John Wayne(Born 1907-1979)
When John Wayne walked into the picture there was no
doubt about where all eyes focused. Wayne carved out a career playing
cowboys and tough guys, but he was able to display a sensitive side too.
We're not talking tears here, but Wayne could surprise you with the depth
of his acting range. Think about the sensitive scenes with Maureen O'Hara
in John Ford's Rio Grande or the romantic The Quiet Man.
In his final film, The Shootist, Wayne brought to the screen a
portrait of great depth playing the aging gunman John Books. Wayne's long
career gave audiences a chance to watch his acting grow in range.
Perhaps his greatest role is Ethan Edwards
in 1956's The Searchers. Wayne dominates the stark landscapes of
Monument Valley in John Ford's greatest film. The slow and subtle change
in Edwards' character are like the sudden recognition aging lines on one's
face. By the end of the film Wayne and Ford have collaborated to bring a
sensitive and complex portrait of a man of the West to the screen. In some
ways the role of Ethan Edwards is an extension of the character Wayne
played in Red River, the hard driving cattle rancher Tom Dunson.
Eight years earlier than The Searchers, Howard Hawks fine Western gave
Wayne another opportunity to perform at his best. But Dunson has less
range than Edwards. The journey he makes is more compact just as the story
of the cattle drive is dwarfed by the unyielding search of the later film.
Cowboys may have been the mainstay of the Wayne
career, but soldiering came a close second. He piloted through movies like
The Flying Leathernecks, Jet Pilot, The Flying Tigers and The
High and Mighty, and ran troops ragged in The Sands of Iwo Jima
and Back to Bataan.
The tough guy even managed some comedic outings
during a career that spanned six decades. Lady Takes a Chance
found Wayne playing a hunk opposite the droll Jean Arthur and in Without
Reservations the Duke goes through the paces of some delightful
hijinx with Claudette Colbert. North to Alaska and McClintock
are two of Wayne's westerns that successfully veer into comic territory. True
Grit which won John Wayne his only Academy Award as Best Actor was
laced with humor and the sequel, Rooster Cogburn,
opposite Katherine Hepburn also made the most of Wayne's humorous side.
Wayne's longevity as a
screen star is almost unparalleled. Beyond being a Hollywood icon, Wayne
was closely associated with the political right and was an outspoken
defender of United States policies, particularly during the Vietnam war.
Wayne will be remembered most as the
quintessential Western star who carried his six guns longer and fired
straighter than anyone who ever plied his trade in the wild west.
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