The 1970’s saw the beginning of the decline of the Western as a major Hollywood player. The Western heyday of the 30’s and 40’s was largely replaced in the 50’s by the advance of television. Long running shows such as Bonanza, Gunsmoke, Maverick and Rawhide attracted audiences of millions of viewers worldwide. It took A Fistful Of Dollars in 1964, a micro budget Italian/Spanish production, to shake things up again and make tinsel town take notice of their dormant genre. But it didn’t happen overnight and the output was never as big as it once had been. All the big stars of the Golden Age had westerns in their portfolio but by the dawn of the 70’s there was only one true star of the cowboy movie.
Clint Eastwood‘s rise to the top of the tree has been well documented. It was he who starred in Rawhide. It was he who, as the only American, made A Fistful Of Dollars and its sequels such a massive success. You could argue then that it was he who virtually dragged the western back to its former glory for one last hurrah. John Wayne had passed his mantle onto Eastwood (albeit begrudgingly. It was well known that he did not hold with the modern way of story telling) and sadly passed away. It was a new era and a different type of Western movie was emerging.
After the Dollars trilogy and with his star rising, Eastwood made a number of movies that were either westerns or held the western ethos. Hang ‘Em High and Two Mules For Sister Sarah were both in the “Spaghetti” mould of Dollars. Coogan’s Bluff was a modern western (although terribly dated now) and Joe Kidd was perhaps the most traditional western that Eastwood ever made. All these films had merit, all showcased the increasingly iconic star growing with stature and all were leading to something really special.
By 1976 Eastwood was picking and choosing his scripts. He was already in total control of his movies and when he clashed with Philip Kaufman, the director of his latest film, an adaptation of Forrest Carters’s Gone To Texas, he was confident enough to take on the directorial reigns and sack Kaufman. That film was, of course, The Outlaw Josey Wales. Kaufman’s loss was our gain as, in Eastwood’s hands, the film took on a mythic property. He knew this character like no one else and could build the story around him.
The movie takes place in the mid-19th century and follows the journey taken by peaceful Missouri farmer Josey Wales. From witnessing the brutal murder of his family, to joining Bloody Bill Andersons band of bushwhackers, going on the run from Unionist Redlegs to finding peace and redemption in an uncertain future. Along the way he is joined by various characters including an amusingly winning turn from Chief Dan George as Lone Waite, a native American.
A rousing Oscar nominated score from Jerry Fielding, iconic imagery and poster art, a terrific script bursting with memorable moments go towards making this the quintessential Eastwood movie. It also boasted the first of six (and ultimately best appearance) of Sondra Locke, his long time partner at the time. It is a must see for any Western or Eastwood fan and stands alongside Unforgiven as perhaps his greatest achievement in film.
Best scene: “Are you gonna’ pull those pistols or whistle Dixie?”