THE SHOOTIST (1976)

The Shootist (1976 Don Siegel) John Wayne. Movie poster

Marlon Brando is not the quintessential American male movie star. That honor belongs to John Wayne. John Wayne was a shrewd actor who carefully manufactured his on screen persona. For many, Wayne represents the All-American WASP, yet he was of Irish descent and a Roman Catholic. Most of the B western actors had a favorite horse. In his B western beginnings, Wayne had the horse Duke, yet he disliked horses, preferred slacks and dinner jacket to western duds, wore a toupee through most of his career, and felt more at home on his boat than he ever did on a ranch.

The Shootist (1976 Don Siegel) John Wayne. Lobby card

In addition to being the archetypal cowboy, Wayne represented the ideal American soldier, yet he never served a day in the military. When the second World War broke out in 1941, many of Wayne’s contemporaries, such as Jimmy Stewart, Clark Gable, and Henry Fonda, all enlisted. These actors were already established as “A” list stars in 1941. Even with Stagecoach (1939) behind him Wayne was not yet secure in his career and still languished in numerous “B” films. Wayne saw this as a golden opportunity, while the competition was away, to grab the number one spot, and he did just that. It was less a case of draft dodging, and more a calculating career move, one for which John Ford would relentlessly needle him ever after. The war interrupted the careers of numerous actors, such as George Reeves, who seemed to be on the way up, but had not yet established themselves in a large enough body of “A” productions. Upon his return, Reeves and many others found they had been virtually forgotten while they were away, never to regain their previous career position, let alone surpass it. So much for studio patriotism towards its contract players.

The Shootist (1976 Don Siegel) John Wayne. Lobby card.

Wayne symbolized American virtue, yet he had countless affairs with married women. Some maintain he was racist. In a 1971 interview he made naive and blatantly ignorant remarks about African Americans and Native Americans, yet he enjoyed working with African American co-stars, and was drawn to native American spirituality, an interest on display in his film Hondo (1953), produced and distributed by Wayne’s own production company. Fellow star Jimmy Stewart was far more inclined to pronounced racist views. Wayne married three Mexican women and bedded many more of them. He was a rabid anti-communist during the cold war. Both Wayne and Howard Hawks saw the film High Noon (1952) as anti-American and both saw to it that scriptwriter Carl Foreman was blacklisted; Wayne bragged about that until the end of his life, yet Wayne also encouraged Hollywood to forgive and forget regarding Larry Parks’ communism. Despite his republican leanings, Wayne began as a socialist and later sided with Jimmy Carter in giving back of the Panama Canal, much to the chagrin of fellow Republicans. Wayne’s response was, “We promised to do so and we should keep our word.”

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TAKING AIM AT AMERICAN SNIPER (2015) AND CLINT EASTWOOD

AMERICAN SNIPER MOVIE POSTERBill Maher recently took aim at Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper(2015) referring to it as two-dimensional hero-worshiping of a psychopath. True to form, Maher immediately drew the indignation of monosyllabic patriots like Sarah “let’s kill wolves from a copter, ‘cause it’s fun” Palin.

SARAH PALIN WOLF KILLING

The National Glorification of Snipers Association was equally up in arms, proving Maher wrong with their “This film has made 200 gazillion dollars. The people have spoken!” [insert gavel sound] Of course, we may look at this as another illustration of Maher’s ongoing insistence that, by and large, Americans really are a stupid lot. After all, we love to throw our dyed green paper at anything that is merchandised to us, without scrutiny. We transformed the Scooby Doo Movie (2002) and Mel’s homophobe capitalist Messiah Passion Of The Christ into sacred, dumbed-down box office gold.

CHRIS KELLY 'AMERICAN%22 SNIPER
Perhaps the most nauseating example of a perpetually bored, illiterate American audience is its ongoing love affair with Clint Eastwood. It is tempting to write that I have lived long enough to see the actor turn into a 200-year-old blithering idiot. However, the fallacy in such a statement is that Eastwood has always been a blithering idiot who preaches to his choir of extremist right-wing Neanderthals and empty chairs (which are actually one and the same). Continue reading “TAKING AIM AT AMERICAN SNIPER (2015) AND CLINT EASTWOOD”

FLAMING STAR (1960)

Flaming Star Elvis POSTERHollywood’s model of taking pop music phenomenons and placing them in film productions began with Bing Crosby and accelerated with Frank Sinatra. Unfortunately, producers were usually clueless as to how to tap the stars’ prodigious talents. The model petered out in Madonna’s whisper of a film career. In between Madonna and Bing came the biggest and perhaps most disappointing of them all: Elvis Presley. Tinseltown did attempt to tailor its vehicles to Presley, which may have been one of its big missteps. Most critics and audiences concede that Presley’s early films were the best, though many might argue that is not saying much. Presley debuted in the Civil War era Western Love Me Tender (1956) with a supporting role, while Loving You (1957), Jailhouse Rock (1957) and King Creole (1958) all had thinly disguised biographical elements. Yet, none of these films fully captured the unbridled energy and vitality seen in just a few moments of Presley’s documentary footage of the period. G.I. Blues (1960) began a deadly slide, placing the star in dumbed-down, misogynistic family fare. Blues reached its nadir with the king of rock and roll singing to a puppet.

FLAMING STAR 1960 Continue reading “FLAMING STAR (1960)”