Friday, May 25, 2007

week of the duke: top ten westerns

In the spirit of the Duke's 100th anniversary, Wolf and I thought we would go back over his career and give you our favorite John Wayne Westerns. Our Top Ten List is kicked up to 11 as usual, because in the best Spinal Tap tradition, 11 is one more than 10. I think it would be tough to list out top ten Wayne films, because I've enjoyed so many of his War movies and The Quiet Man, but his westerns are iconic. So we've gone through and picked 11 of his best. All of these films are among our favorites, but some in particular are important and seminal films of the western genre. So we present our Top Ten (11) list first, then with commentary from Wolf and I.

Top Ten (11) John Wayne Westerns
11. Stagecoach
It's not my favorite Wayne film, but an important one nonetheless. John Wayne's dramatic introduction in this film is one of the most important in film history. Though he had performed on film before, this was our true introduction to the Duke. America was grateful and film history still owes a debt of gratitude to that man. His legend began with this film and will continue with it as well as newer audiences find it each year.
The shot that introduced to Ringo (John Wayne) in Stagecoach is about one of the most famous in film history. Starts out wide and closes in fast on his face. Martin Scorsese once said that shot spoke volumes not only about who the character was but how important he was to the story. The same could be said for the actor. Wayne is excellent in the film and John Ford was hard on him, which made him better

10. The Sons of Katie Elder

For the longest time, this was my favorite Wayne film. Dean Martin really proved himself to me in this film. The auctioning of the glass eye is still one of my favorite scenes. I just feel George Kennedy's pain when the Duke takes him out with that ax handle at the undertaker's shop. It's still one of the most impressive strikes I've ever seen portrayed on film.
This film has always been an enjoyable, action-packed romp. The four sons come together in the beginning for their mother's funeral as distant as brothers can get. By the end, blood is truly thicker than water. These guys take on everyone who caused their mother's death and they do it in style.

9. The Cowboys

Being one of the Duke's later films I always expected this one to be a little on the stinky side. Since it's on this list, I guess you can surmise that I've since changed my opinion. Wayne did himself justice as an aging cowboy trying to drive his herd and impart some wisdom to a group of young boys. Really a great tale of knowing when one is on their last 'cattle drive' and taking that time to do for some what one was unable to do for others in the past. You can see the Duke change to a caring father figure for these boys along the way from the hard-nosed trail boss he started as.
You read my take in part II of this week's roundup. Suffice it to say this is one you can't miss.

8. Angel and the Bad Man

Being public domain, I was able to watch this for free on the Internet a couple of years ago and have since wondered why no one has bought the rights to this great film. John Wayne is wonderful as the reformed/jaded hero learning to turn the other cheek and leave blazing guns for the family life. It showed ability in the Duke to play a 'leading man' more than the action hero.
I'm still hoping that this film will be rescued from public domain hell. In the meantime, that means you should be able to find it fairly easily. The script is well written, with some wonderful lines. But watching John Wayne's character evolve from belabored renegade to a man willing to lay down his guns for love is some of his best acting. Gail Russell is wonderful.

7. Hondo

I remember watching this in 3-D with my grandfather a long time ago and it is still a favorite. On the heels of 'The Searchers', this is the second Wayne film I was able to get Mrs. Flywheel to watch with me. It was a great choice as this is a story driven film like 'Red River'. It continued to show the world that Wayne exuded toughness. He came into the film as a stranger, but you knew immediately that his character was one to be reckoned with.

6. Mclintock!

Like several others on this list, this film needs no explanation for it's place on this list. This is absolute perfection for John Wayne and his favorite costar from across the pond. This is such a great tale that stays true to the image of John Wayne and yet allows us to see him have a little fun. My favorite scene has to be the talk he has with his daughter while hunting pheasant. There's something about it that's almost poetic and touches me as a parent. Wayne pulls it off without a hitch. It's also one of the most fun of the Wayne films. "Great party! Where the whiskey!" If you don't realize why that line is funny, then you've never seen the movie.
This is still one of my all-time favorite John Wayne/Maureen O'Hara films. It's a strange, wonderful combination of western, screwball comedy and romance. I think one quote kinda sums it up for me: "I know I'm gonna use good judgement. I haven't lost my temper in 40 years, but pilgrim you caused a lot of trouble this morning, might have got somebody killed... and somebody oughta belt you in the mouth. But I won't, I won't. The hell I won't!"

5. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

John Wayne silences his detractors in this film where he plays opposite of one of America's other treasures, Jimmy Stewart. The Duke plays all emotions of his character with expertise from drama to devastating action scenes. Lee Marvin being ordered by John Wayne to pick up his steak gave me chills when I first saw it. There was no question who the alpha male was after that played out.
Just watching this movie makes me wish that Stewart and Wayne made more westerns together. John Wayne's character demonstrates the hero isn't always the one that takes center stage and takes down all the bad guys. Sometimes he's the one who is willing to back the right idea and the right guy. Even if that means doing it from the wings.

4. Red River
This is the first John Wayne western I was ever able to get my wife to watch all the way through. My wife is more for modern chick flicks and old musicals, but this one was so good it even held her attention. I like to take credit for introducing her to classic movies and though this is a western, it's still very much a classic.
Aside from The Searchers, this is one of the Duke's most different roles, and deep and psychological. His character isn't necessarily the hero, but he is the driving force behind the story. You just keep waiting to see what Montgomery Cliff is going to do. You may not have been half as scared if you didn't know it wasn't the Duke. You know it and I know it.

3. Rio Bravo

If there is something like western perfection it has to have several elements: John Wayne, Howard Hawks or John Ford, impossible odds, tight pacing, humor, a great leading lady and great lines. Oh, and Walter Brennen. This is as perfect as it gets. Hawks sets the scene and the whole story and even backstory in the first few minutes of the film. With no dialogue. Most the film takes place in the small jail and the interplay between all of the characters tell you everything you need to know, without exposition, monologues or flashbacks. In other hands it wouldn't work, but in the hands of Howard Hawks it's an absolute classic. Think of that and then consider this: Howard Hawks hadn't made a film in four years when he made Rio Bravo. Dean Martin turns in one of the best performances of his career. The secondary storyline of Chance (Wayne) and Dude's (Martin) friendship, and Dude's transformation is a movie in and of itself. Hawks effortlessly blends several stories into one great movie. As an added bonus, you get to hear Dean Martin and Ricky Nelson due a couple of songs. By the way, Pedro Gonzalez-Gonzalez who plays Carlos the owner of the Alamo Hotel, may seem familiar. He started his career as perhaps the funniest contestant on the old show You Bet Your Life. You've heard of that show, haven't you. I'd be insulted if you haven't.

2. The Calvary trilogy (Fort Apache/ She Wore a Yellow Ribbon/ Rio Grande)

Wayne holds his own amongst other stars of the day in this series and plays three different characters who strike you as different stages in the life of one man. Henry Fonda earned my respect playing alongside the Duke in Fort Apache.
This is one of the greatest trilogies, without being a trilogy. Like Wolf said, the Duke is almost playing the same character, but in different phases of his life and career. It's hard to pick my favorite. I love Fort Apache for it's story and Henry Fonda's performance. I love She Wore A Yellow Ribbon for John Wayne's performance; he's old, he's tough, and yet he is tender. ( I love the elder of the Indian tribe who calls him "Nay-tan") And I love Rio Grande for Maureen O'Hara and Wayne and their chemistry and story and all of the great supporting cast.

1. The Searchers

My favorite of all the Wayne films is, I feel, his best. John Wayne was at the top of his game in this showcase of all his talents. His portrayal of a man torn apart inside by rage and emotional distress is positively riveting. It's a masterpiece of John Ford as well and it is in this film where the stars were aligned and the gods were smiling on the movie going world. If you've seen it, then you know what I mean. If you haven't, I have three requests: Doubt me, watch it, and then come back apologize.

There is a reason why this is number one. Because it's a damn masterpiece. If Da Vinci would've made a western, this would have been it.

That's our list. Let's face it, any top ten (or eleven) list is just a list of favorites. Next year, the order might change, but the top three will still be there, in that order. You gotta sound off? Did we miss your favorite? Do you take issue with one of our picks? Then let us know in the comments section. Stay tuned for tomorrow's post celebrating the man himself, which finishes our weeklong tribute to John Wayne.


Anonymous said...

Great list!
The Duke would've been proud!

Anonymous said...

What?No True Grit?

Wolf Flywheel said...

True Grit is definitely special. I think that on a different day if you asked us, it may be #11 on this list. It's one of those that teeters on great and good. One of my favorite John Wayne lines is "Fill your hand you S.O.B.!"

dino martin peters said...

Hey pallie, no disrespect meant, but our Dino never had to prove anything to anybody. Never was, never will be anyone as cool as the King of Cool. Oh, to return to the days when Dino walked the earth!

Rogue Spy 007 said...

These are some great choices you listed. They were all great John Wayne films. He was a master at the western. I especially loved any that had Dean Martin in it. Dino was a good actor who didn't get the acting respect he deserved. He made it look too easy. Dino was awesome whether it was with Martin-Lewis, the Rat Pack, a bedroom comedy, a western, or a Matt Helm spy caper. He's certainly the Master of Hip and the King of Cool.

LesHope said...

Some good stuff- I liked the Kate Hepburn list too. I think that no one surpassed John Wayne. One of my favorites isn't on here though, but it's not a western: The Quiet Man

Dave said...

I am a big fan..I thought Wayne never fired a shot in Mcclintock, been awhile since I have watched it..How many westerns did he never fire a shot..Maybe The Cowboys, also..

Anonymous said...

Not sure which one you should take out, but a top 10 list of Wayne Westerns has to include "The Shootist." Two reasons: His final film has all the elements of the great John Ford Wayne Westerns and it is one of his top 5 performances.



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