‘Festival Proves That John Wayne’s Range extended Beyond the Western’ By Nick Clooney
Let’s try the Hollywood word game. I say “Laurel and Hardy”, you say “Comedy.” I say “Gene Kelly”, you say “musical”. I say “John Wayne”, you say “Western”.
Perhaps we should take a closer look at that last one. I ‘ve been thinking about Wayne lately because we’re featuring twelve of his movies in a special January I marathon. We hope you join us and celebrate New Years Day with the Duke.
Conventional wisdom has it that Wayne was married to the western, but the facts say otherwise. By my count, Duke made at least 93 films between 1928 and 1976. only 31 of them were westerns. Of the 12 movies we’ll be showing, only five are westerns.
Perhaps we arn’t doing the Duke justice by only remembering him for his work astride a horse in the desert southwest.
Wayne took off his battered hat and cowboy boots in one notable outing in 1952 to make Big Jim McLain. This thriller about government agents on the trail of a communist spy ring in Hawaii is interesting for historical reasons. The movie was a political statement from a man who worked as hard at politics in his personal klife as he did at roping and riding in his professional one.
Wayne was an active member of an organization against facisim and Communism called the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals. The group’s active members included Walt Disney, actors Robert Taylor and Adolphe Menjou and columnist Hedda Hopper. A number of other Hollywood luminaries including Clark Gable, lent their names but took no active part in the alliances work. after World War II, that work included spotlighting suspected communists in America. This was the McCarthy era and feelings ran high. Wayne was not one to stand on sidelines. On one occasion, he visited Clark Gable on the set of ‘Key to the City’ (1950). Duke informed the King that his set included a communist. Gable called in his director, George Sidney, who admitted that there had been accusations, but they proved to be false. Wayne pressed to have the man fired, but Gable refused and that was that. a Duke has clout, but the King is the king.
On the other hand, there are stories of Wayne protecting friends on his crew who had been falsely accused. all of us who went to his movies sensed the one to one humanity about him didn’t we? We believed* that if we ment him on the street he would be a regular guy. a straight shooter. Whether we agreed with his politics or not, we liked what we saw on the screen. He was listed among the top-10 box office attractions virtually every year between 1949 and 1972.
I’m sure we all have a favourite Wayne movie that sticks in our memories. the John Wayne phrase that stays with me the ost however, came not from a movie, but from a congressional* hearing.* It was 1977, two years before his death. The subject was aging. specifically, forced retirement. Duke looked steadily at the congressmen and asked, “Which of you is going to step out and put me out to pasture?”
– American Movie Classics Magazine dated January 1996