A wonderfully charismatic actor who swept you up and carried you along

Publicity photo of John Wayne for film The Comancheros. Photo: 20th Century Fox

Publicity photo of John Wayne for film The Comancheros. Photo: 20th Century Fox - Credit: 20th Century Fox

Arts editor Andrew Clarke gives his personal view of Western film icon John Wayne’s career, marking the 111th anniversary of his birth.

I have always had a sneaking respect for John Wayne. He wasn’t a particularly versatile actor but, despite what many of his critics may say, he was a good actor.

He didn’t have a particularly wide range, but what he did do, he did well.

People say that he was never good at showing emotion or vulnerability, to them I say just look at The Shootist or She Wore A Yellow Ribbon, two hugely emotional performances.

Wayne was a wonderfully charismatic actor; he swept you up and carried you along. You felt you were being propelled through his movies like a piece of tumbleweed.


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For me, Wayne’s best performances came when he worked for John Ford. They were both romantics when it came to the Old West. Together,

they were responsible for so many cinematic masterpieces: Stagecoach, Fort Apache, She Wore A Yellow Ribbon, Rio Grande (the Cavalry Trilogy), The Searchers, and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.

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Ford challenged Wayne to dig deep and made him work for his screen time because he was invariably teamed against other good actors – such as

Henry Fonda in Fort Apache, John Carradine in Stagecoach and James Stewart and Lee Marvin in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.

She Wore A Yellow Ribbon is a wonderful example of Wayne’s acting chops because he made this film as a young man and yet he is playing, and believably so, a cavalry commander on the verge of retirement.

He worked best in westerns. With the exception of The Longest Day, Sands of Iwo Jima and They Were Expendable, Wayne’s war films are rather too simplistic and gung-ho for modern tastes. And his larger-than-life persona rarely worked in a modern setting.

Cop dramas such as Brannigan flopped because Wayne didn’t look or sound right in a 1970s, urban setting.

You couldn’t imagine him climbing into a taxi or doing the weekly shop. He had to be on a horse, pointing a revolver at a bad guy, the epitome of a rougher, tougher, more romantic, bygone age.

At the end of the day, he was a huge movie star for three decades because he was incredibly watchable and believable, even likeable. He had no problem with being a brand, in an age when people had no idea what a brand was. He just made films about a world he believed in.

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