What is John Wayne’s greatest peformance? – Old western – My Blog
For me, my favorite John Wayne performances are actually in two films.These are not John’s typical heroes. I think I liked him in these two roles because he played characters who were morally ambiguous. They were made up of a mixture of both good and bad qualities. They also had to make very difficult decisions that sometimes went against their nature. Furthermore, they do the right thing at times but just barely. I think John went outside his comfort zone to play these characters. He did an amazing job.The Man Who shot Liberty Valance. John plays a full-of-himself, sarcastic, somewhat of a narcissist and a bit of a showoff. He thought he could have anything he wanted and take it anytime he wanted. He ended up alone and losing everything he ever wanted. He ultimately did the right thing when the chips were down but due to his hubris, and ego he lost both girl and home and ended up a broken, lonely man.Due to the size of the man, the sarcastic belly laugh, occasionally picking on less physically experienced people (paint can scene), and his selfishness, this character is much more interesting and a bit more ambiguous in nature than many of John’s other characters. There are times in the film where he comes off as obnoxious.The scene where he douses his student in paint and mocks him is exactly the type of thing that the sadistic, villain Liberty would have done.He does do the right thing in one key instance of the film, but sadly pays for it the rest of his life, probably because he was so hard-headed and a wise guy a good part of the time.Only John Wayne could have pulled this off. It required a big, intimidating man who the audience could still have empathy for in spite of him having more than a few obnoxious qualities.The other film is The Searches. Johns plays Ethan Edwards, a type of Ahab character on a quest for his kidnapped niece and for revenge. The vengeance is for the slaughter and kidnapping of his relatives by American Indians.This time he is full of rage and prejudice. He fought in the civil war on the side of the Confederacy. His side lost of course, and you can be sure that he didn’t like that very much. He has some unexplained gold coins. Possibly ill-gotten gains?His biggest flaw is that he is a hard-headed bigot, with a mean streak.When he happens upon a dead Native American, he mutilates the body by shooting the eyes out, so it will stumble around the happy hunting ground in the afterlife. He scalps an Indian. He flies into a rage and tries to murder his niece when he learns that she married a Comanche. He is stopped by another character and an arrow just before he can kill her. Otherwise, she would be dead.Ultimately, he does do the right thing in a key moment in the film, but the last scene of the film shows a happy family entering a house. All but Ethan, who will not enter through the door.Ethan can last be seen walking off toward the frontier alone and lonely while the door closes on his back. Possibly meaning that this man is an outsider and by nature and cannot coincide with simple “normal” people.Maybe Ethan is a certain specific type of unacceptable, hard, heroic man. The type that a family or a nation doesn’t hesitate to use but never acknowledges or allows that man to take part in it.John plays this role in The Searchers very believably, and I don’t think there was another actor who could have handled this role at the time. John appears to be appropriately slightly overweight, massive in size, overpowering, intimidating, and explosive. He gives you the sense that his character is unpredictable and is capable of almost anything. He is rude, and sometimes he rages and gets out of control. He wears a black hat too. Not the normal John Wayne attire, which adds to the ambiguous nature of his character. On the positive side, his character shows himself to be a forceful, take-charge leader. This is probably the closest that John ever came to playing a bad guy. You can see how he could have pulled it off easily had he chosen to do so in another film.John Wayne as Tom Doniphon with actor Woody StrodeJohn Wayne with Jeffery Hunter“That’s my steak”Tom Doniphon finally stands up to Liberty, but ONLY when Toms’s dinner is at stake.This scene shows that Tom’s principles extend only to HIM and HIS property, and he is not a simple white-washed good guy. This scene is important to showing the ambiguous attitude of this character. Later in the film, he steps outside of his “me first principles.” When he does, he is “cheating” and arguably committing murder. This act will dash all his future hopes and plans.