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Bookends ; Comparing John wayne’s First and Last Westerns – My Blog

In The Big Trail, we got the first glimpse of a future icon. The Shootist found him teeming with wisdom and experience.

The Big Trail (1930)

John Wayne, Tyrone Power, and Ian Keith in 1930’s The Big Trail, directed by Raoul Walsh.
“Hiya, Zeke!” That’s his first line. And with its delivery one can see that he’s got … it. It is the word we sometimes use when attempting to describe that indefinable quality of great leading men. For this young man, it is a simple charm that emerges from the lack of any need to charm. It is the ability to truly engage with the performers around him rather than to indicate a vague idea of engagement. And through that young man’s clear-eyed understanding of a job done honestly, we find ourselves witnessing the birth of an American identity that bleeds across our screen like celluloid caught aflame.

It was 1930 when a 22-year-old Marion Mitchell Morrison was stolen off the properties crew of a John Ford film and screen tested for a Raoul Walsh project. Subsequently, he would be renamed “John Wayne” by the Fox Film Corporation’s publicity arm and handed $75 a week to take on the leading role in one of the riskier investments in Hollywood history. It is often reported that The Big Trail represents one of Hollywood’s earliest attempts to convert the movie experience into a widescreen format, ultimately flopping because the financial constraints of the Great Depression had left movie houses unable to convert to the newer technology. While the first part is true, the actual record is a bit more complex.
There are, in fact, two English language versions of this wagon-train epic (a plethora of foreign language versions were also shot in subsequent takes with different actors). Studio founder William Fox was known to occasionally take a risk, but he was not a blind gambler. Likely fearing the economic unrest of the time, Fox had Walsh shoot his film both in the traditional 35 mm format and in the newer 70 mm. Most scenes were filmed by two crews simultaneously, while others had to be repeated with more mise en scène for the expansive 70 mm “grandeur” frame. With almost 200 wagons, hundreds of oxen, cattle, horses, and extras, The Big Trail was early cinéma vérité in its depiction of a westward trek into untamed wilderness, made by a dogged crew slogging across locations that spanned seven states.

While Fox successfully hedged his bets (only two theaters in the nation were capable of screening the widescreen version when it was finally released), he found himself trying to market a film for which the predominant inspiration had been a new technology with a broad vista, a theatrical promise that was not possible to fulfill. The movie bombed spectacularly.
As was so often the case in Tinseltown, the sins of the father were visited upon the son, and Wayne found himself banished to the lesser sets of “B” westerns for a protracted sentence.
It would not be until 1939, when his old mentor and friend John Ford had generated enough power within his own productions, that Wayne would be given another big shot, this time as the iconic Ringo Kid in Stagecoach. This second entrance is brilliantly portrayed in the foreward of Scott Eyman’s carefully researched John Wayne: The Life and Legend (Simon & Schuster, 2014).
But The Big Trail remains a revelation, clairvoyant in its discovery of the genre’s greatest leading man and in its vision of what the film event would eventually become. Just take it from me: Make sure you watch the 70 mm version. There really is no comparison.
Ron Howard and John Wayne in 1976’s The Shootist, Wayne’s final western.
The Shootist (1976)
It’s a bit like that jolt you get when confronted with a photograph of your father in his younger years. Now take that dog-eared sepia of a young man squinting into the sunlight with his whole life ahead of him and place it next to the color Polaroid taken at his retirement party, that of a thicker man whose smile, while maybe not as broad, is supported by the assuredness of a life well spent. This is something akin to the experience of watching John Wayne’s first and last westerns back-to-back.
Of course, The Shootist is not often regarded as one of Wayne’s best. A multitude of factors play into this unfortunate exeunt for America’s leading man, the chief of them being the war of backstage egos that might have shamed even the greatest production of Julius Caesar, the principal senators here being Wayne and director Doug Siegel. Apparently, Siegel had never learned that the last person you want to tangle with on a set is an actor with power.
The script itself is a rather flat adaptation of the novel by Glendon Swarthout, an entirely passable but ultimately uninspiring western that was soured from too many fingers in the soup. Apparently, the screenwriters had never learned that the last person you want to collaborate with on a story is an actor with power.
But, according to Eyman, things were likely exacerbated by Wayne’s health, which was not at its best. It has been reported and rumored that Wayne’s portrayal of J.B. Books, a legendary gunslinger dying of cancer, was strangely poetic given that Wayne himself was battling cancer at the time. Others treat this claim as apocryphal, as Wayne had battled lung cancer a decade prior and lived. Again, the truth is always more complex.
While it is true that Wayne had a cancerous lung successfully removed in 1965, more than a decade later he would develop another malignancy, this one in his stomach, which would eventually take his life.  By the time he was cast in The Shootist, the first cancer had gone into remission, but the parallels to a dying legend would not have been lost on any man who’d stared down the reaper and could still see him out there waiting in the plains. 
Perhaps it was the knowledge of just such an inevitability that led to the Duke’s final performance being a perfect study of calm acceptance. A lesser actor, or a less experienced man, might have botched the role by layering it with angst and desperation. Instead, we are gifted with an almost whimsical acceptance of hard truths and a sweet farewell to the world he now realizes he never knew: a world in which humanity springs eternal like a tree splitting limestone.
Marion Mitchell Morrison, also known to the world as John Wayne, was laid to rest on June 15, 1979, at sunrise. Above him was set a tombstone that would remain unmarked for 20 years. When it was finally given an epitaph, it would be in Duke’s own words:
Tomorrow is the most important thing in life. Comes to us at midnight very clean. It’s perfect when it arrives and puts itself in our hands. It hopes we’ve learned something from yesterday.
Philosophical yet optimistic, it is a decent epitaph, though its purpose remains vague. It is perhaps the kind of phrase one might use as a kind of forked twig when trying to divine the extremely complex life and personality that was John Wayne. But this choice of epitaph is also ironic (and, to me, a bit sad) in that it was done in direct contradiction to a clearly stated wish that his future epitaph be nothing more than the following Mexican phrase: “Feo, Fuerte y Formal.” Translated it would have read:
John Wayne: Ugly, Strong and Dignified

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Restoration of John Wayne’s ‘The Searchers’ to Premiere at 2024 TCM Classic Film Festival – My Blog

John Wayne’s 1956 Western “The Searchers” will debut a new restoration as part of the 2024 TCM Classic Film Festival in April.This marks the second Wayne film to receive a premiere of a restored print at the yearly event that takes place on Hollywood Boulevard. Last year’s opening night feature was a 4K restoration of Wayne’s 1959 film “Rio Bravo.”This year’s festival theme is “Most Wanted: Crime and Justice in Film.” Alongside “The Searchers,” TCM announced that Frank Capra’s 1934 film “It Happened One Night,” Elia Kazan’s “On the Waterfront” and the 1974 musical documentary “That’s Entertainment!” will also screen as part of the four-day festival in April.It’s unknown if “The Searchers” will be the film’s opening night movie, though considering “Rio Bravo” was also a restoration last year it would make sense that Warner Bros. would continue to debut new 4K prints of their films as part of the event’s opening night.This year’s TCM Classic Film Festival marks the return of the event after the classic film network underwent significant changes behind the scenes this year. In June, TCM’s senior vice president of programming and content strategy Charles Tabesh, vice president of studio production Anne Wilson, vice president of marketing and creative Dexter Fedor and TCM Enterprises vice president Genevieve McGillicuddy were all laid off, alongside TCM’s general manager Pola Chagnon leaving the company after 25 years.From there, stories started to tumble out that the network was in the crosshairs of a series of cost-cutting measures implemented by Warner Bros. Discovery. In the wake of widespread outcry from fans, both Tabesh and McGuillicuddy were offered their positions back. It was also announced soon after that Warner Bros. Pictures heads Pamela Abdy and Michael De Luca would be overseeing the network, with input from world-class directors including Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg.The TCM Classic Film Festival enters its 15th year in 2024 and will also take place during the network’s 30th anniversary.The TCM Classic Film Festival will take place in Hollywood April 18-21.

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John Wayne’s spanking of co-star ‘so authentic she had bruises for a week’ – My Blog

Back in 1963, John Wayne starred in a Western comedy loosely based on William Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew.Duke played an ageing rancher called George Washington McLintock, a wealthy self-made man facing a number of issues.High-ranking government officials, his own sons and local Native Americans all want a piece of his huge farmstead.Meanwhile, his wife (played by regular collaborator Maureen O’Hara) who separated from him two years prior, is back on the scene demanding custody of their daughter.McLintock! celebrates its 60th anniversary this week, as celebrated by the John Wayne estate on Instagram.A recent post read: “Did you know? Although often seen as simply a knockabout comedy, John Wayne also intended the film to be a statement on his disapproval of the negative representation of Native Americans in previous westerns he had no creative-control over, and his disapproval of wife-beating and marital abuse from either spouse.”A film of its time, McLintock famously has a scene, as captured on its poster, of Wayne’s George publicly spanking his wife played by O’Hara.According to his co-star’s autobiography, this scene was “completely authentic” with Duke carrying it out with “such gusto”, that she “had bruises for a week.”

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Martin Scorsese’s Favorite John Wayne Western – My Blog


 Martin Scorsese considers John Wayne’s The Searchers to be the best Western ever made, describing it as a masterpiece with a deeply painful core. The Searchers has had a significant influence on Scorsese’s movies, inspiring scenes and characters in films like Taxi Driver and Mean Streets. The Searchers is also a favorite among the “movie brats,” a group of influential directors including Spielberg and Lucas, who cited it as a major influence.

Martin Scorsese’s favorite Western starring John Wayne has had a big influence on his career. Scorsese hasn’t made his passion for cinema or filmmaking a secret, and he is essentially a living archive of the medium’s history. He loves everything from the trashiest B-movie to the most highbrow drama, which is something that’s reflected in Martin Scorsese’s own movies. He has helmed everything from gangster epics to psychological horrors to biopics and everything in between.
One genre he hasn’t really dipped a toe into is a Western, which is likely down to the decline of the genre itself than Scorsese avoiding the genre. About the closest he’s come is his 2023 epic Killers of the Flower Moon, though far from being a black-and-white adventure about cowboys righting wrongs, it’s a devastating true-life drama. Scorsese has professed his admiration for a few classic Westerns (via Far Out) such as Ride the High Country or Marlon Brando’s sole directorial outing One-Eyed Jacks, but there’s one that holds a truly special place in his heart.Scorsese Believes John Wayne’s The Searchers Is The Best Western Ever Made
In 2013, Scorsese guest-reviewed a book about John Wayne Western The Searchers for THR, where he proclaimed it a masterpiece but that “Like all great works of art, it’s uncomfortable. The core of the movie is deeply painful.” The premise of the movie sees Wayne’s Civil War vet Ethan Edwards and his nephew Martin (Jeffrey Hunter) setting out to rescue his kidnapped niece. It might sound like the setup for a classic Western adventure, but John Ford’s The Searchers deals with some dark themes, with Wayne portraying the most ruthless character of his career as the deeply prejudiced and revenge-addicted Ethan.
Scorsese has often called The Searchers one of his favorite Westerns, in addition to being one of the greatest movies of all time, period. From the gorgeous cinematography, the evergreen themes and Wayne’s haunting central turn, it’s a film the director finds himself coming back to decades after he first watched it. The Searcher’s ending has been much discussed among film scholars too, with Scorsese himself feeling the shot of Ethan turning and leaving through the door turns it into a “ghost story;” the character has fulfilled his purpose but is now doomed to wander the deserts alone, like a spirit.The Searchers Inspired Scorsese’s Own Movies
Travis Bickle at the movies in Taxi Driver
The film made a major impression on Scorsese when he saw it as a boy, and its influence can be spotted in his own work. His debut Who’s That Knocking at My Door features a scene where protagonist J.R. (Harvey Keitel) talks about both John Wayne and The Searchers in great detail, while the Ford movie appears again in Scorsese’s crime drama Mean Streets from 1973. The Searchers was a direct influence on Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, with the journey of Robert De Niro’s Travis being a mirror of Ethan’s. He’s another loner filled with anger and hatred, looking to rescue a young girl in Jodie Foster’s Iris.The movie ends with Travis rescuing Iris in the bloodiest manner possible, and like Ethan, the movie leaves him on an ambiguous note. The influence of The Searchers can also be felt in the director’s attraction to anti-heroes and flawed protagonists, who may see themselves as fundamentally good men or heroic, despite the appalling acts of violence they commit or the selfishness they display.The Searchers Is A Favorite Of The “Movie Brats”
Steven Spielberg leaning against a camera with George Lucas standing beside him on the cover of Indiana Jones bonus material DVD
The Searchers was well-received upon its initial release, but it soon came to be recognized as an American classic. The late ’60s and ’70s saw the rise of the so-called “movie brats,” who were a group of talented young directors who were also nerds for the medium. Members of this group include Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas, John Milius, Paul Schrader and many more. What’s notable about this group is how many of them cited The Searchers as a favorite.
Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan also cited The Searchers as a major influence on Breaking Bad’s finale.
According to The Telegraph, Spielberg claims he rewatches The Searchers before starting work on a new movie, while Milius and Schrader – who penned Taxi Driver – have also sung its praises. The movie was a huge influence on Lucas’ Star Wars, which can be found in its basic promise – a young man and older mentor set out to rescue a young woman – its desert vistas and the sequence where Luke (Mark Hamill) discovers his burnt-out family homestead. Star Wars was a mash-up of many influences from samurai epics to movie serials, but Westerns like The Searchers played a particularly large role in the movie.
Source: Far Out, THR, The Telegraph
the searchers poster
The SearchersRelease Date:1956-03-13Director:John FordCast:John WayneRating:pg-13Runtime:119minutesGenres:Western, DramaWriters:John FordBudget:$3.75millionStudio(s):Warner Bros. PicturesDistributor(s):Warner Bros. Pictures

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