“Get ready, little lady. Hell is coming to breakfast.”
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).
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”
Yes, as a classic western, and one of Eastwood’s best films.
(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)