It’s John Wayne day on Tuesday, Aug. 18, as Turner Classic Movies continues with its “Summer Under the Stars” series.
One of the most popular film stars ever, John Wayne was almost invariably John Wayne (or the screen version of himself) no matter who or what he played. But then again, the same can be said of Gary Cooper, Cary Grant, Humphrey Bogart and other well-respected actors of the studio era. I’m not quite sure why Wayne is generally regarded as less of an actor than those other performers, but perhaps one explanation is that Westerns and war movies aren’t perceived as settings for a real actor, and Wayne made his mark in those two film genres.
Another problem is that Wayne’s heroes were almost always one-dimensional, and the actor hardly ever made an effort to add at least a second dimension to them. (There are exceptions to this rule, most notably in The Shootist, Wayne’s last film.)
A third problem is that Wayne usually looked like he was ready to fall asleep whenever he wasn’t punching someone or blowing holes into some villainous type or other.
You can decide on Wayne’s talents – or lack thereof – for yourself, as TCM will be showing several of his most important films, including True Grit, for which he won a sentimental Oscar; the Academy Award-nominated The Alamo, a monumental bore that Wayne himself directed and produced, and that is more notable – or rather, infamous – for its aggressive and tasteless Oscar campaign than for anything that takes place on-screen; and The Green Berets (above right), which Wayne also co-directed and that perhaps more than any other movie he ever made best reflects his right-wing worldview.
Of the movies listed below, I’d recommend two that I’ve seen: The Sons of Katie Elder, a late Henry Hathaway effort that is surprisingly enjoyable, and Baby Face, a raunchy Barbara Stanwyck vehicle in which Wayne has a small role as one of the steps on which Stanwyck’s antiheroine mounts on her path to glory.
I haven’t watched Three Faces West, but this Third Reich drama directed by Bernard Vorhaus sounds interesting, partly because Sigrid Curie – Samuel Goldwyn’s (Brooklyn-born) “Norwegian Garbo” – is in it.
Also, McLintock!, inspired by The Taming of the Shrew, directed by the reliable Andrew V. McLaglen, and co-starring Maureen O’Hara, Stefanie Powers, John Wayne’s son Patrick Wayne, and Yvonne De Carlo, sounds like a pleasant – if perhaps politically incorrect – pastime.
John Wayne movies
Among John Wayne’s best-known star vehicles during his 45-plus-year Hollywood career, some of which pop up regularly on TCM, are the following:
- John Ford’s Stagecoach (1939), in which John Wayne – at the time the star of B Westerns (California Straight Ahead!, Santa Fe Stampede, Overland Stage Raiders, etc.) – is not only billed below the title but also below The High and the Mighty actress Claire Trevor. Wayne and Trevor also worked together in another 1939 release, William A. Seiter’s run-of-the-mill historical adventure Allegheny Uprising, and, the following year, in Raoul Walsh’s more prestigious Civil War drama Dark Command.
- Howard Hawks’ classic Western Red River (1948, though actually shot in 1946), a major domestic box office hit ($4.15 million in rentals [the studio’s take of the gross]; or approx. $65 million in 2004 dollars). Also in the cast: newcomers Montgomery Clift, Joanne Dru, and Coleen Gray; veterans Harry Carey and Walter Brennan; and John Ireland.
- John Ford’s The Quiet Man (1952), with Maureen O’Hara as a fiery Irish lass – one not very different from her McLintock! character – and Wayne as an Irish-born American from Pittsburgh, back in Ireland to buy his family’s former property. The Quiet Man earned Ford his record-setting fourth Best Director Academy Award. (The other three were for The Informer, 1935; The Grapes of Wrath, 1940; and How Green Was My Valley, 1941).
- Best Picture Oscar nominee The Alamo (1960), a flag-waving historical drama directed by John Wayne himself (reportedly with some assistance from John Ford), and toplining Wayne, Laurence Harvey, Richard Widmark, Patrick Wayne, and Frankie Avalon. Wayne was bypassed for the Best Director and Best Actor Oscars, but was shortlisted as the film’s producer.
- The episodic, all-star, MGM-released Cinerama Western How the West Was Won (1963), also featuring, among others, Debbie Reynolds, Carroll Baker, Gregory Peck, Thelma Ritter, George Peppard, Henry Fonda, Richard Widmark, Carolyn Jones, Robert Preston, Eli Wallach, James Stewart, Lee J. Cobb, and Karl Malden. Spencer Tracy narrated. Henry Hathaway directed three of the film’s five segments and its brief epilogue; John Ford handled “The Railroad” (shades of his 1924 Western The Iron Horse); and George Marshall “The Civil War,” featuring Wayne as Gen. William T. Sherman. Nominated for eight Oscars – including, head-scratchingly, Best Picture – How the West Won proved itself to be a costlier, more grandiose, more expansive, and more financially successful version of Wayne’s B movies of the 1930s. Admittedly, this otherwise audaciously conventional Western has a special place in cinema history, as it’s one of two narrative features – the other being another 1962 MGM release, The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm – shot in the three-camera Cinerama process.
- Stuart Millar’s Western Rooster Cogburn (1975) – a follow-up to True Grit (see below) and an unusual pairing with fellow screen legend Katharine Hepburn. Although hardly a commercial or artistic misfire, Rooster Cogburn failed to become the 1970s’ The African Queen.
- Don Siegel’s Western The Shootist (1976), also featuring movie veterans Lauren Bacall (who had starred opposite Wayne in William A. Wellman’s clunky, 1955 anti-Communist political drama Blood Alley) and James Stewart (Wayne’s co-star in John Ford’s – now considered a classic – 1962 Western The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance). Wayne’s final movie, The Shootist features what is surely his finest performance.
John Wayne Oscar nominations
John Wayne was nominated for two Best Actor Academy Awards:
- Allan Dwan’s flag-waving World War II drama Sands of Iwo Jima (1949), with John Agar, Adele Mara, Forrest Tucker, and Arthur Franz. Wayne plays a tough marine sergeant, training his men for the upcoming Battle of Iwo Jima. Broderick Crawford was that year’s winner for Robert Rossen’s political drama All the King’s Men.
- Henry Hathaway’s Western True Grit (1969), with Wayne as the one-eyed U.S. Marshal Rooster Cogburn, hired by a tomboyish Kim Darby to find her father’s murderer (Jeff Corey). By then in Hollywood for more than four decades, Wayne – panned in some quarters because of his ardent support for the then-raging Vietnam War – won a sentimental Oscar for his work in True Grit, even though his U.S. Marshal is no less a by-the-book Wayne-esque creation than anything else he had done before. That year’s losers were Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman for Midnight Cowboy, Peter O’Toole for Goodbye Mr. Chips, and Richard Burton for Anne of the Thousand Days.
One of cinema’s most iconic and longest-lasting movie stars, John Wayne died at age 72 in 1979.
John Wayne movies: TCM schedule
3:00 AM Flying Leathernecks (1951)
A World War II Marine officer drives his men mercilessly during the battle for Guadalcanal. Cast: John Wayne, Robert Ryan, Janet Leigh, Jay C. Flippen. Dir.: Nicholas Ray. Color. 102 min.
5:00 AM The Wings of Eagles (1957)
Biography of Frank “Spig” Wead, the pioneer aviator who turned to writing after being grounded by an accident. Cast: John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara, Ward Bond. Dir.: John Ford. Color. 110 min.
7:00 AM 3 Godfathers (1948)
Three outlaws on the run risk their freedom and their lives to return a newborn to civilization. Cast: John Wayne, Pedro Armendáriz, Harry Carey Jr. Dir.: John Ford. Color. 106 min.
9:00 AM The Alamo (1960)
Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie join the fight for Texas’ independence from Mexico. Cast: John Wayne, Richard Widmark, Laurence Harvey, Chill Wills. Dir.: John Wayne. Color. 203 min.
12:30 PM McLintock! (1963)
A cattle baron fights to tame the West and his estranged wife. Cast: John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara, Stefanie Powers, Yvonne De Carlo, Patrick Wayne, Jack Kruschen, Chill Wills. Dir.: Andrew V. McLaglen. Color. 127 min.
2:45 PM The Horse Soldiers (1959)
A Union cavalry officer leads his men on a vital mission behind Confederate lines. Cast: John Wayne, William Holden, Constance Towers. Dir.: John Ford. Color. 120 min.
5:00 PM The Sons of Katie Elder (1965)
A ranch-owner’s four sons vow to avenge their father’s death. Cast: John Wayne, Dean Martin, Martha Hyer, Michael Anderson Jr. Dir.: Henry Hathaway. Color. 122 min.
7:15 PM True Grit (1969)
A young girl recruits an aging U.S. marshal to help avenge her father’s death. Cast: John Wayne, Kim Darby, Glen Campbell. Dir.: Henry Hathaway. Color. 128 min.
9:30 PM The Green Berets (1968)
After vigorous training, two Army detachments see service in Vietnam. Cast: John Wayne, David Janssen, Jim Hutton. Dir.: John Wayne, Ray Kellogg. Color. 142 min.
12:00 AM Three Faces West (1940)
A refugee must choose between the man she loves and the man who helped her father escape the Third Reich. Cast: John Wayne, Sigrid Gurie, Charles Coburn. Dir.: Bernard Vorhaus. Black and white. 79 min.
1:30 AM Baby Face (1933)
A beautiful schemer sleeps her way to the top of a banking empire. Cast: Barbara Stanwyck, George Brent, John Wayne. Dir.: Alfred E. Green. Black and white. 76 min.