Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The Duke Turns 100

The image of John Wayne that I always take with me. The Duke, sitting tall in the saddle.

"Courage is being scared to death but saddling up anyway."

"Talk low, talk slow, and don't say too much."

"I won't be wronged, I won't be insulted, I won't be laid a hand on. I don't do these things to other people and I expect the same from them."
John Wayne

Oh, I could write for days about my favorite movie star. Instead, I thought I'd let my favorite John Wayne movies talk for me. I'm only listing 10. I have more...25 or so...but these 10 will do the job nicely.

#1 El Dorado. Classic good guys vs the bad guys. You already know who's gonna win, but who cares. It's not the Duke's best, but it's my favorite. A good story, with a great cast: Robert Mitchum, Arthur Hunnicutt, Edward Asner, Christopher George, James Caan, and Michelle Carey. A great movie for a lazy Sunday afternoon or late night.

#2 The Quiet Man. The Duke's best non-western. His performance should have gotten him the Oscar but it didn't. Shot mostly on location, the scenery takes my breath away and makes me wish I was Irish. Again, another great story, a great director in John Ford, and a great supporting cast: Maureen O'Hara, Barry Fitzgerald, Victor McLaglen, Mildred Natwick, Ward Bond, Arthur Shields, Francis Ford...and are you ready for this...Ken Curtis, Festus, from Gunsmoke, playing an accordian and singing. This movie has it all, including the best fight scene on film, and the prettiest leading lady ever...Maureen O'Hara.

#3 Rio Grande. One of the Duke's best! Another John Ford movie, shot on location in Monument Valley. As the story goes, Ford wanted to make 'The Quiet Man' and no studio would touch it. John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara had a handshake deal with Ford to make The Quiet Man if it ever came about. Finally, RKO Pictures stepped in and said they'd make Ford's Irish tale if he'd agree to do a western for the studio first. RKO figured The Quiet Man would lose money, but the loss would be offset by what they would make from Ford's western. Ford went and got Wayne, O'Hara, McLaglen...who would later star in The Quiet Man, along with Chill Wills, Ben Johnson and Harry Carey Jr. And the result is Rio Grande, a classic western.

I'd like to pause a moment to pay tribute to the Duke's favorite leading lady, Maureen O'Hara. They made five pictures together: Rio Grande, in 1950; The Quiet Man, in 1952; The Wings of Eagles, in 1957, McLintock, in 1963; and Big Jake, in 1971. A combination of timeless beauty, toughness, and a will of granite, Maureen O'Hara was the Duke's only leading lady that was capable of going toe-to-toe with him and giving as good as she got. In The Quiet Man, she broke her hand in an on-screen slap of Wayne's face. In spite of her broken hand, she carried on with the making of the picture...which included her being drug...on her backside...across a field that was full of sheep dung. In McLintock, she endured being coated in slimy, gooey clay in the fight scene alongside Wayne...again, she held her own with the Duke. She could act, and she was a real pro. There'll never be another like her. When I was a kid I thought she and the Duke were married for real. Pity they weren't.

#4 She Wore A Yellow Ribbon. Another of the Duke's finest performances. He should have gotten the Oscar for this one as well. John Ford used his stock company to surround Wayne in this picture, many of whom are in Rio Grande and, or The Quiet Man: Victor McLaglen, Mildred Natwick, Arthur Shields, Ben Johnson, Harry Carey Jr. The reult was another classic western set in 1876 just after Custer's massacre on the Little Big Horn. Wayne plays an aging cavalry officer on the verge of retirement, trying to keep the fragile peace in the west. He does well in this movie, and with the make up, he looks twenty years older than he really was at the time.

#5 McLintock. Another John Wayne-Maureen O'Hara classic. The movie is warm and hysterically funny. The fight at the clay slide is priceless as is the constant banter between the Duke and his leading lady. Usually when it's movie time around our house we can never agree on what to watch...most of the time. This is one movie we can all agree on.

#6 Rio Bravo. Directed by Howard Hawks, Wayne is a small town Marshall trying to hold onto a prisoner until the U.S. Marshall can arrive. He's up aginst a lot of bad guys, but he's got help: Walter Brennan, Dean Martin, Ricky Nelson...I understand he can sing a litte, too...oh, and a young Angie Dickenson. Good, solid movie. The formula worked so well, Hawks and Wayne used it again in 1966 when they made El Dorado.

#7 The Searchers. John Ford brought out a side of John Wayne no one had ever seen before. As Ethan Edwards, Wayne doesn't wear a white hat. He's dark, brooding, a loner. His motives, and his methods are questionable, even though he does the right thing in the end. I must admit I didn't like this movie at first, but over the years it's grown on me. The photo I chose for this spot is from the very end of the movie and shows Wayne standing in the doorway, holding his right arm with his left. Wayne was paying trbute to his late friend, Harry Carey Sr. who often stood the same way.

#8 The Horse Soldiers. John Ford directs John Wayne and William Holden in a Civil War era picture about a cavaly raid in Mississippi. Good picture, good story and another good supporting cast. As Wayne's chief antagonist, Holden holds his own rather well, he even sucker punches Wayne in the fight scene. My only complaint with this movie is the leading lady. Constance Towers, while quite lovely, doesn't stand up to Wayne very well. I always wondered where Maureen O'Hara was when they were casting for this picture. Oh, those delicious little what-ifs.

#9 In Harm's Way. I've seen better WWII movies, but the Duke is good in this farce about the war in the Pacific. Kirk Douglas, Carroll O'Conner, Dana Andrews, Patricia Neal, Slim Pickens and Brandon De Wilde round out an outstanding cast.

#10 The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Another pairing of Wayne with John Ford. This movie also marks the first on-screen collaberation of Wayne with Jimmy Stewart. Ford always brought out the best in his prize pupil, and Wayne delivers. But as mush as this is a John Wayne movie, it's also a must for Jimmy Stewart fans as well. So, who really shot Liberty Valance?

John Wayne left a legacy that few can match. Many have tried, some did quite well: Clint Eastwood, Robert Duvall, Tom Selleck, and Sam Elliott. But none can step out of his shadow let alone fill his boots.

"I grew up dreaming of being a cowboy, and loving the cowboy ways. Pursuing a life of my high riding hero, I burned up my childhood days. I learned all the rules of a modern day drifter. Don't you hold onto nothing too long. Just take what you need from the ladies and leave them with the words of a sad country song. My heroes have always been cowboys, and they still are it seems. Sadly in search of, and one step in back of, themselves and their slow moving dreams."
Willie Nelson.

Me, not quite so tall in the saddle, but I got my boots on. Now if I could just find my hat! Oh, well. THANKS DUKE!

1 comment:

Ann said...

Honey, you sure know how to write. I love how you've talked about each movie. Great POST! Love the picture of the boots. Where do you find these great photos? But I still say The Quiet Man is Duke's #1 best movie ever!