May 31st: The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976)

outlaw_josey_wales

Cast and Crew:  Chief Dan George, Sondra Locke, Sam Bottoms, Geraldine Keams, Woodrow Pafrey, Joyce Jameson, Sheb Wooley, Royal Dano, Matt Clark, Will Sampson, Len Lessar, Doug McGrath, John Russell, Richard Farnsworth

What It’s About:  At the tail end of the Civil War, farmer turned guerrilla Josey Wales (Clint Eastwood).  His commander, Fletcher (John Vernon) negotiates a surrender with  Terrill (Bill McKinney),  leader of the hated Union irregulars that murdered Wales’ wife and children.  Wales refuses to join in the surrender, which is simply a pretext to massacre the guerrillas.  Terrill and Fletcher begin to hunt for Wales, who begins a long journey to safety, a journey in which he gradually collects a motley band of marginalized individuals.  Can they find sanctuary from Fletcher and Terrill?

Why Watch it Today?:  Clint Eastwood, who directs as well as stars, turns 83 years old today. The Outlaw Josey Wales is one of Eastwood’s earlier Westerns, a solid “shoot ’em up” which at first appears to be reasonably progressive (while Wales is a Confederate veteran, he collects a crew of unlikely allies for a Western-Native Americans and women) the subtext makes a lot more sense when you realize the book the film is based on was written by “Forest Carter”, the pen name of Asa Earl Carter, a former Klan member posing as a Native American.  Seen through this lens, the film stops being about a new America formed in the ashes of the Civil War to being about how Eastwood’s kindly  white overlord slaughters Union troops and carpetbaggers, and then founds a new society on a farm with Union women he saves, a Hispanic gentleman and Native Americans who are willing to take his lead.  Philip Kaufman’s screenplay smooths things over somewhat, but it’s probably best if you turn your brain off and don’t think about what I just said.  Certainly the revelation of Carter’s identity probably didn’t help Clint shrug off the accusations that he was making fascist films.

Other Choices:  We’ve previously featured Eastwood’s excellent Play Misty for Me, Letters From Iwo Jima, Unforgiven and his decidedly more questionable (but still enjoyable) Heartbreak Ridge and Pale Rider, as well as films he starred in but didn’t direct, such as Fistful of Dollars, and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.  Or maybe you’d like to play “spot the star before he was famous” with Tarantula?

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