January 27, 2008

John Wayne's mainstream Westerns

What exactly is John Wayne's anti-Indian reputation based on?

John Wayne's Approach to Native AmericansIn retrospect, Wayne's Westerns were no different from other mainstream Westerns. In "Fort Apache," for example, one of the major conflicts between Wayne and Fonda concerns their approach to the Indian problem. Unlike Fonda's racist hatred and commitment to their extermination, Wayne sympathizes with their plight, describing the Indian Ring in Washington as "the dirtiest, most corrupt political group in our history."

In "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon," Wayne defeats the Indians by guile, stampeding their horses, rather than by violent conquest. And in "Rio Grande," he is contrasted with the white villainous trader, who objects to peace because he knows it means an end to his illicit traffic.

The critic Jon Tuska regards "Hondo" as Wayne's closest personal statement of his view of the Indians. To begin with, Hondo was married to an Indian woman who died. The movie also depicts favorably Vittorio, the Indian chief, justifying his anger, following the treaty violations by the whites. "There's no word in the Apache language for lie," Wayne says, "an' we lied to 'em." Finally, the film comments on the sad passing of Indian culture: Hondo regards the end of the Apache as "an end of a way of life, and a good one."

Tuska also views "McLintock!" as an unofficial sequel to "Hondo," because both were written by James E. Grant and both show the Indians' loss of their dignity, culture, and homeland.
Note:  The reference to Rio Grande should be to Fort Apache instead.

So where did Wayne get a reputation for being anti-Indian?By contrast, "The Searchers" was probably Ford-Wayne's strongest case in defending the purity of the white race.

The British critic Alexander Walker sees in it a more extreme example of inbred hatred of non-Americans than in any of Wayne's earlier Westerns, which he explains as a product of the McCarthy era, when the film was made. In this narrative, Wayne cannot accept Debbie's choice to live with the Indians because he considers it "unclean" and "morally degraded;" as if saying, women must keep "pure" because the continuity of the white race depends on them.

Furthermore, he continuously taunts Martin, his companion, for being partly Cherokee, thus impure. Still, as Beaver suggested, the Indians are not depicted as "the blackest villains," and even Wayne, who hates them, basically admires their expertise, persistence, and survival skills.
Comment:  So Wayne's anti-Indian rep is built mainly on The Searchers? Hm, could be. I've watched a few of his John Ford collaborations recently and his characters were either neutral or sympathetic toward Indians. The movies may have treated Indians as anonymous warriors who lacked culture, but they didn't declare the Indians to be beasts or demons.

For more on the subject, see The Best Indian Movies.


dmarks said...

"Hondo" is the only John Wayne movie I've seen, and I agree that the depiction of Vittorio/etc was relatively sympathetic and balanced.

writerfella said...

Writerfella here --
writerfella always has admired John Wayne simply because he was a man whose thoughts and opinions were right there for everyone to see. No surgarcoating, no excuses, no hesitation. And those are the hallmarks of honesty. Name two other celebrities, pop culture or political, about whom the same claim could be made. The clock is ticking...
All Best
Russ Bates

Rob said...

Top 10 Most Outspoken Stars in Hollywood