I can’t let the hundredth anniversary of John Wayne’s birth go by without a few comments. I know some people don’t care for Wayne or his movies, but he’s my favorite actor by far and has been for more than forty years. Here’s my list of my favorite John Wayne movies, not necessarily the ones I think are the best films he made, but the ones that I’ve gotten the most enjoyment from over the years.
THE COMANCHEROS (This one never shows up on people’s lists, but I love it. That may have something to do with the fact that it’s the first John Wayne movie I ever saw. My dad took me to see it at the Eagle Drive-In Theater in 1961. You can’t get much better than that. But I think it’s a fine film, too, with great music, good photography, a top-notch script, and entertaining performances all around . . . Wayne and Stuart Whitman as the leads, Lee Marvin as Tully Crow, Nehemiah Persoff as the leader of the Comancheros, Edgar Buchanan as the judge, Bruce Cabot as a Texas Ranger, Guinn "Big Boy" Williams as a gunrunner, Bob Steele as the rancher Schofield, George Lewis as Iron Shirt . . . I even like Patrick Wayne as Tobe.)
THE MAN SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE (Lee Marvin in support again, along with Jimmy Stewart, Vera Miles, John Qualen, Woody Strode, Andy Devine . . . that stark black-and-white photography, the story that loops back on itself time and again, Wayne’s line about the steak -- “I said you pick it up, Liberty” -- the looks on the faces of Stewart and Miles at the final fade-out . . this is close to the perfect film as far as I’m concerned.)
RIO BRAVO (One of Wayne’s best and most subtle performances, Dean Martin and Walter Brennan, Angie Dickinson in tights, Wayne’s mocking “Took ya two!” when he and Dude are shooting at the dynamite, the way Howard Hawks takes the stunt casting of Ricky Nelson and makes it actually work in the story, even the song sequences . . . there’s nothing not to like in this one.)
STAGECOACH (Great cast, great script, and the shot that introduces Wayne is an all-time classic. Plus some wonderful stunt work by Yakima Canutt. I still don’t like the fact that we don’t see the big shoot-out at the end, but that’s okay.)
BIG JAKE (The first shot of Wayne in this one is a classic, too. Richard Boone is a great villain, Maureen O’Hara is still beautiful, and I like the elegaic Old West vs. New West feel. I’m also inclined to like this one because I first saw it at the Worth Theater, an ornate, old-fashioned, Thirties-era movie showplace in downtown Fort Worth, which was torn down years ago, unfortunately.)
THE SEARCHERS (Another example of great casting from top to bottom, with some of my favorite moments coming from character actors like Hank Worden and Ken Curtis. I still love the bit where Curtis, as Charlie McCorry, stops his big fight with Jeffery Hunter’s Marty to pick up “somebody’s fiddle”. It’s a beautifully-made film, too, probably John Ford’s best use of Monument Valley -- which doesn’t look anything like West Texas, but who cares?)
THE QUIET MAN (You can’t find a much more spectacular sight than Maureen O’Hara in the Irish countryside. And that epic brawl between Wayne and Victor McLaglen is still great fun.)
TRUE GRIT (“Fill your hand, you son of a bitch!” Enough said.)
HATARI! (Another one I saw at the drive-in with my dad. Not much story, but a nice fusion of two of director Howard Hawks’ staples, the knockabout, screwball comedy and the grace-under-pressure drama.)
RANDY RIDES ALONE (The best of the early, low-budget Lone Star Westerns Wayne made for Monogram, with Gabby Hayes playing a villain, a truly bizarre plot, and the usual fine stunt work by Wayne and Yakima Canutt.)
There are a lot of other Wayne films I could mention, like McCLINTOCK!, THE COWBOYS, THE TRAIN ROBBERS, IN HARM’S WAY, THE LONG VOYAGE HOME, RED RIVER, EL DORADO, RIO LOBO, any of the Three Mesquiteers movies where he played Stony Brooke, THE ALAMO, THE SONS OF KATIE ELDER, even the late-in-his-career cop movies McQ and BRANNIGAN . . . well, you get the idea. I like John Wayne movies. I like ’em a lot.
Happy birthday, Duke.