twentieth century.Updated January 14, 2024: This article has been updated with additional Westerns from the current decade, along with where to stream them.The Great Train Robbery (1903)
The Great Train RobberyEdison Studios
One of the first-ever Westerns was made when the myth of the Old West wasn’t even that ingrained into society. The stories and legends of the American Frontier still managed to find their way into the American public through word of mouth and pocket novels, and so it arrived all the way to the East Coast in the mind of film pioneer Edwin S. Porter. The 12-minute silent film conveyed the story of a group of outlaws who plan to rob a train in the southwest. The gang not only succeeds in taking off with the look but also terrorize the passengers on board.
The Great Train Robbery Is The True Pioneering WesternThe creator of over 250 films between 1901 and 1908, Edwin S. Porter, made this crisp short film a thrilling ride for its time. With breakneck pacing, innovative cinematography techniques, and enormous potential, The Great Train Robbery became even more iconic because of its final shot consisting of the lead bandit taking aim at the audience, bringing viewers into his world of thrill and danger. In a way, Porter’s creative storytelling laid the framework for structuring the narrative for a Western. Martin Scorsese paid homage nearly 90 years later, ending Goodfellas similarly. Stream on KanopyHell’s Hinges (1916)
Hell's HingesTriangle Film Corporation
Before Clint Eastwood, even before John Wayne, there was William S. Hart. This legend from cinema’s silent age was the first superstar of Westerns, who typically embodied characters who were honorable and morally incorruptible. In the one-hour film Hell’s Hinges, he plays a dangerous gunman named Blaze Tracy, who is commissioned by the local bartender and his accomplices to run out of town a recently-arrived priest and his sister. In turn, he is won by their sincerity and stands in their defense.
Tortured Gunslinger And His Silent RedemptionDirected by Charles Swickard, Hell’s Hinges came into movies just when the Western genre had begun to bloom. With Hart playing the intense anti-hero and bringing his Shakespearean to every scene, it was impossible for the film not to stand out. His conflicted knack for justice fuels every pulse-pounding cinematic shootout. While the drama and suspense were heavy and artistic enough, the complex character study hooked audiences. Hell’s Hinges proved that Westerns could also be a sophisticated form of entertainment. Stream on The Roku ChannelTumbleweeds (1925)
TumbleweedsUnited Artists
Speaking of William S. Hart, the old master continued with this underrated 1925 film, which was also his last. Self-financed, produced by and starring him, Tumbleweeds depicts the Cherokee Strip land rush of 1893. The movie sees his character, Don Carver, lighting up for one last adventure. This time however, he simply wanted to buy some land and settle down with Molly Lassiter, whom he fell in love with at first sight. Marked by warmth and wisdom, the movie celebrated Hart’s indelible impact on turning westerns into vehicles for storytelling.
Tumbleweeds Is An Iconic Cowboy’s Final RideIn 1939, Tumbleweeds was revived by Astor Pictures and enjoyed another theatrical run. The film now began with an eight-minute monologue by William S. Hart in which he reflected on the Old West and his heyday. This was the only time audiences ever heard his voice, which is much more moving when put in the context that Tumbleweeds was his last ever film. By the mid-’20s, however, audiences were no longer interested in Hart’s brand of westerns, for which he was subsequently dropped by Paramount. Despite its critical praise, the film performed mildly at the box office and has been largely forgotten, which is a huge shame. Stream on Fubo TVStagecoach (1939)Despite being director John Ford’s first Western in over a decade, Stagecoach is to this day one of the most important Westerns ever made. It redefined the genre by being more than what it promises. Its profound narrative is really an allegory for the formation of The United States. The plot follows a group of people traveling on a stagecoach as they learn from one another through the journey and its perils. Being locked in a tense and claustrophobic environment really sets the stage for massive character studies. One of John Ford and John Wayne’s most enduring classics provides fantastic insight into social classes, prejudice, and change.
The Timeless Appeal of Ford-Wayne CollaborationStagecoach is a must-watch for any enthusiast of the Western genre because of its ability to keep creeping forward toward a greater sense of understanding. Ford sharpens his genius for layered narratives and riveting action set pieces to comment on a society that is ever-evolving. As for John Wayne, the actor comes into his own alongside veterans like Thomas Mitchell, Claire Trevor, John Carradine, and more. From the landscape to the sparse dialogue, the film is simply an hour-and-a-half-long masterpiece of the genre. Stream on Prime VideoMy Darling Clementine (1946)My Darling Clementine is one of the few times when John Ford and Henry Fonda came together to create an enduring classic. The film, which follows the legendary Western character Wyatt Earp and his brothers, is a beautifully romantic revenge story. Arriving at the town of Tombstone for a night of rest, Earp wakes up and discovers that one of his brothers has died and their cattle are stolen. Despite the urgency of the plot, the Western remains unique in the legendary director’s filmography for its patient pacing and tone. It’s a quiet masterpiece that often gets overlooked compared to the many that Ford has made.Why My Darling Clementine Is A Cultural TouchstoneFew director-actor combos were as successful as John Ford and John Wayne. However, people often forget they had other classics aside from their Westerns, and people often forget, as well, that Ford was just as brilliant in his works as Henry Fonda. In the 1946 film, the director found boundary-pushing heights by unlocking a softer side to the genre. Its subtle and soulful amalgamation of romance, violence, and justice in the untamed West reminds you of the tenderness that lies beneath the rough. Fonda, as usual, imbues his character with both immense grit and vulnerability. Rent on Apple TVThe Searchers (1956)The Searchers find Ford and Wayne at the top of their capacities, creating a morally ambiguous Western whose influence is felt up to this very day. It concerns a Civil War veteran who, for years, searches for his abducted niece while being accompanied by his adopted nephew. For its underlying narratives tackling race relations, prejudice, and moral dilemmas, and its iconic use of the audiovisual language specific to the medium of film marked a before and after in not only Westerns but in cinema itself.
The Frontier’s Edge Has Never Been More GloriousAs long as there have been Academy Awards, there have been major snubs. The 29th edition of the Oscars left out, without a single nomination, one of the most lauded and influential motion pictures in film history. Only later has its impact been recognized, with the American Film Institute naming the film as “greatest American Western.” Like few other films before or since The Searchers radically changed the game by showcasing America’s darkest aspects. From the identity crises to shifting social sands, its bleak interpretation of what’s to come in the future poses more questions and concerns than answers and comfort. Rent on Apple TVOnce Upon a Time in the West (1968)As times and film changed, the 1960s saw an exhaustion of the traditional formula of Westerns. A new way of using the genre came to be through the brilliant mind of Sergio Leone. His reinvention of the genre came to be known as “spaghetti westerns” and was very different from your traditional tales of the Old West. Once Upon a Time in the West follows the story of a mysterious harmonica-playing gunslinger who becomes the only person to protect Jill McBain’s life and newly inherited land from bandits scheming to seize it from her.
Leone’s Slow-Paced Western Is A Blessing To CinemaLeone’s ‘Dollars Trilogy’ with Clint Eastwood began to cement his legacy, and by 1968, he created the definite western of the ’60s. Framed against the epic scope of America’s Western expansion, its surprising plot twists and intricate details make the film high art. Once Upon a Time in the West is an all-star affair featuring Henry Fonda unusually cast as a villain and a magnificent story made with the help of, surprisingly, Dario Argento and Bernardo Bertolucci. With Ennio Morricone’s humble score pulsing through like a heartbeat, the film is an homage to the genre as well as a step forward in it and has some of the best performances in any Western film. Rent on Apple TV
McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971)
Described by director Robert Altman himself as an “anti-western,” McCabe and Mrs. Miller is a profoundly original and modern take on the genre. Witty, funny, romantic, and heartbreaking, the film is part of Altman’s great run in the early ’70s and uses the West as an excuse to talk about America itself. Set in the 19th-century Pacific Northwest, the plot follows a gambler and a prostitute who fall in love and do business together. Their initial success, though, is fatally doomed.How McCabe & Mrs. Miller Subverts Clichés Within The GenreAltman strips all conventions bare here. He recasts the West as an anti-romantic fairy tale and gives us a moldy and muddy picture of the frontier village. The period setting and the epic production value make even its bleakest aspects seem realistic and accurate. Warren Beatty and Julie Christie’s soulful leads are so fascinating that you cannot help but root for them to end up together. That said, the film’s iconic approach, landmark setting of snowy Vancouver, and a deeply depressing score by Leonard Cohen set it apart from any other Western ever made. Rent on Apple TVHeaven’s Gate (1980)Directed by Michael Cimino, Heaven’s Gate tells the story of County Sheriff James Averill, who is tasked with protecting immigrants in 19th-century Wyoming. But as change progresses and political tensions between the two parties rise, he finds himself embroiled in a game of betrayal and violence. Nate Champion, the man appointed by Averill to keep the stockmen in check, commits a crime and ends up in a feud with the Marshalls. The film follows a dispute between poor immigrants, wealthy cattle farmers, and the woman they love.Heaven’s Gate Was Too Ahead Of Its TimeAt its time, Heaven’s Gate was a commercial and critical flop, which is what happens when an epic film soars too close to the sun. Today, it’s seen as one of the most misunderstood films ever, and a masterpiece in its own right. The infamous production, which had numerous setbacks, influenced critics way before the film was in theaters and is said to have helped destroy the auteur approach of New Hollywood that had developed in the ’60s and ’70s. The new director’s cut of the film gave Heaven’s Gate a new place in history, and rightfully so; it proves to be arguably the most imaginative and accomplished western of its decade. Stream on Prime VideoUnforgiven (1992)
Unforgiven (1992)
Unforgiven (1992)
Release Date August 7, 1992Director Clint EastwoodCast Clint Eastwood , Gene Hackman , Morgan Freeman , Richard Harris , Jaimz WoolvettRating RMain Genre Western
Charting off into the ‘90s, we have Unforgiven. The film is directed by Clint Eastwood, who also stars in it. Fun fact: Eastwood had been offered the Unforgiven script since the early ’80s but held onto it for a decade until he felt he was old enough to play the lead. He plays William Munny, a former gunslinger and aging outlaw who gave up on his life of violence and remorseless killing after marriage and turned to fighting instead. He takes one last job to earn money for his family and is soon embroiled in a sadistic showdown.Unforgiven Is The Story Of A Man With A Regrettable PastThe ‘90s were a golden period in Eastwood’s magnificent life when he allowed themes of the Old West to meet their twilight. The result was patient, morally complex, and mature Western films that marked Eastwood’s long relationship with the genre. Along with notable stars like Gene Hackman, Richard Harris, and Morgan Freeman, he crafted an achingly beautiful portrait of the toll violence takes on human life. His poised direction and acting are a poetic declaration of the genre’s influence on him and vice versa. Unforgiven still remains a touchstone of the genre, and the idea of an old retired gunslinger has been the basis for many popular stories, including Logan. Rent on Apple TVNo Country For Old Men (2007)
No Country for Old Men
No Country for Old Men
Release Date November 8, 2007Director Ethan Coen , Joel CoenCast Tommy Lee Jones , Javier Bardem , Josh Brolin , Woody Harrelson , Kelly Macdonald , Garret DillahuntRating RMain Genre Crime
The Coen Brothers have often played around the Western genre, from the sounds of The Big Lebowski to their remake of True Grit in 2010, but their definitive take on the genre is their 20007 film, No Country For Old Men. This Academy Award-winning masterpiece is led by career-defining performances from Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin, and Tommy Lee Jones. The movie is a dark story about the death of the old West and the birth of a much darker new one; it follows the lives of various characters as one of them comes upon a bag full of drug money, a catalyst for the madness that follows.No Country For Old Men Is A Neo-Western That Flows Like PoetryThe film is based on Cormac McCarthy’s novel of the same name, the narrative inhabiting the essence of Western conventions yet steering away from them in a fascinating way. Javier Bardem is malicious as Anton Chugar, playing an ever-changing game with Josh Brolin’s Moss. The movie is set against the backdrop of harsh landscapes, which makes for a complex and haunting mood. For its grim and unforgiving portrayal of modern border life, it surely is one of the most realistic modern Westerns and helped kick off a new-wave of Neo-Westerns for films like Hell or High Water, Logan, and Wind River. Stream on ShowtimeThe Rider (2017)Westerns’ ongoing deconstruction is partly thanks to the diversity of filmmakers tackling it. This has allowed for cinematic joy that is The Rider to exist. This ultra-low-budget project follows Brady Blackburn, a once-promising rodeo star, as he adapts to his life as a horse trainer after his skull gets crushed and he is unable to return to riding. Directed by Chloe Zhao, who would later win an Academy Award for Best Director for Nomadland and get a big studio film with Marvel’s Eternals, the film is a gorgeous journey of acceptance. The Rider presents a very different approach to masculinity than the one traditionally found in Westerns.Why The Rider Is A Tragic And Unconventional MasterpieceOne of the most poignant Westerns to date, The Rider creates a raw and intimate portrait of a man’s identity and his progress as he heals from a jarring life event. The film is led by non-professional actors, with breakout star Brady Jandreau delivering a grounded and graceful performance as the male lead. Sparse in dialogue, rich in experience, and driven by emotion, the movie is a contemporary classic that makes the Western genre more accessible to the new generation. It helped define Zhao as one of the best directors working today and alongside the release of Wind River and Logan that same year, 2017 was a great year for Westerns. Rent on Apple TVKillers of the Flower Moon (2023)
Killers of the Flower Moon
Killers of the Flower Moon
Release Date October 20, 2023Director Martin ScorseseCast Leonardo DiCaprio , Robert De Niro , Lily Gladstone , Jesse Plemons , John Lithgow , Brendan FraserRating RMain Genre Drama
Quietly examining America’s relationship with those people who turned it into the nation it is today, Killers of the Flower Moon is director Martin Scorsese’s latest epic. It adapts David Grann’s non-fiction book and depicts the true story of the Osage Indian murders in 1920s Oklahoma. The Osage people had become rich after oil was discovered beneath their land, but the darkness only cast upon their lives when Ernest Burkhart returned from World War I and married Mollie Kyle, an Osage woman with headlights, to get close to her family’s money.Emotional, Brutal, and MagnificentRobert De Niro, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Lily Gladstone lead a talented ensemble of layered and complex characters. Scorsese channels the same visionary storytelling he’s known for to shed light not only on a forgotten piece of American history and deconstruct the Western genre but also highlight the plight of the Native American people, a community often villanized in early Westerns like The Searchers and Stagecoach. Killers of the Flower Moon paints a horrific portrait of an unsettling time when criminal acts of injustice were shaping the country. From its attention to factual details to the pulsating score, this thought-provoking epic is destined to join the ranks of the most impactful films in the Western genre. Stream on Apple TV

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The “pansy” role that “embarrassed” John Wayne – My Blog

While the likes of True Grit, The Searchers and Rio Bravo saw Wayne deliver his highly masculine take on the acting profession, smoking and fighting his way through scenes early in his career, he also had to take on some projects in order to get his career up off the ground in heading for stardom.Following the box office failure of The Big Trail, Wayne had to star in a number of B-movies throughout the 1930s until he starred in John Ford’s Stagecoach. One such instance came in 1933 with the pre-Code western musical film Riders of Destiny, in which he starred as the second iteration of the singing cowboy Singin’ Sandy Saunders.Ken Maynard had already portrayed Saunders in the 1929 film The Wagon Master, and while Wayne took on the role, it was not one that he would hold close to his heart for the remainder of his life. In fact, Wayne actually felt embarrassed over his performance, particularly because he did not want to be associated with singing characters that he perceived as weak.Writer Michael Munn wrote in John Wayne: The Man Behind the Myth, “He started at Lone Star as Singin’ Sandy Saunders, the singing cowboy, in Riders of Destiny. It was something that would haunt Wayne for the rest of his life as the subject of his singing would often be brought up.”“I was just so fucking embarrassed by it all,” Wayne once said of his performance as the singing cowboy. “Strumming a guitar I couldn’t play and miming to a voice which was provided by a real singer made me feel like a fucking pansy. After that experience, I refused to be Singin’ Sandy again.”It’s clear that Wayne’s singing voice as Singin’ Sandy Saunders in Riders of Destiny was not anything like his actual speaking voice; that’s because it was provided by Bill Bradbury, the son of the film’s director Robert N. Bradbury. Still, the film’s reception led fans of Wayne to ask him to sing, a request that he simply refused each time.Check out the full version of Riders of Destiny below.

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