'Hondo' (1953) - One of Wayne's most popular westerns, the story of an Apache-raised loner who takes it upon himself to protect a frontierwoman (Oscar-nominated Geraldine Page, in her film debut) and her son, when the Apaches go on the warpath. Similar in some aspects to 'Shane', the story is told simply, with explosive action scenes, and broad characterizations, and offers Ward Bond, James Arness, and Paul Fix in support; while not in a league with 'The Searchers', it does offer a shaded, mature Wayne performance that is well worth watching.

'The High and the Mighty' (1954) - Unseen for a generation, this melodrama (actually, a variation of 'Stagecoach', set in a crippled airliner), offers co-pilot Wayne (in a role intended for Spencer Tracy) and an all-star cast, facing personal crises as well as a potential air tragedy, set to Dimitri Tiomkin's fabulous (Oscar-winning) score. One of the best films of the genre, and inspiration for every 'airplane disaster' film that followed. Not to be missed!

'The Searchers' (1956) - John Wayne's greatest performance, in what many believe is John Ford's finest film. Long, engrossing tale of two men (Wayne and Jeffrey Hunter), trailing the Commanches who kidnapped Wayne's niece after murdering his brother's family, would influence both Clint Eastwood's 'Unforgiven' and Kevin Costner's 'Dances with Wolves'. Wayne's performance is a revelation, a deeply-shaded rendering of loner driven by bigotry and inner demons. Both comic and tragic, the film is, simply, a masterpiece.

'Rio Bravo' (1959) - After 11 years, Howard Hawks and Wayne reteamed in this classic comic Western. A counterpoint to 'High Noon' (which Wayne and Hawks both hated), Sheriff Wayne must face down a band of hired killers with TOO MANY helpers, as a crew of misfits align with him. With Dean Martin (in a role intended for Montgomery Clift), Ricky Nelson (in a role intended for Elvis Presley), Walter Brennan, Angie Dickinson, and Ward Bond. Great fun, and it inspired two Hawks/Wayne 'variations', 'El Dorado' and 'Rio Lobo'.

'The Alamo' (1960) - Wayne's directorial debut, ten years in the making, this BIG version of the epic 1836 siege was a personal 'labor of love', and he invested much of his personal fortune to help finance it. Portraying Davy Crockett, he offers his own code of honor, definition of liberty, and a storyline that begins sluggishly (with elements 'lifted' from 'The Fighting Kentuckian'), but builds to a spectacular finale, as 187 citizen/soldiers fight to the last man against a 6,000-strong Mexican force. Inaccurate? Certainly! But it does have power, heroism, and a terrific Dimitri Tiomkin score. Despite lukewarm reviews, the film was a multiple-Oscar nominee, and might have been a serious contender, had 'cousin' Chill Wills not initiated one of the tackiest Oscar campaigns in film history to promote himself and the movie!

'The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance' (1962) - The last 'great' Ford/Wayne teaming is an atypical Classic. Deconstructing the mythic West they had created over the previous two decades, the film takes a jaded look at how 'legends' are created, as young lawyer James Stewart (at 55!) is praised for killing town bully Lee Marvin, and builds a political career on the lie (Wayne had actually performed the act). With irony, a newspaper editor sums things up: "When people believe the legend, Print the Legend". Bittersweet, with liberal doses of comedy and tragedy, the film is today generally considered one of Ford's finest 'late' films.

'McLintock!' (1963) - Easily the best of Wayne's comic westerns, this fan favorite presents Wayne as a rich cattleman feuding with a 'socially conscious' wife (Maureen O'Hara, who was never better), as their beautiful daughter (young Stephanie Powers), returns from an eastern college with an idiot suitor (Jerry Van Dyke). Elements of 'The Quiet Man' are frequently utilized, but the 'feel' is closer to 'North to Alaska' and 'The Commancheros', and the film combines everything VERY effectively! With the Duke's son, Patrick, Chill Wills, Edgar Buchanan, and Yvonne de Carlo in comic support; a very entertaining film from a seminal decade in the Duke's career.

'In Harm's Way' (1965) - Otto Preminger and John Wayne may seem an unlikely pairing, but they worked very well together, in this gritty war story of the collapse and eventual re-emergence of America's sea power during and after Pearl Harbor. Wayne plays his age gracefully, and has a very believable mature romance with Patricia Neal (who is superb); Kirk Douglas gives one of his finest performances, as Duke's exec/best friend, who loses the battle against his own inner demons. A long, but never boring Naval drama, and Wayne's final film before he was diagnosed with lung cancer.

'The Sons of Katie Elder' (1965) - Wayne's triumphant return to the screen after losing a lung to cancer; he appears worn and thin, but proves he can still handle an 'action' western better than any other actor. A story of four estranged brothers avenging their parents' death, the casting is a bit weird (Duke and Dean Martin...brothers?...and Michael Anderson, Jr. looks more likely to be Wayne's son than his youngest brother), but the cameraderie is genuine, the humor, broad, Elmer Bernstein's score is top-notch...and best of all, the Duke was BACK in the SADDLE!

'The Green Berets' (1968) - One of Wayne's most famous (or infamous) films, this tribute to the Special Forces in Vietnam offers his political opinions, undiluted, and presents the North Vietnamese as the most bloodthirsty savages since the Japanese caricatures of WWII. That the film is heartfelt cannot be denied, nor can Wayne's pride in America's fighting men; but if you don't share his political view, the film may come across as nearly a parody, with it's infamous 'sun setting in the east' film glitch as a finale. Still, the film was a HUGE hit, particularly throughout Asian countries, and was, in fact, the first major American film to even address Vietnam, after nearly a decade of American involvement.

'True Grit' (1969) - John Wayne won his only Oscar in this underrated Henry Hathaway Western. While many of Duke's fans dislike his caricatured portrayal of drunken, pot-bellied, one-eyed lawman Rooster Cogburn (preferring him in more 'classic', heroic roles), he was clearly having a ball playing 'against type', and his presence truly holds the film together. Long, but very rewarding, with terrific performances by Kim Darby, Jeff Corey, and Robert Duvall (although the less said about Glen Campbell's 'acting', the better!)

'The Cowboys' (1972) - The most memorable of Wayne's 'late' films, the story of an aging rancher forced to rely on boys to help drive his cattle to market is a rich, rewarding 'Coming of Age' story, with a fabulous John Williams score, marred only by an extremely gruesome plot twist. Wayne 'plays his age' with power and dignity, and works very well with the kids in the cast, as well as with Roscoe Lee Browne (who is superb), as his erudite trail cook. And pity poor Bruce Dern for all the 'hate' mail he received, and STILL gets, after so many years!

'The Shootist' (1976) - John Wayne's final film appearance was a labor of love, if a difficult film to make. Paralleling his own last days, gunfighter Wayne must decide whether to surrender to the ravages of cancer, or go out in blaze of glory. In deteriorating health throughout the production, it was unspoken, but commonly known that this would be his last film, and some of his best friends (James Stewart, Lauren Bacall, Harry Morgan, Hugh O'Brien, and Richard Boone) worked at reduced salaries just to be in the film. From the opening montage of classic Wayne filmclips, to his last, lingering look at Ron Howard, 'The Shootist' offers a bittersweet closure to an amazing career!

John Wayne Collection Honorable Mentions...

Dark Command (1940), The Spoilers (1942), A Lady Takes a Chance (1943), Back to Bataan (1945), Angel and the Badman (1947), 3 Godfathers (1948), Island in the Sky (1953), Blood Alley (1955), The Wings of Eagles (1957), The Horse Soldiers (1959), North to Alaska (1960), The Commancheros (1961), Hatari! (1962), The Longest Day (1962), El Dorado (1967), Chisum (1970), Big Jake (1971).



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