For our July gathering, I chose THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES (1976), a favorite of mine.
JOSEY WALES begins as a revenge tale and becomes a story of redemption. After his family is murdered by Kansas jayhawkers early in the Civil War, Josey Wales joins up with Missouri bushwhackers. A man who lives by the feud, Wales refuses to surrender at the war’s end. With a price on his head, he heads west to put distance between himself and his pursuers including bloodthirsty Captain “Red Legs” Terrill (Bill McKinney) and Fletcher (John Vernon), the man Wales is certain betrayed him.
Along the way, Wales acquires a rag tag group including Lone Watie (the wonderful Chief Dan George), an old Cherokee Indian who bemoans the fact that he never surrendered after the war but “they took my horse and made him surrender,” a young Navajo woman (Geraldine Keams) cast out by her tribe, and Grandma Sarah (Paula Trueman) and her granddaughter Laura Lee (Sondra Locke), whom Wales rescues from vicious Comancheros. Ironically, Wales, the steely loner, becomes the protector of them all.
This was the second Western film Clint Eastwood directed in which he also starred, HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER three years earlier being the first.
With cinematography by Bruce Surtees (DIRTY HARRY, HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER, THE SHOOTIST) the film has a rich autumnal look, as well as the Eastwood trademark of shadows obscuring faces and characters presented in strong silhouette. Composer Jerry Fielding’s score was nominated for an Oscar.
The film received mixed reviews. The New York Times called it “soggy” while Roger Ebert said Eastwood “creates a magnificent Western feeling.”
There was also controversy. Shortly after it opened, an Alabama newspaper reported that Forrest Carter, the author of the novel the film is based on, had been a speechwriter for Governor George Wallace and also a former member of the KKK whose real name was Asa Carter. He died a few years later. According to Richard Schickel’s biography of Eastwood, no one involved with the film was aware of Carter’s true identity.
Also, Eastwood, who produced the film, had hired Philip Kaufman (who, as well as Sonia Chernus, wrote the screenplay) to direct but fired him shortly into filming. Two reasons were reported. One was that Eastwood was frustrated by Kaufman’s “indecisiveness” on the set. (The DGA fined Eastwood $60,000 and established the Eastwood Rule that prohibits an actor or producer who’s working on a film from firing a director during production and replacing them with themselves.) The other report went that both Kaufman and Eastwood had asked costar Sondra Locke to dinner on the same night. Eastwood and Locke, who met on this film, were romantically linked for years afterward.
Arguably a little long at 135 minutes, the film is available on DVD, Blu-Ray, and for a fee on Amazon Prime.
Our group includes Johnny D. Boggs, record nine-time Spur Award-winning author and Owen Wister Award winner whose latest work is A THOUSAND TEXAS LONGHORNS, Kirk Ellis, Emmy-winning screenwriter and producer of HBO’s JOHN ADAMS and TNT’s INTO THE WEST, Kirk’s wife, Sheila, David Morrell, award-winning author and New York Times best-selling author of FIRST BLOOD, the novel that introduced the character Rambo, and Robert Nott, award-winning journalist and author of several books on Western films, including THE FILMS OF RANDOLPH SCOTT and his most recent THE FILMS OF BUDD BOETTICHER.