Monday, April 21, 2014

TCM Star of the Month: John Wayne

On the evening of Monday, April 21st, Turner Classic Movies launches a special Star of the Month tribute to the legendary John Wayne.

The TCM schedule will be all Wayne, all the time, with 55 Wayne films airing back to back until Saturday morning, April 26th.

Robert Osborne will be joined by Wayne biographer Scott Eyman to introduce the movies. Eyman's new book, JOHN WAYNE: THE LIFE AND LEGEND, has been very well reviewed; two such examples are by Michiko Kakutani in the New York Times and KC at Classic Movies.

I received a review copy of the book just before the start of the TCM Classic Film Festival, and I'll be reading and reviewing it as soon as possible.

Back in 2007 Eyman prepared a special list, 100 Reasons to Love John Wayne, on the centennial of the actor's birth. It's a list well worth reviewing this week.

The series kicks off this evening with Raoul Walsh's THE BIG TRAIL (1930) which did not do well at the time but is fascinating from today's vantage point, in terms of both the young Wayne and Walsh's excellent location work, shot with multiple cameras in an early widescreen process. As a teenager I saw the film in widescreen on a memorable birthday trip to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

THE BIG TRAIL is followed by a number of what my husband jokingly calls Wayne's "Purgatory Westerns," the many "B" movies he appeared in before becoming an "A" leading man again -- permanently -- in the star-making STAGECOACH (1939).

Wayne also appeared in a few pre-Codes being shown this week, such as BABY FACE (1933) and THE LIFE OF JIMMY DOLAN (1933).

STAGECOACH airs in prime time on Tuesday, April 22nd. I just saw it on a big screen for the first time at the TCM Classic Film Fest and will be reviewing it in the near future. I can't recommend it highly enough. Wayne and director John Ford set the gold standard for the classic Western theme of a group of disparate travelers coming under attack.

Films shown this week which have been reviewed here in the past include THE QUIET MAN (1952) on April 23rd; REAP THE WILD WIND (1942) on April 24th; and TALL IN THE SADDLE (1944), WITHOUT RESERVATIONS (1946), ANGEL AND THE BADMAN (1947), BIG JIM MCLAIN (1952), and NORTH TO ALASKA (1960) on April 25th.

Of these films I like them all to varying degrees, but particularly recommend the classic THE QUIET MAN, the witty yet lesser-known TALL IN THE SADDLE, and ANGEL AND THE BADMAN, which I recently wrote about on a list of favorite Underrated Westerns.

It's worth noting that Wayne was a fine comedian, and the light romantic comedy WITHOUT RESERVATIONS, costarring Claudette Colbert, works really well despite a pairing that's a bit incongruous at first glance.

Other Wayne films I particularly recommend watching this week are three John Ford films airing on April 23rd: SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON (1949), which was filmed at Monument Valley and contains what I think might be Wayne's best performance; RIO GRANDE (1950), an all-time favorite Western with Maureen O'Hara and a fantastic cast, including the Sons of the Pioneers; and the very fine WWII film THEY WERE EXPENDABLE (1945), costarring Robert Montgomery and Donna Reed.

Ford and Wayne's THE SEARCHERS (1956), airing (depending on the time zone) late on the 22nd or early on the 23rd is, simply put, one of the great American works of art.

Howard Hawks' RED RIVER (1948) airs on April 24th, and on April 25th you can't go wrong with one of the very best Westerns ever made, Hawks' RIO BRAVO (1959).

It's a great week for Wayne fans, and I strongly encourage those who aren't quite so familiar with Wayne to dive into his movies and discover what made him one of the greatest stars of all time.

In closing, here's an anecdote from a profile of actress Binnie Barnes in a 2012 issue of "Films of the Golden Age." In a 1985 interview she said that she'd been asked who was the best actor she'd ever worked with -- was it Laurence Olivier? Ralph Richardson? Her answer was "John Wayne."

For more on this month's TCM schedule, please visit TCM in April: Highlights.


Blogger Robby Cress said...

Thanks for the breakdown and recommendations for the upcoming Wayne airings. Although I've seen many of his big title films, he made so many movies I feel like there is still so much for me to see. Thanks for sharing the links to the reviews. I'm looking forward to reading the new biography as soon as I finish my current stack of books.

1:52 PM  
Blogger Caftan Woman said...

Duke Days are here!

4:21 PM  
Blogger  said...

I LOVE John Wayne. Maybe not the best actor ever, but with so many enjoyable films. The last one I watched with him was The High and the Mighty.
The 100 reasons to love him are great. Yesterday I put his pic with a bunny costume on Facebook to wish all a happy Easter!

4:57 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

You're very welcome, Robby, I'm so glad to share information about one of my favorite actors. He does have a huge filmography -- Wayne's work ethic is one of the admirable things Scott Eyman points out in his list.

Hope you enjoy this week on TCM, Caftan Woman! I'm certain you will. :)

Le, thanks for your thoughts. I'm glad you enjoyed the "100 reasons"! I haven't seen THE HIGH AND THE MIGHTY in several years, that would be a good one to watch again. It's too bad TCM isn't showing that one or ISLAND IN THE SKY, which has one of the Best Casts Ever!

Best wishes,

7:55 PM  
Blogger Elisabeth Grace Foley said...

My dad and I would have a field-day with this marathon if we had TCM. :) I don't know if you've ever seen any of those early B-Westerns, but some of them are unintentionally hilarious—the dialogue in Riders of Destiny, particularly among the villains, had my family all in stitches.

I'm kind of surprised they didn't include Dark Command, since it's rather a unique Western and has some other notable stars in the cast.

I just saw They Were Expendable for the first time this past winter, and really enjoyed it. In retrospect, the one big blunder I made with my list of best films watched in 2013 was making it a runner-up rather than one of the top ten; but I'd only just seen it before making the list, and it grew on me a lot through thinking it over afterwards. I'd like to see it again sometime soon.

11:37 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

It is interesting they omitted DARK COMMAND, as I believe it's in public domain and they've shown it before. I saw that with THE BIG TRAIL at the County Museum years ago!

I agree, THEY WERE EXPENDABLE is a wonderful film -- I'm glad you linked to your list of favorite films of the year! I love NO MAN OF HER OWN and I agree that TWICE BLESSED is a cute movie.

Best wishes,

8:43 PM  

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