The Outlaw Josey Wales (Clint Eastwood, 1976)

What's it about? Josey Wales is a peaceful Missouri farmer whose family is brutally murdered during the Civil War. With his life destroyed, he sets out for vengeance and ends up on the run as a notorious outlaw and killer.

Is it any good? This may sound like familiar territory; as many times before, Eastwood plays a laconic man of few words, dealing with bounty hunters and other foolhardy souls with a squint of his flinty eyes and a skilled flick of his guns. What sets this film apart, however, is the rather unexpected gentle streak the film develops, as Wales encounters assorted Civil War refugees on his travels, in their own way as lost in the wilderness as he. Together, this mixed group of outcasts form a surrogate family for Wales and in doing so, he learns to love and live in peace once again. Eastwood the director demonstrates the measured, unfussy and mature approach to filmmaking which has become his trademark, trusting in the intelligent script (by Philip Kaufman & Sonia Chernus) to tell the story and the beautiful photography (by Bruce Surtees) to set the scene. Eastwood the actor cuts a cool figure as usual and delivers his one-liners with relish, but gets to play a more rounded individual than his customary Western hero. Plus there's great support from Chief Dan George as his sardonic Indian sidekick, Sam Bottoms as a young gunslinger and even Sondra Locke is less irritating than usual. Whet your appetite with the video below.


Anything else I should know? Considered one of the key Revisionist Westerns, in which the traditional values and morals of the conventional Hollywood Western were subverted. This is particularly evident in the confrontation between Wales and Indian chief Ten Bears, which initially promises to be a climactic shootout to the death. Instead, in the longest speech Eastwood ever delivered onscreen, he proposes peace instead of war. Thus, the stereotypical ‘Cowboys and Indians’ view of the West is turned on its head, with the Indians portrayed as a noble and peaceful community, whilst the white man is shown to be the true bad guy in this land. The revisionist description could equally apply to the Western icon of the loner gunslinger, here developed from a semi-mythical figure into a more human character who responds to the simple stimulus of other human company. It's also interesting to view Eastwood's later masterpiece Unforgiven as a somewhat pessimistic sequel, in which we see how a man like Josey Wales might turn out should he take up his guns again.

What does the Fonz think? Not just Eastwood’s best Western, but whups all contenders as his all round best film. Yeah,*spit* I reckon so.

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1 comment:

  1. Anonymous12/7/12

    Dyin' ain't much of a living, boy