Sunday, February 27, 2011
The Outlaw Josey Wales
I believe this is one of the very first films that Clint Eastwood directed. It is interesting to note that it is a western at a time when the genre had gone through terminal decline within Hollywood. It was made in 1976 so Eastwood was taking something of a risk in making it.
It in someways mirrors his much later Unforgiven in that both are anti-western in content. Eastwood goes further with Josey Wales though and states it is anti-war film as it is based immediately after the end of the Civil War. I like Eastwood for having starred in westerns and then making anti-westerns considering it was the genre that launched him to stardom. I think having done so gives him a unique position in which to examine both sides of the western as a genre.
Unfortunately I had to watch this on an old VHS tape which was somewhat battered and grainy. I couldn't get a feel for the cinematography, but what I saw showed the earlier craftmanship Eastwood is renowned for today. The acting is very good from both Eastwood and Chief Dan George, in particular, who plays an old Indian. Like many Eastwood westerns there is some brilliant and very dry humour. Some of the banter between Eastwood and George is superb, very subtle but those with a sense of humour will pick it up.
This is the film where Eastwood met Sondra Locke. She plays a role that highlights the rapidly changing attitudes within the Hollywood of the time to screen nudity. Sure there was full frontal nudity before Josey Wales but it was only a matter of a few years. Here Locke is going to be raped by a bunch of bandits who tear her dress and out pops 'one', then she falls over and they rip her dress off exposing her 'cheeks'. Very provocative stuff for the mid seventies. It does show how nudity today is so common place that we have become de-sensitised to it, while in 1976 this was still a big deal.
I have found some writers and critics on Josey Wales have missed his character. He is a man out for revenge on Northern soldiers who killed his wife and son early in the Civil War. Many have compared him to Munny in Unforgiven but the two are poles apart. Wales only killed soldiers and not men, women, and children like Munny. He was a guerilla and at war and stayed within those bounds.
And unlike munny he had a heart. He was a hard man to be sure but not heartless. He falls for Locke's character and there are some 'tender' moments between them. As he feels more settled with his new found life he softens and smiles more often Munny didn't smile and would never soften. He was and always would be a killer. Wales killed for revenge, Munny for the hell of it. They are two differnet types of men.
I like this film. But it will not go down as my favorite Eastwood film. I love the name Josey Wales and for some reason I find it memorable. I suppose it is because as a character Wales has developed such a reputation that his name is spoken in awe and fear.
My only critisim of the film is the length. It was marginally too long. There is a long scene where Eastwood and Locke's interest in each other develops to end in a bed scene. This was too long and took a bit of momentum out of the film at the wrong time. It was towards the end and the film felt like it was drawing to its conclusion so that love scene, while necessary to see Wales soften, is out of place for its length.
This is a good film and I see that it has been placed in the Library of Congress due too its importance to American cinema. It is worth watching due to it being Eastwood's first directoral role. He does a fine job and he himelf rates it as one of the high points of his career. For me he has done better but if you are like me and really like Clint Eastwood then any flaws of this film will be overlooked just to see this legend of celluloid in action. A thinking persons western.
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