With a 50-year career, and over 170 films in his filmography, it can be daunting, trying to create a John Wayne collection that includes his best work, without blowing all of your money!

May I offer my suggestions on a 'definitive' collection that won't cost you a fortune, but will give you hours of entertainment, and a better understanding of why Wayne, over a quarter century after his death, is still regarded as one of Hollywood's greatest stars?

With these 25 titles, listed chronologically, you'll have the 'Best' of 'the Duke'!


'The Big Trail' (1930) - Raoul Walsh's ill-fated foray into Panavision in 1930 nearly ended John Wayne's career before it ever began! Hired on the basis of a recommendation by John Ford (which belies the popular theory that Ford snubbed Wayne throughout the 1930s because the young actor 'jumped ship' to work with Walsh), Wayne was, admittedly, too 'green' to star in such an ambitious epic. But that being said, Duke shows natural grace, charisma, and unbelievably good looks in the lead. While the film's failure would doom the young actor to 'Skid Row' westerns for nearly a decade, it is a beautiful outdoor epic, not nearly as bad as you'd think...and it gave the world a 'first look' at the future screen legend!

'Stagecoach' (1939) - While claims that John Ford 'saved' the genre with this film may be a bit overstated ("Destry Rides Again", "Jesse James", "Union Pacific", and "Dodge City" all came out the same year), he did move the Western into a new era, by creating involving multiple storylines, and truly adult characters. Wayne, an escaped convict, finding love while on a quest for vengeance, is charismatic, among a first-rate cast. While Ford bullied the young actor unmercifully during production (as he would, in every film they'd make), the end result is a Wayne who literally leaps off the screen into major stardom.

'The Long Voyage Home' (1940) - John Ford turned to the works of Eugene O'Neill as an inspiration for this homage to the Merchant Marines, which offered Wayne, for the only time in his career, sporting an accent. As young, naive Swedish seaman Ole Olsen, he joined an ensemble of terrific actors (including Thomas Mitchell, Barry Fitzgerald, and Ward Bond) in a rich, rewarding, and ultimately heartbreaking tale of a 'family' of seamen decimated by German 'wolfpack' attacks on their ships. Clearly an effort by Ford to arouse America to the impending conflict, the story is truly timeless, with Wayne a joy to watch.

'Flying Tigers' (1942) - Historically significant as John Wayne's first 'war' movie, the tale of a small group of American airmen in China taking on the expanding Japanese Empire was a BIG propaganda hit when released, and gave America the star who became the personification of it's fighting men. Forget the cartoonish presentation of the enemy, and enjoy, instead, Wayne's nearly cocky bravado ("Termites", he replies, when asked about the bulletholes in his cockpit), and father-like concern over his other pilots.

'Tall in the Saddle' (1944) - It may seem an odd choice as an 'Essential', but this nifty small-scale Western offers one of Duke's most ingratiating roles, in what is considered by many as one of the finest 'B' movies ever made. Co-written by longtime friend Paul Fix, the story of cowpoke Wayne investigating a cattleman's death is more 'whodunit' than traditional 'oater', with sexy Ella Raines as his feisty leading lady, Ward Bond as a genial villain, and Gabby Hayes as...Gabby Hayes! Brief, with barely a wasted moment, the film is a constant joy to watch!

'They Were Expendable' (1945) - John Ford finally bowed to studio pressure and directed a 'war' movie, in 1945, but created a film that didn't glorify America as the invincible power of the war's end, but instead showed it's courage as it lost, again and again, early in the war. The story of PT boat commander Robert Montgomery (a actual Naval officer during the war), and his second-in-command, Wayne, as they engage a delaying action against the relentless Japanese, this is a powerful, moving story that was ignored by the war-weary public when released, but has been recognized, in recent years, as one of the greatest films of the genre ever made.

'Fort Apache' (1948) - First of Ford's 'Cavalry' trilogy has the most powerful plot, as Custer-like Owen Thursday (superbly played by Henry Fonda), ignoring the wisdom of veteran cavalryman Wayne, leads his command into a foolhardy, disasterous confrontation against Cochise and the Apache nation. With Shirley Temple and Ford's 'Stock Company' on hand, there's plenty of romance and comedy, but the underlying drama is never shortchanged. A remarkable film!

'Red River' (1948) - Howard Hawks' first foray into the Old West is considered by many to be the finest 'epic' Western ever made. A headstrong cowboy (Wayne) and his loyal sidekick (Walter Brennan) build a huge cattle ranch in the Texas wilderness; years pass, and an older, inflexible Wayne (displaying the deeper, more cynical characterization that would mark his best 'mature' roles), refuses any compromises with his compassionate adopted son, (Montgomery Clift, in his screen debut), in a 'cattle drive' variation of "Mutiny on the Bounty". While some complain the ending is too sugar-coated, the sheer scope and power of the tale cannot be denied. With a perfect cast, including Colleen Gray, Joanne Dru, John Ireland, Harry Carey Jr., and (in his final film) Harry Carey...and featuring Dimitri Tiomkin's extraordinary music, one of the greatest Western musical scores ever written!

'She Wore a Yellow Ribbon' (1949) - Second of Ford's 'Cavalry' trilogy (and the only one filmed in color), this sentimental tale offers one of Wayne's best 'character' roles, playing a crusty Cavalry captain facing retirement as the Indians unite to make war, following the Little Big Horn. Beautifully photographed in Monument Valley (earning an Oscar), the film maintains a fundamental sweetness, emphasizing the Cavalry as a family. Wayne was never better, with great comic support by Victor McLaglen, and star-making performances by John Agar, Joanne Dru, Harry Carey Jr., and a young, very charismatic Ben Johnson.

'Sands of Iwo Jima' (1949) - The most 'personal' of Duke's many 'War' films (earning him a Best Actor Oscar nomination), the story of 'hard-as-nails' Marine instructor Wayne and the unit he builds into a crack outfit never slides into caricature, but is a richly layered character study, with a tragic ending at Iwo Jima (remarkably, the film was made entirely on the studio backlot!) Wayne was handpicked by the USMC for the lead, and he delivers! Moving, and undeniably powerful.

'Rio Grande' (1950) - The final chapter of Ford's 'Cavalry' trilogy (actually filmed to raise money for 'The Quiet Man') is a fitting coda, as career officer Wayne reunites with his headstrong wife (beautiful Maureen O'Hara, in her first of five films with the Duke), and his estranged son (Claude Jarman Jr., who is terrific), against the backdrop of an Indian uprising. Warmly sentimental, with wonderful support from Victor McLaglen, Ben Johnson, Harry Carey Jr., and J. Carrol Naish. One of Ford's most richly layered 'family' Westerns, finally receiving the recognition it deserves!

'The Quiet Man' (1952) - Ford won an Oscar for this 'Valentine' to an Ireland that may never have existed, but SHOULD have! Filmed in glorious Technicolor, the story of ex-boxer Wayne finding love with spirited Maureen O'Hara and a personal redemption when he returns to his ancestral home offers wry humor, perfect casting (Barry Fitzgerald and Ward Bond are standouts), relaxed pacing, and as beautiful a vision of Ireland as you'll ever find on film. The climactic brawl between Wayne and O'Hara's skinflint older brother (ageless Victor McLaglen) is the stuff of legends. A timeless treat!


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