Clint Eastwood : He had a signature acting style that made his walk and cadence instantly recognizable across primarily Western and war films
Clint Eastwood and John Wayne represent entirely different versions of Western filmmaking. However, they’re both equally legendary in their impact on the genre and beyond. However, some audiences always approached their filmographies and personal beliefs with hesitation because of their conservative values. Nevertheless, Eastwood once explained why this had a part to play in one of Wayne’s greatest performances of his career.
Wayne and Eastwood came from different periods of Hollywood history. Wayne revolutionalized “fighting dirty” on the silver screen, but he upheld his ideas of morals and ethics across his entire filmography. He never believed in compromising on this, going as far as to demand reshoots for The Shootist to remove a scene where he shoots another character in the back.
Meanwhile, Eastwood brought a much more violent image of Western filmmaking to the silver screen. Wayne didn’t like filmmaking that he deemed inappropriate, which is exactly how he felt about the fellow Western movie star. He wrote Eastwood an angry letter to express his distaste for High Plains Drifter, explaining that it didn’t truly represent those who pioneered the West.
According to an interview with Film Comment, Eastwood expanded on some of his thoughts regarding Wayne’s monumental career. He had a signature acting style that made his walk and cadence instantly recognizable across primarily Western and war films. Out of all his performances, Eastwood thought one of John Wayne’s best performances was in The Searchers.
The 1956 John Ford classic tells the story of an American Civil War veteran named Ethan Edwards (Wayne) heading home after the conclusion of the war. He discovers that a group of Comanches killed and abducted members of his brother’s family, so he sets out to save those who are still alive.
Film Comment recalled the scene where Ethan refuses to speak of what he saw after witnessing the lifeless body of the older sister. Eastwood thought Wayne brought this scene and the overall character to life to perfection.
“That’s one of his brilliant performances and brave because he wasn’t afraid to play the flat-out racism,” Eastwood said. “And when you look at his eyes at that moment you know it wasn’t something good that he saw. And you’d almost resent it if he started explaining it.”
Eastwood isn’t alone in his praise of Wayne in The Searchers. The film regularly ranks as one of the greatest films ever made, according to the British Film Institute’s Sight & Sound list. Roger Ebert gave The Searchers a perfect score, but he did point out the racism aimed toward Native Americans that Eastwood mentioned. However, Ebert added that “it took a certain amount of courage to cast Wayne as a character whose heroism was tainted.”
There’s no doubt that The Searchers places heavy emphasis on its racism, as it’s an inherent part of Ethan’s journey. Nevertheless, it’s one of Wayne and Ford’s most substantial collaborations.