Way back when the Two Grey Geeks were young, theaters would play two feature movies for one price with one new movie coupled with an old movie to get people to come more often to the cinema. These were called Double Features. Saturdays were the best days to go because you could watch a cartoon, a movie, a serial, and/or newsreel, then another movie. I would spend $10 bucks sometimes, between my brother and I, most of it on concessions. At a certain point we got smart and would bring snacks from home.
So the Beard and I were talking about the Double Feature idea of having a continuous stream of Westerns that we could include as a blog constant. Just as we have the Reading Sanctum, Respectful Reel Reviews, Red Capers, and Off the Rack, we wanted to do something that would include the giants of the Western Cinema. Arguably, John Wayne is one of the biggest.
Let’s be honest! The Beard is better suited to do this feature. He is a huge John Wayne fan and has forgotten more about the Duke than I will ever know, but he didn’t have his laptop when I took up the assignment. That has changed, but I still have the assignment, and let’s be honest, I expect it to be fun. I will be starting this feature with two of the Beard’s favorites, which we recently watched: Stagecoach and McLintock!
Stagecoach came to the screen in 1939, a seminal American western film directed by John Ford and starring Claire Trevor and John Wayne. The movie is about strangers crowding into a stagecoach traversing dangerous Arizona territory occupied by Geronimo’s Apaches to arrive at Lordsburg, New Mexico.
The cast is made up of archetypes from this genre such as the prostitute, the drunken doctor, the faithful frontier wife, the gunman, the lawman, the comedic relief wagon driver, the criminal who broke out of prison to get revenge, the opportunistic salesman, and the embezzling banker. These are all mainstays of what became the major archetypes of a genre that is uniquely American and deeply embedded in the ethos of a culture where heroism is valued over the current cultural sensitivities.
One of the major themes of this narrative is the dichotomies it sets up between good and evil, space and crowding, white and native. These dichotomies are difficult to speak of when considering how beloved the one might be over the other.
One of the true dichotomies here is the blatant racism in treating the native American Apache as the villains, when the reality is that they were defending against American encroachment of disputed territory. I believe that acknowledgement of one doesn’t necessarily mean that we can’t enjoy the other, but at the very least should mitigate whole-hearted celebration without sensitivity to the other.
My opinion is that Ford is cognizant of these dichotomies and attempts to highlight my very point by contrasting the crowded stagecoach, with wide open vistas. The prostitute, Dallas, is cast out by the moral society of ladies in town; yet, she proves helpful when the frontier wife, Mrs. Mallory, faints and goes into labor. The Ringo Kid is a criminal, but he is honorable because when he gets an opportunity to flee, he chooses to altruistically remain to help the stagecoach riders fend off the inevitable Indian attack.
Despite the main criticism that has become a pedantic diatribe against the genre, this is a really good movie. Not just because of its entertainment value, but because of the themes it underscores. This movie deserves to be studied and contemplated. There is much here in subtext and overt understanding. It is without a doubt one of Wayne’s best, and I would rate it a 4.5 out of 5 on our Grey Geek scale.
Whereas Stagecoach is a serious western, McLintock! is most assuredly not. McLintock! is a 1963 Western comedy starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara.
The narrative backdrop revolves around the steadfast western conflict between cattle ranchers and homesteaders. Here, McLintock warns the homesteaders that the Mesa Verde is 6,000 feet above sea level. It isn’t made for farming. It is a lush green belt that is better suited for feeding cattle. He should know. His family has benefited from this reality such that the town bears his name, and he has grown exceedingly affluent as a consequence.
However the real story and heart of the movie can be found in the relationships that McLintock enjoys with the various characters of the story and the humorous interplay within. Katie (McLintock’s wife) left the town and her husband, because she erroneously believed that he had been unfaithful and returns after a two year separation seeking a divorce. He has no idea why she’s angry and refuses to give her the divorce. He believes the answer lies in a spanking which seems to be his answer for various situations.
There is also the return of his daughter from college, who McLintock hopes has come to help with the cattle ranch business. He has hired one of the homesteaders to help him keep order, but it’s a difficult balance to maintain. Even more so when Dev and Becky demonstrate feelings for each other despite Matt Douglas Junior’s intention to woo Becky.
Eventually there are several confrontations that devolve into funny scenes. Some of them are raucous, but I will talk about the one I enjoyed the most. John Wayne (McLintock) invites his new housekeeper, Louise Warren (Yvonne De Carlo) to have a drink with him. They begin drinking when they are joined by McLintock’s estranged wife, Katie (Maureen O’Hara), who is jealous, but attempting to be nonchalant. Eventually she leaves in a huff.
Mrs. Warren insists she needs to tell McLintock something, but he insists that they drink and become inebriated. When it is bedtime, they attempt to walk up the stairs to get to their separate bedrooms. What follows is a slapstick sketch that is hilarious.
One of the reasons to enjoy this movie is in recognition that it demonstrates that Wayne had range as an actor. Sure, the majority of his movies illustrate that he is a tough guy, and even here he is a tough guy with heart, and a light-hearted silliness that otherwise might for some appear anathema to the Wayne mythos. However, this cinematic oddity is something to be prized because of its uniqueness. I give this a 4 out of 5 Grey Geeks. Check these movies out and tell us what you think.
Also feel free to suggest western movies that we might spotlight as a John Wayne or Randolph Scott Double Feature.