Thursday, June 25, 2009

Westerns I Love, Part 3: Tribute to The Duke

John Wayne, born Marion Morrison, has been dead for three decades but he is still the biggest movie star of them all. He made over 200 films but the genre he is most known for is the western. There are so many good westerns starring the Duke it is hard to narrow it down to just five, but I will give my opinion of the best here.

5. 3 Godfathers

Underrated John Ford classic with Biblical symbolism and one of Wayne's most interesting performances.

4. Rio Bravo

This popular Howard Hawks film spawned an identical film called El Dorado starring Robert Mitchum alongside The Duke. This one starred Dean Martin and Ricky Nelson who both sing and Walter Brennan in one of my favorite supporting roles of his.

3. Stagecoach

Aside from being the first great western, this John Ford classic was also responsible for bringing John Wayne out of his B-movie career for good. Ford knew how to direct Wayne like no other director and their historic collaboration produced over a dozen films, among them some of the best in American film history. Wayne's performance is small since this is more of an ensemble piece but his "less is more" acting was a departure from the campy westerns he had been making.

2. Red River

This is another earlier teaming of The Duke with director Howard Hawks. The story is Mutiny on the Bounty adapted for the cattle drive with Montgomery Clift in the role of Fletcher Christian and Walter Brennan once again in a fine supporting role. Wayne gives one of his most complex performances mostly as the heavy.

1. The Searchers

This was the pinnacle for John Wayne and director John Ford. Wayne plays his most conflicted character, Ethan Edwards, who must find his niece Debbie taken by Indians. The film was completely unappreciated at the time of its release and didn't receive one Academy Award nomination. Since then it has been included in numerous lists of the greatest films ever made and influenced the films of directors like Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, George Lucas, Sergio Leone and John Luc-Godard.

(Cinderella Man was voted "best boxing movie" on the latest poll)

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