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John Wayne

Every John Ford & John Wayne Western, Ranked

Director John Ford made some of the most legendary western films in cinematic history, and his frequent collaborator John Wayne often added his cowboy star power to those classics. Highly respected by his contemporaries for his lavish camerawork and on-location shooting style, Ford’s 50-year career in cinema earned him four Best Director Oscars among a slew of other accolades. Similarly, Wayne’s massive movie and TV catalog earned him a reputation as one of the Golden Age of Hollywood’s biggest movie stars, and he won the Best Actor Oscar for his turn in the film True Grit towards the end of his career in 1970.
Starting with 1939’s Stagecoach, the actor-director pair would collaborate for a total of 14 feature films, with nine of them being their signature westerns. Though Wayne attempted to break away from westerns at one point in his career, his cowboy roles were what made him famous, and Ford helped to make him a movie star. Unlike most cookie-cutter westerns of Old Hollywood, the works of Ford usually contained richer themes that not only explored the outer world of the West, but also the inner worlds of the hardened cowboys and cavalrymen that made up the cast of characters.
9Rio Grande (1950)

John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara pose for a promo image for Rio Grande

1950’s Rio Grande was the finale of the “Cavalry Trilogy” and saw Wayne reprise his role as Kirby Yorke who had been promoted to Lt. Colonel in the years since 1948’s Fort Apache. The film followed Yorke as his estranged son (Claude Jarman Jr.) arrived as a soldier in his regiment, and the return of Yorke’s wife (Maureen O’Hara) further complicated matters. Though it was the worst of Ford’s “Cavalry Trilogy”, Rio Grande was nevertheless a serviceable western in its own right. What the film lacked was deeper meaning, and its well-tread plot was devoid of the themes and subtlety of other Ford westerns.
8The Horse Soldiers (1959)

John Wayne stands among his men in The Horse Soldiers

Though a western to its core, 1959’s The Horse Soldiers was set in the American South during the Civil War. The film followed Colonel John Marlowe (Wayne), as he led his Union soldiers during a raid on a raid in Mississippi. Wayne played his usual swaggering hero who kissed the girl at the end, and the movie’s exploration of the psychology of war was left to William Holden’s character, Major Kendall. While it was considered by some to be a great Civil War movie, The Horse Soldiers did grossly oversimplify the historical events represented in the film. While Holden and Wayne were both stars, the former outshone the latter.
73 Godfathers (1948)

Three men look out over the landscape in 3 Godfathers

Ford wasn’t known for his by-the-numbers westerns, but aspects of 3 Godfathers from 1948, didn’t ring true. In the film, a trio of desperadoes (Wayne, Pedro Armendáriz, and Harry Carey Jr.) go on the lam after robbing a bank but gain custody of a newborn baby that they swear to protect. Eschewing action sequences, the film relied on the characters to shine and they did so somewhat. Elements of humor spiced up the story at times, but the cheesy ending smacked of the Hollywood gloss that Ford’s films typically didn’t have. Ultimately, 3 Godfathers‘ references to the biblical story of the Three Wise Men were too conspicuously hammered home.
6How The West Was Won (1962)

John Wayne smokes a cigar in How the West Was Won

A favorite western of filmmakers like John Carpenter, How the West Was Won from 1962 was Ford and Wayne’s last collaboration, and it was also their grandest in terms of scale. The nearly three-hour epic featured six short stories that chronicled the American settlement of the West. Wayne starred in the Civil War portion that was directed by Ford, where he played Union General William Tecumseh Sherman in a small role. More of a cameo than Wayne’s usual starring parts, his turn as the legendary Union General allowed his name to be added to the film’s impressive ensemble cast, but it did little else.
How the West Was Won was a true Hollywood epic, and it was shot on three-lens Cinerama with the intention of it being played on a large curved screen. Though the classic movie theater gimmick didn’t stand the test of time, the film itself was a summation of the western genre and covered everything from cowboy outlaws to ruddy pioneers. Ford and Wayne’s contributions to the film were relatively small, but it still managed to earn a total of eight Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, and won for Best Writing, Best Sound, and Best Editing.
5She Wore A Yellow Ribbon (1949)

John Wayne shouts on horseback from She Wore a Yellow Ribbon

The second film in the “Cavalry Trilogy” saw Wayne in an entirely different role as Cavalry Captain Nathan Brittles. 1949’s She Wore a Yellow Ribbon featured Captain Brittles on the eve of retirement, as he is given a final mission to stop the outbreak of another bloody plains war. Like the previous film in the trilogy, Fort Apache, the movie’s depiction of Native Americans was a notch above the stereotypical portrayals in most classic westerns. The best western movie protagonists were usually all about fighting, but Brittles was unique in that he actively wanted to avoid a war.
Not only did Brittles treat his Indigenous acquaintances with dignity, but he had learned from the horrors of other wars and didn’t wish to repeat them. She Wore a Yellow Ribbon was somewhat more lighthearted than its predecessor, and it allowed Wayne to be more than the gun-toting cowboy that he had been typecast as. Visually, the movie was a stunning representation of the range of Technicolor film, and cinematographer Winton C. Hoch won the Oscar for Best Cinematography, Color, for his stylish and sweeping use of the camera.
4Fort Apache (1948)

John Wayne, Henry Fonda and Shirley Temple in Fort Apache.

Kicking off the “Cavalry Trilogy” with a bang, 1948’s Fort Apache blended the western with the war film in a final product that was surprisingly progressive for a 1940s Hollywood movie. In the film, Captain Kirby York (Wayne) was passed up for command of the titular fort in favor of the arrogant and inexperienced Lt. Colonel Owen Thursday (Henry Fonda) who couldn’t quell tensions with the local Native American tribes. In a brilliant reversal of roles, Fonda was excellent as the infuriatingly strict Lt. Colonel Thursday, and the film’s sympathetic view towards Indigenous people was embodied through Wayne’s portrayal of the somewhat jaded Captain York.
Along with other Hollywood icons like Shirley Temple and John Agar, the cast was robust and star-studded without sacrificing any of the rich themes that subtly ran throughout the story. The clashes between York and Thursday allowed Wayne and Fonda to show why they were chosen as two of the best movie stars by the AFI, and it wasn’t without a fair amount of action either. Though all three films in the “Cavalry Trilogy” were linked by the same themes of anti-war and somewhat progressive attitudes towards Native Americans, Fort Apache excelled at those ideas more so than its successors.
3The Searchers (1956)

John Wayne on horseback in The Searchers

A thread of darkness ran through all of Ford’s westerns, but 1956’s The Searchers was perhaps his most complicated and multilayered film he made with Wayne. The film followed Ethan Edwards (Wayne) who embarked on a years-long quest to recover his niece who had been abducted by Native Americans. Most remembered for its grand scale and breathtaking cinematography, The Searchers was as much about the outward grandeur of the West as it was about the inner struggle within Edwards and his mad quest for revenge. Though Wayne appeared in numerous westerns, no character was as dynamic as his take on Ethan Edwards.
Though modern reassessments of the film have been less forgiving because of its depiction of Indigenous communities as outwardly violent, the film could be seen as more fanciful than factual. Edward’s lengthy quest for revenge mirrored the obsessions of literary figures like Captain Ahab, and there was no doubt that Wayne’s take on the character made him the true villain of the piece. While it was named the greatest American western of all time by the AFI in 2008, The Searchers was certainly Ford’s most flawed masterpiece.
2The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)

James Stewart fires a gun in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

The best Wayne movies allowed “The Duke” to shed his typical cowboy machismo, and his turn in 1962’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance was a nuanced performance. The story was told in flashback as Senator Stoddard (James Stewart) recalled his brush with the outlaw Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin) who terrorized the town of Shinbone years earlier. Ford chose to shoot the movie in black and white as opposed to color, and the monochrome approach shined a spotlight on the acting and stripped away the distractions. The script’s use of flashback was an interesting touch for the western genre, and Stewart’s transition to the Old West was effortless.
Unlike many classic westerns that have lost their luster through modern reassessment, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance only grew in reputation thanks to its clever use of plot devices and its twist ending. Westerns were always somewhat straightforward in their approach to story, but the ending of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valancewas challenging and modern for a film from the early-’60s. Wayne and Stewart received high praise for their performances, and costume designer Edith Head scored an Oscar Nomination for her beautiful work on the film.
1Stagecoach (1939)

Ringo Kid looks out of the stagecoach in Stagecoach

Ford’s first collaboration with Wayne not only made the latter a star, but it launched an artistic partnership that would last for decades. 1939’s Stagecoach followed a group of travelers as they were escorted through the wilderness from Arizona to New Mexico. Truly one of the first westerns to transcend the genre, Stagecoach broke the mold by introducing characters that were more archetypal than literal. Each member of the stagecoach party represented an outcast part of society, and in their mutual struggles for acceptance, they found community in the figurative wasteland.
Wayne’s Ringo Kid was almost a parody of the western movie tropes of the previous decade, but it allowed the young actor to shine with a star-making performance. Not without its modern criticism for its depiction of Native Americans, Stagecoach was very much a product of its time despite being incredibly modern for a 1930s film. The movie was nominated for seven Academy Awards including a Best Director nod for John Ford, and it managed to win two including Best Supporting Actor for Thomas Mitchell. Though he won no awards, John Wayne was the biggest winner in Stagecoach, and Ringo Kid was a role that launched his iconic career.

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John Wayne

John Wayne Once Revealed the Real Reason Why He Didn’t Serve in the Military: ‘I Was America’

Actor John Wayne often defines the Western movie genre. He also stands as an American cultural icon for many folks around the country. However, Wayne didn’t serve in the military, which always haunted him throughout the rest of his life. The actor once revealed the real reason why he didn’t serve and the purpose he truly wanted to fulfill in the war efforts.

John Wayne gave excuses to keep him from serving in the military

Actor John Wayne, who refused to serve in the military, on the set of 'Cast a Giant Shadow' with his leg hanging out the side of a military vehicle.

John Wayne | Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Marc Eliot’s American Titan: Searching for John Wayne explores the ins and outs of the actor’s career, personal life, and his hardships involving military service. Many celebrities, such as Jimmy Stewart, still served in the military in one way or another. However, the initial story was that Wayne couldn’t serve in the military, but begged to do so.

Eliot explained that this story was a complete fabrication. The actor’s local board called him, but he claimed to be exempt on the grounds that he’s the sole supporter of his family. However, he failed to mention that he was going through a divorce. Additionally, Wayne excused himself from military service because of an old soldier injury. He was ultimately granted an exemption “for family dependency reasons.”

Wayne supposedly wanted to join the OSS (Office of Strategic Services), which would later become the CIA. They sent him a letter urging him to sign up, but he claimed that his wife, Josephine, hid it from him.

John Wayne revealed that he wanted to serve another purpose in the military than serving in it

American Titan: Searching for John Wayne pointed to how Wayne changed his story about why he didn’t serve in the military. The actor got much more personal with Dan Ford, John Ford’s grandson. Wayne didn’t think a traditional military position would work for him but believed that he could add value to the war efforts in other ways.

“I didn’t feel I could go in as a private, I felt I could do more good going around on tours and things,” Wayne said. “I was America [to the young guys] in the front lines … they had taken their sweethearts to that Saturday matinee and held hands over a Wayne Western. So I wore a big hat and I thought it was better.”

Wayne certainly made his passion for America and the military very clear. However, even his mentor, Ford, continually picked on him for not serving in the military. Meanwhile, Ford praised Stewart for serving America, which certainly got under Wayne’s skin. It was all in favor of getting a better performance out of the actor.

The actor always regretted his decision to not serve his country

Eliot’s book explained how much of an impact having no military service had on Wayne. His third wife, Pilar, said that his decision not to serve in the military was the real reason why he became a “super-patriot for the rest of his life trying to atone for staying at home.”

Regardless of the various reasons Wayne gave for not serving in the military, he certainly didn’t like to discuss it. However, he certainly uplifted those who did serve in the military. Wayne once defended a veteran when a group of USC students against the Vietnam War harassed the young man.

Wayne also displayed where his heart was for the military in some of his motion pictures, including The Green Berets. Critics ripped the movie apart, but it was a major success at the box office.

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John Wayne

John Wayne’s Weird Voice Cameo in ‘Star Wars’ Sounds Nothing Like Him

John Wayne spent much of his Hollywood career playing tough-as-nails characters. Many of The Duke’s portrayals came in westerns and war movies; sci fi movies like Star Wars weren’t part of his repertoire. Wayne’s grandson, Brendan Wayne, has a role in the Star Wars universe with his work in The Mandalorian. It turns out he’s following in his grandfather’s footsteps. Wayne’s weird voice cameo in A New Hope means he was the first Wayne to travel to a galaxy far, far away.

Several John Wayne movies have perfect Rotten Tomatoes scores

Wayne earned three Academy Awards nominations in his career. He picked up a win for best actor in 1970 for playing Rooster Cogburn in True Grit.

Yet neither The Alamo, which he directed and starred in, nor True Grit earned favorable ratings on Rotten Tomatoes. Twelve Wayne movies earned 100% scores on the Tomatometer, but Sands of Iwo Jima was the only one for which he also earned an Oscar nomination.

Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope scored better than 90% with critics and fans on Rotten Tomatoes. He doesn’t show up in the credits, but Wayne has a voice cameo thanks to a sound designer who held on to audio snippets he no longer needed.

Wayne has a voice cameo in the first ‘Star Wars’ movie as Garindan — sort of

He doesn’t appear on screen, and we don’t hear his signature drawl, but John Wayne shows up in A New Hope. The Duke voices a crucial character and it was a complete accident, according to sound designer Ben Burtt.

Burtt once revealed how Wayne’s voice cameo in Star Wars happened (h/t to SlashFilm):

“I always wanted to do an insect man – we didn’t really have an insect man come along until Poggle the Lesser [from Episodes II and III]. We had that character that looked kind of like a mosquito from the first Star Wars [Garindan] that we found we needed a sound for. 

“[I] was wondering back a few months ago how I did it – because I keep notes and tapes – and I discovered it was an electronic buzzing which had come off of my synthesizer that was triggered by a human voice. And I listened to it and realized it was John Wayne – I had found some loop lines in the trash from the studio that had been thrown away. So the buzzing was triggered by some dialog like ‘All right, what are you doin’ in this town’ or something like that.”‘Star Wars’ sound designer Ben Burtt

Wayne’s voice cameo in Star Wars— looped and filtered through synths — shows up in Star Wars. He just doesn’t commandeer a stagecoach or call anyone pilgrim.

Stunt performer Sadie Eden played Garindan on screen, according to IMDb. Garindan is the character that alerts stormtroopers about Luke, Ben, C-3PO, and R2-D2 in Mos Eisley. The stormtroopers then attack the Millennium Falcon before it blasts off to Alderaan.

Like his grandfather, Brendan Wayne is part of the Star Wars universe. Unlike his grandad, this Wayne isn’t limited to weird voice cameos.

Pedro Pascal voices Din Djarin in The Mandalorian, but the younger Wayne is the person in the suit battling the mudhorn and tangling with a krayt dragon. He plays a key role on the show, and he channeled his grandfather to deliver the physical mannerisms.

At one point, Brendan Wayne resembled his grandfather too closely. During one headstrong moment, co-star Carl Weathers had to stop the scene when he started laughing at Wayne acting out the scene just like his grandfather.

John Wayne’s voice cameo in Star Wars was modified and filtered through synths. Meanwhile, grandson Brendan Wayne keeps the tradition going with his role in The Mandalorian.

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John Wayne

John Wayne Movies: The Duke Got Trademark Look From Director John Ford

John Wayne was unmistakable in movies. His career lasted six decades because of his indelible presence on camera. One of his trademark attributes could be credited to his frequent director, John Ford. Ford directed Wayne in 14 movies and had a relationship with him via the studios even when he wasn’t directing. It was Ford who gave Wayne his key look on film.

Paramount Home Entertainment released the Wayne/Ford classic The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance on 4K UHD on May 17. In some of the bonus features, Ford’s grandson Dan and film critic Molly Haskell discuss what Wayne brought to movies, and how Ford inspired him.

John Ford told John Wayne to create ‘an intense look’ for movies

In a John Wayne movie, the audience knew that when Wayne’s character looked intensely at the villain, he meant business. As a director, Ford knew the importance of an intense look. Cinema is a visual medium, after all. 

“My grandfather always told Duke Wayne, he says ‘When you need to convey something you need to just, give ‘em an intense look. Give ‘em an intensity. Let the audience read into that look,’” Dan Ford said. “John Wayne was a fabulous nonverbal communicator. John Wayne was a much better actor than people give him credit for.”

Critics underestimated John Wayne movies

Haskell said that critics underestimated Wayne throughout his career. Wayne became such a staple in westerns and war movies that critics assumed he was playing himself. Of course, Wayne was not actually a sheriff or veteran, though he did have his own ranch. Haskell gave Wayne credit where it’s due. 

“The idea of acting so often has been disguising yourself, playing characters who are completely alien from what is perceived as your basic personality,” Haskell said. “So an actor who seems to just be playing himself or playing a role that is close to what he is is not seen as acting at all.”

The critical tide has turned 

Haskell was happy to see critics raise their esteem for Wayne to match that of his fans. Near the end of Wayne’s career in the ‘70s, and after his death, critics could be dismissive of that singular look that Ford taught him.

“John Wayne’s one of the great movie actors of all time,” Haskell said. “In the ‘70s and ‘80s this was not a popular point of view. He was a national icon but among critics and the eastern liberal establishment he was not a favorite, partly because of his politics but mostly because he acted in westerns and westerns themselves were not taken seriously.”

As the dominant genre of Wayne’s work, westerns themselves have risen in esteem too. Especially the westerns Ford directed, with or without Wayne, now get their due. His grandson was happy to see that. 

“He had a tender, sentimental side that certainly shows in his work,” Dan Ford said. 

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