15. The Outlaw Josey Wales (Eastwood, 1976)
One of the notable things about Clint Eastwood was that in several of his westerns, he played a Confederate soldier. I have not seen the other movie featuring him as such, but this one I have viewed, and the movie’s opening moments make it clear why he ends up joining up with what turns out to be the losing side. Considering his libertarian views over the years, it wouldn’t surprise me if Eastwood is a strict defender of the idea of states rights, which was indeed one of the reasons why the South seceded from the Union in the first place. But this movie is really more about revenge, not a massive four year conflict that tore apart an entire country and was the worst in our nation’s history.
Although I will admit that even when focusing on such a narrow and simple motivating factor such as revenge, Eastwood never leaves the Civil War’s politics behind. Namely because the Northern soldiers responsible for his behavior are in hot pursuit, but also because Wales ends up forming his own nation, something that I find to be one of the movie’s most interesting and wonderful aspects. Joining up first with Lone Watie, played in magnificent and stoic fashion by Chief Dan George, and then later rescuing a party of settlers from certain death and in the case of one Laura Lee (Sondra Locke), something far worse, Wales begins to experience a rather obvious change in his character.
That arc is satisfying, as is the mystical style journey through the American Southwest. Wales encounters numerous characters, many who are standard cliches in the general but who also are so due to the fact that people like them populated the area before, during, and after the Civil War to begin with. One of my favorite scenes is Wales telling a bounty hunter after him that “Dyin’ ain’t much of a livin’, boy,” shortly before being forced to shoot him. Namely due to the fact that its a great one-liner, sure, but also because it gives us insight into Wales’ character.
Aside from the rather badass and natural conclusion (the movie couldn’t have really ended any other way,) I love this western because it does what many do not: offer a realistic display of the American Indian. Chief Dan George doesn’t play a typical stereotype, and really his character perhaps inspired Nobody in the modern western “Dead Man.”
Note: Don’t read this if you haven’t seen Shane or The Outlaw Josey Wales
Never mind that though, the movie manages to conclude with a finale that is bloody, violent, and has a finale scene that would be familiar to anyone who’s viewed a certain 1953 Alan Ladd western that doesn’t make the list, but is still quite good. Funny that not only does Eastwood best that movie’s finale, but that he also later remade “Shane” with his lesser 1985 western “Pale Rider.” The line “I reckon so. I guess we all died a little in that damn war. ” never rang so true.