The Outlaw Josey Wales
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As The Outlaw Josey Wales, five-time Academy Award winner* Clint Eastwood is ideally cast as a hard-hitting, fast-drawing loner, recalling his “Man with No Name” from his European Westerns. But unlike that other mythic outlaw, Josey Wales has a name – and a heart. After avenging his family’s brutal murder, Wales is on the lam, pursued by a pack of killers. He travels alone, but a ragtag group of outcasts (including Sondra Locke and Chief Dan George) is drawn to him – and Wales can’t leave his motley surrogate family unprotected. Eastwood’s skills behind and in front of the camera connected with audiences for its humor and tenderness as well as its hair-trigger action.
During the Civil War, Union "Redlegs" attack Southerner Josey Wales's dirt farm and wipe out his family. Seeking vengeance, Wales throws in with a company of Reb guerrillas. Tagged as a renegade after the surrender, he flees west into the vastness of the Indian Territories, where, quite unintentionally, he finds himself cast as the straight-shooting paterfamilias of an ever-growing, spectacularly motley community of misfits and castaways. Which is to say, Josey's personal quest for survival and something like peace of mind evolves into a funky, multicultural allegory of the healing of America.
The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976), Clint Eastwood's 31st film as an actor, 20th as international star, and 5th as director, was the first to win him widespread respect. Critics had grumbled when the producer-star replaced Philip Kaufman (The Right Stuff) in the director's chair a week into shooting. They ended up cheering when Eastwood delivered both his most sympathetic performance to date and--with the heroic collaboration of cinematographer Bruce Surtees--an impressive Panavision epic that stresses the scruffiness, rather than the scenic splendors, of frontier life.
Though it's been honored with a place in the National Film Registry, Josey Wales is good, not great, Eastwood. The big-gun fetishism can get tiresome, and too many characters exist only to serve as six-gun (and at one point Gatling gun) fodder. But mostly the film is agreeably eccentric, and almost furtively sweet in spirit--a key transitional title in the Eastwood filmography, and one of his most entertaining. --Richard T. Jameson
Clint Eastwood fired the original director, Philip Kaufman (The Right Stuff), and took over the reins of this project himself. He may have had a point: this brutal, thoughtful western, a near-tragedy about a Civil War veteran whose past comes looking for him, is probably Eastwood's most mature frontier drama prior to the Oscar winning Unforgiven. Hoping to build a quiet life in a cooperative community of settlers, Eastwood's Wales blames himself when his enemies attack the homestead, and he has to revert to his warrior instincts to help fend off the threat. The jittery intensity of Sondra Locke (who would be Mrs. Eastwood, at least for a while), and the screen-filling charisma of the late Chief Dan George harmonize beautifully with Eastwood, who had finally figured out how to add depth and texture to his stock-in-trade Man of Steel persona. This one may be too short on action to satisfy fans of Eastwood's Dirty Harry films, or of the Italian westerns he made with Sergio Leone, but it's an honorable effort. --David Chute
NEW! Documentary Clint Eastwood’s West, featuring Eastwood, Morgan Freeman, Oliver Stone, and James Mangold
NEW! Commentary by Richard Schickel
Introduction from Clint Eastwood
Hell Hath No Fury: The Making of The Outlaw Josey Wales
Eastwood in Action Vintage Featurette
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As someone said, it's the winner what gets to write history. So, most times, regarding the American Civil War, what we get in movies and in books as lead protagonists are folks from the Union side of the argument. But not so with this one. Josey Wales was a simple Missouri farmer who was mindin' his own business when Union soldiers, these savage "Red Legs," came along and slaughtered his family and left him for dead. And so there goes a vengeful Josey saddling up with the first bunch of Johnny Rebs to come upon him, because the enemy of my enemy...
Somewhen during the months and maybe years of warring that elapse, Josey Wales became a very scary man, mighty deadly and unflagging in his quest to take out Union soldiers. Imagine the chagrin of the man when the war ended, and, worse, that the South ended up on the losing side.
It's based on Forrest Carter's book GONE TO TEXAS, but I haven't read the book, so I don't know how closely the movie clings to the original source. What I do know is that THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES left a lasting impression on me when I first saw it years ago. It was this one - and not, say, The Man With No Name trilogy or the Dirty Harry crime thrillers - that cemented Eastwood as an iconic figure in my eyes. THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES generates this mythic vibe. In Eastwood's hands, as actor and as director, Josey becomes larger than life. The movie achieves a balance of grit and grandeur and authenticity. The period detail that's worked in helps to immerse you even more into the narrative. There's a sense of lives being lived unglamorously in the mud and the mire and nuthin' pretty about it. Moments of violence, brutal and explosive and sudden and random, perforate the screen, and it sinks in that sh-- like this happened quite a bit back then. But, too, there's the epic sense of scale. At some stage, as Josey Wales inadvertently, reluctantly picks up more and more companions during his travels, the one man revenge story transmogrifies into a rich, sweeping saga.
And there are those neat character flourishes, like how Wales spits tobaccy with uncanny aim and there's that one illuminating scene in which he explains why he shot those pistoleros on the boardwalk in that particular order. And, then, those colorful supporting characters. Chief Dan George, brimming with wry humor and with sheer humanity, is unforgettable as the old Cherokee Indian, Lone Watie, who ends up tagging along in the bulk of Josey's adventures and who ends up snagging the film's most memorable one-liners. Lone Watie, the chatterbox, and Josey, who hoards words like water in the desert, produce an effortless chemistry. Doe-eyed Sandra Locke, who I don't much remember in anything but in Eastwood pictures, comes in later as the prospective love interest and the token damsel in distress. Geraldine Keams doesn't have much dialogue but still impacts the screen as the capable Navajo girl, Little Moonlight. And then there's John Vernon as Fletcher, him what recruited Josey Wales to the Confederate cause in the first place. Fletcher the practical man who, when peacetime broke, tried to broker a deal with the enemy so as to save what's left of his men. Except that Josey Wales, that ornery cuss, wasn't having it. Except that Fletcher had the bad cess to make a bargain with a viperish Union man. And so there's Fletcher, reluctant villain, roiling in equal dosage of regret and resolve, expressing with his basso profundo rumble: "A man like Wales lives by the feud. As of what you did here today, I got to kill that man." That's as good a testimonial as any on what makes Josey Wales tick. I do believe Josey is Eastwood's most badass role. Sorry, Harry Callahan and Bill Munny. Sorry, Frank Horrigan. Sorry, Dude with No Name.
For those who can't get enough, there is a 1986 sequel THE RETURN OF JOSEY WALES with Michael Parks - whom you'll recognize from films such as NIGHTMARE BEACH and CAGED FURY - directing and starring as Josey Wales. I say, skip it.
A decade removed from his "Man With No Name" trilogy, Eastwood stars as a Missouri rebel at the end of the Civil War. Marauding Northern troops, kill his wife and child in the opening scene setting the stage for Josey Wales revenge and it won't be pretty. Wales signs on with a rag tag group of Southerners who are promised amnesty if the will swear allegiance to the United States. Josey refuses to go along, eventually witnessing the slaughter of his former gang. Now as an outlaw he escapes heading south toward Texas, closely followed by his former leader, Fletcher (John Vernon) and the Union leader, "Red Legged" Terrill (Bill McKinney), the man who murdered his family.
Rather than going it alone as his characters have done in the past, Eastwood's Wales picks up some unlikely companions along the way. Most importantly is Lone Watie, a onetime Indian chief played with vigor and great humor by Chief Dan George. Another is Little Moonlight (Geraldine Kearns), a young Indian woman saved from rape by Wales. In west Texas, the trio rescue a family of Kansans, headed to a small town settled by another family member. Among this group is Laura Lee played by Sandra Locke.
As a footnote, this is where the Locke-Eastwood romance began. It lasted through several more movies together until their bitter separation in 1989. Another surprise is the PG rating. The movie has much violence, none of which is terribly graphic. What is however, is the near gang rape of a stripped Laura Lee. There's also the near fully clothed rape of Little Moonlight by 2 hulking trappers and a little one-on-one consenting sex between the aforementioned Moonlight and Lone Watie.
In addition to a fine performance by Eastwood, his direction is spot on. An excellent script by Phillip Kaufman and Sonia Chernus comes from Forrest Carter's book, "Gone To Texas." A character unto itself is the western filming locations in mostly Utah and Arizona, beautifully shot by the great Bruce Surtees. Finally, a wonderful score by Jerry Fielding rounds out one of the best Westerns of the modern era.