A certain someone over at Speakeasy has nudged me on more than one occasion to come up with a list of favorites on any given subject so why not on a list of favorites from one of the most recognized faces on the planet.
Like many others I have been watching John Wayne in films since I was old enough to focus on a television screen. I’m still watching Duke all these years later and the home video market has allowed me to amass 122 titles starring the iconic cowboy. My Duke collecting also includes some of his original film posters like Hatari, McQ and The Sons of Katie Elder. Then there are the film books and magazines that continually turn up on book store shelves.
I won’t apologize for my selections here but will point out many of them are based on early memories and they can often be the ones that stick with you the most. I didn’t put these into any order other than the year they were released. I’ll also point out that some of the famed flicks he has made I haven’t seen nearly as often as others so they have quite innocently been pushed off the list though I’ll add some honorable mentions.
Back to Bataan – 1945. Duke is off to war in the Philippines with Anthony Quinn to battle the Japanese at the close of WW2. This one played often on TV when I was becoming aware of just who John Wayne was so it has stayed with me.
Wake of the Red Witch – 1948. A sea faring adventure that fueled my imagination as a young boy where Duke seeks sunken treasure, the hand of beautiful Gail Russell and battles a giant octopus.
The Quiet Man – 1952. This is one I can never tire of and like many of the films on this list, if I come across a TV showing I am hooked. John and Maureen O’Hara are magic at the movies. A romantic tale from the legendary John Ford.
The Searchers – 1956. This Ford classic grew on me as the years went by and for me contains the meanest role Duke ever played while at the same time it’s one of his tenderest at the fade out. His scene with Harry Carey concerning the whereabouts of Lucy just might be his finest moment on screen.
Rio Bravo – 1959. It could be argued that this is the role that Duke more or less repeated from here forward in many of his subsequent westerns. That shouldn’t deter anyone from watching John, Dean Martin, Ricky Nelson and Walter Brennan from taking on the town baddies. Oh, and then there is Angie Dickinson who just might have been the sexiest woman alive when this film went into release. Another Howard Hawks classic.
The Alamo – 1960. This is another title that filled a young boys dreams of action and heroes when I would tune in for the big scale finale whenever this epic length title turned up on TV. Though it may be a little cliched at times it’s great adventure with Duke holding the line with Richard Widmark and Laurence Harvey. It’s also the labor of love that was the first title directed by Duke. Plenty of off screen stories to read up on adds to my appreciation of the film.
McClintock – 1963. Rollicking good fun teaming Duke with his favorite leading lady once again. Maureen O’Hara is feisty and fiery in this battle of the sexes western comedy. Directed by Victor’s son Andrew V. McLaglen. Great line as Duke faces off against Leo Gordon….. “Somebody oughta belt you in the mouth but I wont, I wont to hell I wont.”
The Sons of Katie Elder – 1965. Big all-star western from Henry Hathaway. It’s action packed and reteams Duke with Dean Martin. Along with Earl Holliman and Michael Anderson Jr. the four sons face off against James Gregory, Dennis Hopper and George Kennedy over stolen lands. Best scene is Duke decking Kennedy with an axe handle. This scene alone makes this fun flick worth watching.
True Grit – 1968. Rooster Cogburn gave Duke a chance to play a colorful character and Kim Darby proved an unlikely actress to match Duke insult for insult even striking fear into him through out. It’s a film I have seen countless times and will revisit I am sure many more times as the years go by. It just adds a little extra to the John Wayne legend. The cast seals the deal as well, Duvall, Strother Martin, Jeff Corey and even a good effort from Glen Campbell.
Big Jake – 1971. When John Wayne faces off against Richard Boone I want a front row seat. A little more violent then most Duke films, it still makes for a rousing adventure as Duke hunts down the men who have kidnapped his grandson. It’s a bit of a family affair with sons Patrick and Ethan on board. The stock company show up here as well with the likes of Harry Carey, Bruce Cabot and for the final time on screen together Maureen O’Hara.
The Cowboys – 1972. This title is a must on my list and was the first one I thought of when thinking of a dozen titles. The reason is simple, I was a young boy when I saw this and what little boy wouldn’t have wanted to be on this cattle drive. I’m happy to say my own two sons have enjoyed repeated viewings of this western that includes Bruce Dern at his nastiest.
The Shootist – 1976. For my money the greatest swan song in the history of motion pictures. If you buy into the John Wayne legend or mystique it’s hard not to love his role as JB Books. Adding a spectacular cast makes it all that more memorable. Great job by Ron Howard who idolizes the dying gunfighter and Lauren Bacall’s scenes with Duke can easily cause the tears to flow. The film mirrors Duke’s own real life battle with the “Red Witch” as he referred to his cancer but also recalls the real life story of Bacall watching Bogie fade away to the disease. I have always felt this Don Siegel effort has been somewhat underrated.
O.K. I left out some classics but I wanted to focus on the titles that I enjoyed the most or those that perhaps hit my emotional side a bit more than many of his famous efforts.
If I could squeeze a few more titles into a dozen selections I would have made sure to include…
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.
The Fighting Seabees
North to Alaska
In Harm’s Way.
If I have created a little controversy, good! Gets us talking about films and one of my favorite film stars that has stood the test of time. While I love countless stars from the past, Duke is one that has remained in the public’s consciousness.
So, what do you think? Bring it on.
Very good picks. I might just replace Back to Bataan with They Were Expendable, but can’t honestly fault the others.
An admirable choice. That’s one of those flicks I just haven’t seen as often over the years but should revisit it I guess.
Excellent list. Although, for me, The Alamo has always been one of the funniest “historical” movies ever made because it’s SO overly patriotic and heroic that it’s almost a techicolor comic book. If it’s on, I either leave it playing as background while I write or just catch that big battle scene for all the going down swinging stuff that outdoes pretty much every other film like it. It’s also a nice double feature with The Wild Bunch because of its more extreme violence and the same gung ho sort of finale (thematically, at least).
To me the Alamo gets an A for effort. Duke realized his dream project and he makes a great Crockett. I never tune the big battle out at the end. As for the Bunch, a bona fide classic and one can argue the greatest western of all.
Oh, The Alamo is indeed a master class in how to get a dream project done for sure. Everyone throws themselves into their roles so well that it makes the movie hard to look away from. I should have noted that I also pay attention to that final battle scene because once it kicks in, you can’t look away.
That said, I’ve always wondered how Peckinpah would have handled the project (besides going way over budget, lol) if he’d taken it sometime after Major Dundee and before The Wild Bunch. That’s been a big “what if?” in my head for a while. I’d imagine it would have been weird on a few fronts, but somewhat entertaining (to say the least).
I’ve always wished that Peckinpah had gotten to direct Villa Rides. He wrote it but that’s all. I like the big scale of that film but it’s obviously flawed though I love Brynner, Mitchum and Bronson. Sam might have turned it into a minor classic.
Yeah, Villa Rides was one that wasn’t as solid as it needed to be. A great cast and scope absolutely need someone who can make it work (on-set chaos aside).
Great! I hope you do more of these. Like all these picks and could live with them on a desert island. Actually North to Alaska I might switch in there, probably for Back to Bataan.
I just felt i had to get a war film in there. North to Alaska a whole lot of fun and though Capucine is good, I almost wish they had gone for Maureen in the role.
A few of my personal favorites to go along with yours: The Spoilers, Red River, and all three films in the Cavalry Trilogy: Fort Apache, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, and Rio Grande. I seem to remember a pretty good bar fight at the end of The Spoilers, too.
Yes, there was a brawl with Randolph Scott in Spoilers I think. Unless it was there other title, Pittsburgh.
Ha, I was wondering if it might’ve been ‘Pittsburgh’! Maybe it was both, and we’re both remembering both!
Hey Mike, I was just now turned onto your GREAT blog thanks to seeing a comment from you on Maddy Loves Her Classics. I will be poring over your array eagerly. I thought I was the only person who’d ever seen “Caboblanco” (love that Goldsmith music). Check out my stuff on Movies Ala Mark–I think we have a lot of taste in common. Cheers,Mark
Hi Mark. Thanks for dropping by. I got a quick look at your site earlier today and you sir have plenty of content as well. And yes plenty of duplicates and films I am a fan of. Some good reading ahead. Cheers!
Great selection. I’d throw in “Island In The Sky”, “Three Godfathers” “The Comancheros”, “Donovans Reef” I’ll watch “The Alamo” forever.
Any one of those is worth slipping in to a list of Duke favorites. I like to say my top 10 has about 25 titles.
Love John Wayne…been a fan since I was a kid. My faves are North to Alaska, The Cowboys, Sons of Katie Elder, True Grit, and The Shootist. Thanks for helping to keep the Duke alive in our hearts and minds!
A fine selection of titles in you list. I too have been a fan since childhood. Fun to go back and revisit these films. Duke’s like an old friend and glad my two sons like him as well. They are big fans of The Cowboys and True Grit.