The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976) Revisited

Outlaw Josey Wales (1976)My initial review of The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976) was rather fleeting capturing the flavor of the incredible western. Another one I had to watch after further reading which has encouraged me to revisit the film. First I had practically forgotten the plot, thinking it was about a Confederate who goes mad shooting everyone in his path, blood spurting everywhere, bodies falling to the ground, shooting in glorious form. (sounds disturbing when you think about it, glorifying violence)

With a fresh set of eyes, some theory in my head I came to this film with more excitement, a faded memory of the plot. Opening with a scene that couldn’t but stir even the hardest of hearts, a family man Josey Wales (Clint Eastwood) who has no sides to take is forced to join the Confederate army after a group of rebel Union soldiers killed his family and burnt the family home, his life as a simple family man and farmer is over. He has no purpose beyond exacting revenge against the  Red Legs who had wronged him, changing his life. Of course the Civil War has to come first a chance to get out all that anger that has built up within him, hopefully he can get it out of his system. All in the form of a graphic montage of violence as they go from campaign to campaign before history and reality catch up with the men he’s joined up with.

The Surrender. A chance to put the past behind them, be accepted back into a country that has been torn apart. An early turning point in the film that redirects Wales after the offer of surrender, a shameful handing over of all that makes him and his fellow soldiers men, unable to defend themselves in civilian life, stripped on man-hood. It doesn’t sit right with Wales who stays behind, just as the men lose their dignity and then their lives. Wales can trust no one who is white, both sides have turned on him. Still full of anger we see a man with no place in White America head for Native America. A reading I didn’t find the first time, a white men heads off to enemy territory, as yet untamed by his own kind who can’t even be trusted by the Natives who have had treaty made and ultimately broken.

What’s special about this western is that all the Native Americans are all played by Natives, a fairer and more honest representation of the Race that has been poorly depicted on-screen since the dawn of cinema, they are not cliché’s are caricatures. There’s a welcome return for Chief Dan George as the elder Native Lone Watie who is not a chief, just an old man, who plays the role for black comedy. Much darker than his previous big role opposite Dustin Hoffman in Little Big Man (1970) which was more about what make Native American’s better than the white man whose seen her lower than human in their eyes. Lone Watie is more a a jaded old man who just wants to be free, to live his life free of White determination and influence in his life. This appeals to Wales who really has nowhere to go, except South of the border.

I thought originally Wales traveled alone through the open country as he’s followed by pursing bounty hunters, his own kind, ex-confederates who have little other purpose, unable to live the life they fought for, no money, take up a gun and hunt any wanted man. Wales is the ultimate bounty to be caught, killed and cashed in upon. It’s up to his adversary Fletcher (John Vernon) who once lead him into battle leads a Union force of men, the Red Legs to hunt the one they left behind and still can’t catch up with through the film. Destroying my original memory of Wales going after these men who are in-fact after him. The one loner Wales builds up his own group of friends, not collecting men packing guns but Natives, old men and women and the often quiet Laura Lee (Sondra Locke) who starts out as a victim of circumstance, stuck with her daughter as they travel to her brothers home. Not exactly the band of men we would usually seeing riding together, more like a rag-tag wagon-train of misfits.

As they travel South there are tense moment when Wales encounters hunter after hunter met with dark music building up moments that are only broken by quick gun shots and wise words delivered in quick succession easing things once more. Allowing us to go on building up the cast. It’s a western with a strong distinctive difference, Clint Eastwood’s second Western he directed, he knows the genre inside out, making sense of it in a new light. Trying to correct it in some ways, using language with the Natives that is not demeaning, those scenes are rich and meaningful. On an acting front Wales’s character is something to be feared, the persona of the loner long ago established is fleshed out more so here, and inverting it surrounding him with other outsiders. We have a gunfighter who has left civilization trying to find a place to live outside of that world. We leave the security of the familiar frontier town setting for the rugged landscape that brings only danger. The Outlaw Josey Wales is a tightly woven western that unpick the genre without going into satire, correcting it without being too tongue and cheek, it’s very much about the gunfighter who wants to find his place in the world after all the shots were first fired.


2 responses

  1. Lots of people like this movie a lot. But I regard it as pretty well an Eastwood formula Western. I could list the rest if you want. But I won’t. Just as John Wayne made quite a few formula flicks after he achieved the top box office actor – Eastwood did the same. He coulda/shouda dun better. Aw well …

    October 16, 2015 at 11:08 pm

    • Never thought he could do better, to me hes the man with no name and built upon that Dollas persona which has this aura of legendary status around him, a mysterious quality too. Wayne to me is a larger than life figure with a strong sense of morals who doesn’t take any nonsense, he knows what he wants. Eastwood has an inner psychology which Wayne I must say sadly lacked on the whole. Never thought Id say that. I thinking of a Wayne/Eastwood piece in the future so this is a good place to start sewing those seeds.

      October 17, 2015 at 7:27 am

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