Outlaw Josey Wales, The (1976)

“Get ready, little lady. Hell is coming to breakfast.”

Synopsis:
A Missouri farmer (Clint Eastwood) becomes a vengeful outlaw when his wife and child are killed by pro-Union Jawhawkers during the Civil War. Soon he finds himself crossing paths with a motley group of individuals, including a young pro-Confederate guerrilla (Sam Bottoms), an elderly Cherokee Indian (Chief Dan George), and a feisty Yankee woman (Paula Trueman) with a nubile young granddaughter (Sondra Locke).

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary accurately labels this “impressively directed” Clint Eastwood film a “sweeping epic”, calling out the “epic score” by Jerry Fielding, and noting that “the violence is bloody, made all the more exciting by Bruce Surtees’s [cinemato]graphy, which gives each shot the authentic look of old Civil War photographs”. He argues that this film indicates a “mellowing” of Eastwood’s iconic “westerner… from his early days”, showing that he “was ready to put his guns away and settle down” — but this actually isn’t quite true. Despite the fact that Wales “ends up living in a communal situation with his ‘family’ of friends”, the majority of the film focuses on his relentless vendetta against the men who’ve double-crossed him; he has multiple guns ready to fire at any given moment, and never stops to rest — other than during a brief, obligatory lovemaking scene with Locke, “whom he fell in love with off screen as well as on”. Regardless, Wales remains a well-produced, rousing western with quirky performances (particularly by Chief Dan George as Wales’ new Indian companion) and a refreshingly authentic portrayal of Native Americans in general. My only quibble — pointed out by Richard Eder in his original review for the New York Times — is the film’s “attempt to assert the romantic individualism of the South against the cold expansionism of the North”, given that “every Unionist is vicious and incompetent”; as Eder notes, “there is something cynical about this primitive one-sidedness”.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Bruce Surtee’s cinematography
  • Chief Dan George as Lone Watie
  • A refreshingly authentic portrayal of Native Americans
  • Jerry Fielding’s “epic score”

Must See?
Yes, as a classic western, and one of Eastwood’s best films.

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(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

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2 Responses to “Outlaw Josey Wales, The (1976)”

  1. I’ll concede this as a (once-) must, as one of Eastwood’s best films – and it is certainly to be applauded for its “refreshingly authentic portrayal of Native Americans”. However, I mainly see it as a well-made film which has more power while you’re watching it, and perhaps less in memory. Although it did strike me as having something of a John Ford feel to it. Eastwood is a huge fan of classic American cinema – esp. films by some of the masters such as Ford, Huston, etc. And ‘Josey Wales’ is certainly a tale told well in a classic vein. I just sense that, unlike directors like Ford, Huston, etc., Eastwood has less of a personal stamp on his films, so many of them (well-made or not) come off removed.

    As a result, performances by most of the cast are respectable if not more than that. The exceptions are Chief Dan (who manages quite a bit of subtlety for someone who had so much difficulty memorizing dialogue) and Trueman (who I instantly recalled from having seen her terrific work in the cult film ‘Homebodies’, made two years prior). Locke, unfortunately, is largely wasted in an under-written role. Eastwood himself turns in a typical Eastwood performance (somewhat taciturn, somewhat wooden) – though I was touched by his reaction to Bottoms’ death.

    I didn’t notice the score as anything of real “epic” scale, tho the camerawork is impressive and would probably be better served on the big screen. As well, I didn’t see this film as a particularly “bloody” one, even tho there’s quite a bit of action.

    I should remind that the western (or a film like this, which can come under that umbrella) is not one of my favorite genres – but I certainly do sit up and take intense notice when a western knocks my socks off – and a number of them very much do; this just isn’t one of them.

  2. This title always struck me as being revered more than is warranted. It does have impressive, naturalistic cinematography that is not afraid to allow its characters’ facial expressions to virtually vanish onscreen. It has interesting shoot-outs and action scenes, but not enough, and it meanders on and on with a lack of compelling narrative to cover the length. Wales’ accumulating entourage has a little something for everyone but by the end, what had some charm concludes hamfistedly. It could have been half an hour shorter. The revenge content reminded me of westerns from Anthony Mann and Budd Boetticher. Good company for sure.

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