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John Wayne

The Train Robbers Was A Canary In The Coal Mine For The Death Of John Wayne Westerns

The 20-year-long persistence of the superhero genre in contemporary blockbuster cinema has cause many pundits to draw a genre parallel between comic book movies and Westerns. In 2015, the Guardian published an essay comparing the two cinematic trends, largely as a predictor as to when the superhero film would finally cease its continued ascendency. That same year, Steven Spielberg compared the genres, once again using the moribund Western as an indicator of the ephemerality of any genre. Seven years since then, superhero movies have churned out several enormous hits, including several of the biggest box office bonanzas of all time. In 2022, however, the entertainment landscape has changed a lot, companies are merging into weird, gross entities, and high-profile superhero projects now stand the chance of being canceled. Pundits have been predicting it for years, but superhero movies may finally be on the downhill slope. Only time will tell.
“The Train Robbers,” a Burt Kennedy film from 1973, is from a time when the Western genre, at least as a dominant form in the pop consciousness, was most assuredly on the outs. “The Train Robbers” starred a 69-year-old John Wayne as an aging rogue who volunteers to retrieve a store of gold once stolen from a train by Ann-Margret’s late husband. In terms of structure, the film was classic Hollywood — coming right when audiences were souring to classic Hollywood. “The Train Robbers” came the year after “The Godfather,” and grittier, more “film school” movies were on the rise.
The makers of “The Train Robbers” knew that classic Westerns were already a retro genre when they were making it, and, according to Scott Eyman’s 2015 book “John Wayne: The Life and Legend,” they tried to outrun their fate by underspending. Needless to say, the big budget didn’t help.
The $200,000 payday

Warner Bros.The $4.6 million budget of “The Train Robbers” translates to about $30 million in 2022 dollars. It was, essentially, a mid-budget movie. Wayne’s star had fallen, and his salary was only guaranteed to be $200,000 — about $1.3 million, adjusted. Wayne was also set to get a percentage of the gross. This relatively low payout was a declarative statement. Warner Bros. had little faith in the picture and in the star.
“The Bank Robbers” was photographed by veteran cinematographer William H. Clothier, an old friend of Wayne’s whom he met on the set of 1955’s “The Sea Chase.” After that film, Clothier would sign onto John Wayne’s own production company, Batjac Productions, and he and Wayne would end up making a total of 22 films together. “The Bank Robbers” came right after Clothier had turned 70, and when Wayne was about to turn 70. Clothier, it seems, was very ready to retire. In Eyman’s book, Clothier had said that he enjoyed his work, but was simply too tired to keep doing the same thing all the time. Clothier’s attitudes seems to belie the overall fatigue that “The Bank Robbers” instilled in everyone. He said:
“I like turkey, I have it at Thanksgiving and New Year’s but I don’t want it seven days a week. If I’m working on a picture at Batjac, I’m picked up at six in the morning to go on location. Duke and I are either the first or second ones on the set. We work until the sun goes down, then I have to go into town to see the rushes. Hell, it’s strenuous to get up at 6 a.m. if all you do all day is sit in a rocking chair!”The Duke wasn’t having fun
Warner Bros.But more harmful to “The Train Robbers” than Clothier’s fatigue was Wayne’s. Clothier recalls that Wayne hadn’t been happy making movies for a number of years. Wayne had a lung removed due to cancer in 1964 and had a reputation for being a heavy drinker. He wasn’t in a spot to have a lot of fun getting up in the morning to shoot out in the desert. Clothier and Wayne were very close — they were able to make shockingly dirty jokes with one another — and Clothier could see that Wayne wasn’t having a blast.
“The Train Robbers” had great production value, but it was, in Eyman’s words, a “programmer.” That is: the film was only meant to fill out the Warner Bros. film slate. There was no ambition or originality to the project. It wasn’t an important piece of art with something to say. It was just a genre going through the motions. “The Train Robbers” was produced by Wayne’s son Michael, and even he knew that the film was automated and even a little cynical. Michael Wayne admitted that he attempted to get something meaningful together, and tried to make it look slick and entertaining, but when the story is dull, no amount of slickness will cover it up. Wayne said:
“I worked very hard on ‘The Train Robbers’ to try to make it into something, when basically the story wasn’t that good. I was trying to make up for the story in production values and cast.”The times, they are a-changin’.
Paramount“The Train Robbers” came out to warm critical acclaim and complete audience indifference. It cost just enough to make and distribute that it was all but guaranteed to lose money for Warner Bros. … which it did. According to Eyman’s book, “The Train Robbers” put the studio in the red to the tune of $7.6 million. The film was made with a dull story, starring an uncommitted star, shot by a photographer on the cusp of retirement, and produced by the star’s son … who also had little faith in the project. It was pretty clear that Westerns were done.
The film’s writer/director, Burt Kennedy, even went so far as to write a note of apology to Michael Wayne. The note read “Really feel rotten about ‘Train Robbers’ falling on its ass. Guess it just wasn’t any good.”
Had “The Train Robbers” been good, who is to say what would have happened. But it’s also safe to say that the movie landscape had evolved past the need for old-world oaters like the ones Wayne was making. By the mid 1960s, Westerns had taken a turn for the arty in the hands of filmmakers like Sergio Leone, and what constituted a hit had changed drastically. In 1972, “The Godfather” had caused an enormous splash with a box office of $86 million. The same year as “The Train Robbers,” “The Exorcist” made $82 million. This was a new generation of filmmakers appealing to a new generation of filmgoers. Westerns had no place.
Should a mid-budget MCU-connected film ever come out that seems to elicit audience indifference and apologies from the filmmakers, we might know for sure that superhero films are done, or will be soon.
Cough, “Morbius,” cough cough.

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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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