best film:  The Searchers is the best film of all-time. I will be the first one to admit that I can’t prove this—there are 5-10 other films that I think you could make the case for but I can never get past the bookends of this film (even if I thin something like Apocalypse Now or 2001 may be a little consistency more brilliant throughout) when trying to make the case for another film to take the top slot. It’s clearly Ford’s masterpiece and even if other film experts don’t have it as their best- it’s all over the Sight and Sound list of best films (#7) and They Shoot Pictures Don’t They composite (#9). Ok—full stop—it’s Wayne’s best film…. with that being said, Wayne was in (and lead in) a total of six whopping masterpieces and it’s not because I’m personally an admirer. I already mentioned it on the TSPDT with The Searchers but Rio Bravo is #54, Liberty Valance #90, Stagecoach is #143, Red River is #193, and The Quiet Man is $197)….. yamma hamma.

best performance: The Searchers and I think Wayne gives one of the best performances in screen history as Ethan Edwards. He’s a man with a dark past, hidden passions/history for his brother’s wife, xenophobic, scarred by the war yet clearly shows moments of tenderness and redemption (pic above saddling his horse knowing their fate… the epic lifting of Natalie Wood and carrying her off upon their reunion). We have the physical acting in the finale. It’s a masterful performance and if that wasn’t enough to fend off naysayers he’s nearly the equal of his work in The Searchers in Howard Hawks’ Red River. He battles (and walks away with the best performance) with Montgomery Clift- a champion of the new age of acting and talented bearer of the changing of the guard from old Hollywood.

stylistic innovations/traits: John Wayne has 177 IMDB credits—I’ve seen 51 of them. Of those 31 of them are archiveable and through his career he scored three acting noms and one win (for True Grit in 1969). Wayne made 12 archiveable films with John Ford who is one of the truly great auteurs in film history another 4 archiveable films with Howard Hawks. He proved he could do it outside of the western genre (The Quiet Man), and even has really solid work without Hawks and Ford (his final film- The Shootist is directed by Don Siegel and Wayne is excellent in it). Wayne did not have great range of course. I wouldn’t want to see his Australian accent but I’m not sure I’d want to see one from Bogart, Chaplin, Harrison Ford or Tom Cruise. There are actors that disappear, show their range, can truly inhabit another character—and then there are actors who essentially play themselves (Steve McQueen, Cruise, Bogart, Buster Keaton). They have a pace and a rhythm (Denzel largely) all to themselves. Again, I wouldn’t want to compare Wayne doing Shakespeare with Laurence Olivier but I think Olivier would look just about equally ridiculous playing Thomas Dunston in Red River or Ethan Edwards in The Searchers. What’s undeniable is Wayne was magnetic screen presence (there’s a reason the tracking shot intro of him in Stagecoach smacks you across the face outside of just Ford’s genius) and he made some of the best films in the art-form’s history.

directors worked with:   Ford (12) and books have been written (justly so) about this collaboration, Hawks (4—all in the TSPDT top 1000), Hathaway (3), Wellman (2) and then once a piece with Walsh, Curtiz, Preminger and Don Siegel

Top 10 Performances:

  1. The Searchers
  2. Red River
  3. The Quiet Man
  4. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
  5. Stagecoach
  6. She Wore a Yellow Ribbon
  7. Rio Bravo
  8. Fort Apache
  9. Hondo
  10. The Shootist

Archiveable films

1933- Baby Face
1939- Stagecoach
1940- Dark Command
1940- The Long Voyage Home
1942- Reap the Wild Wind
1945- Back To Bataan
1945- They Were Expendable
1948- Fort Apache
1948- Red River
1948- The Three Godfathers
1949- Sands of Iwo Jima
1949- She Wore a Yellow Ribbon
1950- Rio Grande
1952- The Quiet Man
1953- Hondo
1954- The High and the Mighty
1955- Blood Alley
1956- The Searchers
1959- Rio Bravo
1959- The Horse Soldiers
1960- North To Alaska
1960- The Alamo
1961- The Comancheros
1962- Hatari
1962- How The West Was Won
1962- The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
1965- In Harm’s Way
1965- The Sons of Katie Elders
1967- El Dorado
1969- True Grit
1976- The Shootist