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What Do John Wayne Western Movies Tell Us?

Updated on September 23, 2011

John Wayne

Are the western movies just another form of entertainment? Specifically John Wayne movies. Was there any deep meaning behind any of them? Who are we to try to find a hidden agenda or deep meaning between a movie and the life of the actor in those movie roles?

Just because the man himself was conservative, staunchly patriotic, unafraid to express his opinions and truthful to a fault does not necessarily mean that would be reflected in his movie roles. Or would it? I say it does and I will outline one or two of his films and link parallels to his real life.

Rio Bravo was a film about a sheriff with a drinking problem (Dean Martin) and landowner with a brother who killed someone. Here comes the Duke back into town to "help" his down and out friend. Along the way he picks up a stray (Ricky Nelson) as well as a very young Angie Dickinson (as the heartthrob). What strikes me over and over about this movie is the fact that the character John Wayne plays is trying to help his friend as well as save the town. It was this type of script that personified Wayne’s films. They are didactic, they tell a moral tale. In Rio Bravo isn't the moral issue about alcohol? Or is it about camaraderie, having the courage to stand up to bullies as well as the courage to stare down your own demons?

My husband would disagree. He feels John Wayne is and will always be a American Icon true, He agrees with me that he would take only the roles he felt were honest, moral movie roles but still says "You think too hard about all that Boo; it's only a movie!" He then pointed out that the last scene in Rio Bravo they all have a shot of whiskey together. There went my proof about subliminal suggestion! That would really be a good one too, eh?

But look at the Searchers, without a doubt one of the deepest scene roles he undertook. The Searchers is about two very volatile issues.

A good man in love with his brother’s wife. That same good man is also battling his personal demon of prejudice against the Indians. That prejudice is fueled to a boiling point by the killing of his brother and most of his family during an Apache raid. The same brother whose wife John Wayne’s character loves.

Only two survive the raid. Debbie, who is little more than a toddler and her older sister. John Wayne’s character is the main one who is steadfast in his quest to find his niece, little Debbie. Throughout the entire movie, however, John Wayne continually repeats that once he finds the girl, he intends to kill her himself. His logic is that Little Debbie has been tainted; she’s a squaw now and not fit to return home.

In the end what happens? Well, except for the tiny part at the start where they kiss and you are sure there will be bloodshed when the husband walks back into the house there is no further mention, not even a dream about! Debbie’s’ mom, it’s always the same thing: must rescue little Debbie and must kill little Debbie when he rescues her! Talk about mixed up! And isn’t that exactly what the world is concerning prejudice? Very mixed up indeed

Of course John Wayne doesn't do that. Of course he finds little Debbie’s, all grown now but still the same little girl inside. He takes her back home, you think everything will be fine and then he leaves, quietly shutting the door behind him.
Is this a movie about quilt? Prejudice? Revenge? Is John Wayne living his life inside the movie or vice versa? He did have affairs, he did voice controversial views about the way all people should educate themselves and live their lives to their full potential.

My beloved Hubby has always had John Wayne as his role model. His life guides are my husband’s; always keep your word, try never to intentionally insult someone and always do the right thing. I think that if we attempted to live our lives as a John Wayne role we wouldn't get it half wrong. I believe if all of us, throughout this world were to live our lives by John Wayne’s life guides, the world and ourselves, would be a much better place.

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    • RNMSN profile image
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      Barbara Bethard 17 months ago from Tucson, Az

      cool thank you Charlie LeSuer! I stand corrected about Gail Russell

    • Charlie LeSueur profile image

      Charlie LeSueur 17 months ago from Phoenix, AZ

      Just a couple of things I'd like to add. Gail Russell died in 1961 at the age of 36. "The Angel and the Badman" was made in 1947 so she didn't die shortly after making the film. She continued her career although it slowly went downhill. She died of chronic alcoholism so in a way I guess you could say she committed suicide.

      The film "Rio Bravo" was a very personal film for John Wayne as well as director Howard Hawks. It was their answer to a film they both detested, "High Noon." Only after the original "3:10 to Yuma," another film they both hated, was made did they finally decide to film their response to what they felt were revisionist westerns.

    • scentualhealing profile image

      scentualhealing 5 years ago from Georgia

      John wayne Rules!

    • RNMSN profile image
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      Barbara Bethard 6 years ago from Tucson, Az

      so do I! thank you nighthag!!

    • nighthag profile image

      K.A.E Grove 6 years ago from Australia

      A very enjoyable read with some good points, I like to think the good duke choose his films on more than just a fun western romp

    • RNMSN profile image
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      Barbara Bethard 6 years ago from Tucson, Az

      well I am glad!! He always inspired me and as hubby grew up without his dad he took the Duke for his father figure and grew up to be as moral, honest,strong and good as John Wayne...

      to say I am a lucky(spoiled rotten LOL)wife?

      oh yeah, thankfully and so glad to be blessed with my David

      thanks for your comment

      barbara b

    • brennawelker profile image

      brennawelker 6 years ago

      I guess this hub is something that inspires me. Thanks.

    • RNMSN profile image
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      Barbara Bethard 6 years ago from Tucson, Az

      Angel and the Bad Man!

      Quirt Evans was Waynes characters name in that film and its a definite fav of mine from when he makes the mean ole neighbor share his water to the end when the crockety ole sheriff saves Quirts life

      the poor girl who starred in Angel and the Bad Man was Gail Russell/ seriousy ill/she committed suicide not long after that film/this was her one big role /such a sad thing

      Next to this one my favourite is Big Jake/the one where he has to rescue his grandson? and his son Patrick and another actors son star in it as well...so cool..the bad guy looks at wayne after wayne sot him and said who are you? and wayne says Jake whatever the cahracters last name is and the bad guy goes "I thought you were dead" and Wayne goes "Not Guite!" well, to me its the same, he isn't guite dead at all/dude I miss the duke!

      love to you

      barbara b

    • Sethareal profile image

      Sethareal 6 years ago

      My favorite John Wayne scene, and I think it probably adds to what you are saying, is the one (forgot the title) where he is hiding out with some Quakers that live remotely and the young Quaker girl is nursing him back to health and explains their philosophy of non-violence and how they never use guns. John Wayne gives a priceless puzzled expression and says, "There aren't very many of you are there?"

    • RNMSN profile image
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      Barbara Bethard 6 years ago from Tucson, Az

      oh thank you Cogerson!! thank you!! that made my day and believe me when i tell you I needed that!!!love to you barbara b

    • Cogerson profile image

      Cogerson 6 years ago from Virginia

      He was not perfect but he tried and was a great role model. I loved reading your hub on Wayne...I also learned lots on your Wayne links that I did not know....and this was after researching him for a month on the John Wayne hub I did....good writing and a great hub

    • RNMSN profile image
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      Barbara Bethard 6 years ago from Tucson, Az

      thank you silver poet I totally agree he was and is and forever will be a role model I aspire to!!

      love to you

      barbara b

    • Silver Poet profile image

      Silver Poet 6 years ago from the computer of a midwestern American writer

      The duke is indeed a good role model. Thanks for the hub. :)

    • RNMSN profile image
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      Barbara Bethard 7 years ago from Tucson, Az

      dont appologize/its a sign of weakness!! is my favourite cause wayne uses it and jethro on NCIS uses it as well :)

      problem is I do apologize oh well I endeavor to live up to their standards

      love to you!! barbara

    • waynet profile image

      Wayne Tully 7 years ago from Hull City United Kingdom

      "Get off your horse and drink your milk" and all them classic John Wayne phrases. Classic!

    • RNMSN profile image
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      Barbara Bethard 7 years ago from Tucson, Az

      thank you rebecca E long time no hear and thanks for the stumble let me trip your way lol barbara b

    • Rebecca E. profile image

      Rebecca E. 7 years ago from Canada

      love it, this is awesome, and I didn't find it until now, of couse I am stumbling this... for more traffic blessings to come!

    • RNMSN profile image
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      Barbara Bethard 7 years ago from Tucson, Az

      oh terced I am so glad we can agree to not agree :) its so true I hate to disagree and I truly believe the only way to stop is to stop. thank you, gracias/quiere te

      mguee hello!!! for one on HB only a month I thnk you are doing great!! keep it up/I see your whites on you/ are you in healthcare as well as terced and I or a chef like my baby girl? love to both of you!!

    • mquee profile image

      mquee 7 years ago from Columbia, SC

      I think all people evolve as they grow olderI don't know if John Wayne was a racist or not, but the impact and the standard he set will never be erased. One of my favorite movies was, "The Cowboys". I cite this movie because of a few discourses which took place between John Wayne and Roscoe Lee Browne who played the cook. They butted heads a couple of times and they were on equal footing. People probably will never see eye to eye on certain people, events, or issues.

      Still, this is a good analysis of a couple of his movies. I am a big fan of westerns and a lot of bad language was used towards other races, in the old westerns. At that time this was acceptable and it was a part of the old western, right or wrong.

      Also, it depends on one's source of information as to whether John Wayne or Elvis Presley were racist or not.

      Movies evolve too.

    • terced ojos profile image

      terced ojos 7 years ago from terced_ojos@yahoo.com

      RNMSN it is obvious to me that you hate fighting.

      You seem like a genuinely nice person.

      I don't mean any disrespect to you for any of my comments. My father grew up watching westerns and were it not for John Wayne's avowed racism I am sure my father would have idolized John Wayne.

      I grew up watching reruns of westerns at my fathers feet and yes many of them included John Wayne.

      Though my father enjoyed his movies he and my mother made sure we kids were well aware of the mans racist ideaology.

      A great many evils have been perpetrated against the black race by Hollywood by their pervasive negative portrayals of black people.

      John Wayne is one of many icons of Hollywood with which I take issue.

      Again. I receive love from you and I reciprocate that love.

      I'm studying to be an X-ray tech; ultimately my goal is to be an MRI Therapist. My medical terminology teachers is an RN and she's fond of saying Doctors work on Bodies and Nurses treat people.

      You are right when you say that we probably have some role models in common.

      Truce

      Love to You

      Sinceramente

      Terced_Ojos

      Que Dios Te Bendiga

    • RNMSN profile image
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      Barbara Bethard 7 years ago from Tucson, Az

      lets just say I am sorry Terced and let it go...I loved him/he was a role model of mine/so was bill Cosby and I am sure we have several role ,model figures in common

      but please, lets just let this go and agree to disagree

      love to you

      melonesomedove...it was your kindergarten mentality comment that finally let me let this go :) are you right or what? love to you much

    • profile image

      melonesomedove 7 years ago

      to terced ojos. tried real hard 2 rationalize your kindergarden mentality. thought real hard about it too. came up w/the final answer. YOU'RE A MORON!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! John Wayne was a man's man!!! if I could be anyone I wanted 2 be, it would be John Wayne!!!!! Peace to you, JOHN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • terced ojos profile image

      terced ojos 7 years ago from terced_ojos@yahoo.com

      I accept your apology rnmsn.

      I would ask respectfully that you might consider that blacks or any other ethnic groups for that matter; might have a very different view of people you admire.

      I once sat at a dinner table with a Jewish friend of mine and listened to some guy tell her how even though Hitler was a bad guy a lot of the experiments they did on Jewish prisoners of war really helped the medical health community.

      This guy absolutely did not get why she was offended. He had the gall to become defensive when she told him how ugly his comments were. I absolutely related to her.

      People call me an American. In many places I'm not treated like I'm an American. I don't always feel like I'm an American rnmsn.

      John Wayne has made many racists comments about a number of races not just black people.

      He had 3 Mexican wives and people say you can't be a racists if your married to someone other than your same race.

      Okay. John Wayne was a racists toward black people and natives.

    • profile image

      rnmsn 7 years ago

      I apologize for any insult I have done to you or yours, love to you

    • terced ojos profile image

      terced ojos 7 years ago from terced_ojos@yahoo.com

      You're funny RNMSN. Your history and mine are not the same. You think i'm going to praise some Racist because you say so. Elvis Presley was a racists as well. Why would I have anything good to say about a racists? You might as well put Hitler on your hub and tell us what good qualities of character he really had. My response would similar.

      Our history's are different RNMSN. Every time someone white cites some historic figure or time period I always look to my history to see what blacks were dealing with.

      John Wayne, Elvis Presley and a host of others were racists period. Now that doesn't mean anything to you because noone was killing, raping and oppressing white people. So you don't feel any negativity toward this guy.

      You aren't going to validate the struggle of black people past and present. I know that; don't expect me to post anything positive about a racists either.

      Why don't you look up the incredibly racists things John Wayne said about black people?

      You don't want to know about that and you certainly don't care how it effects people.

      If there is anyone here who is insensitive and a racists it is you.

    • RNMSN profile image
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      Barbara Bethard 7 years ago from Tucson, Az

      I leave this only to allow others to read it....

      silly terced abra los ojos...your remarks are more racists than you realize/showing your character you are...

    • terced ojos profile image

      terced ojos 7 years ago from terced_ojos@yahoo.com

      John Wayne and many of his contemporaries were racists.

      I have no respect for the dude and I find that I usually have little respect for people who idolize him.

    • RNMSN profile image
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      Barbara Bethard 7 years ago from Tucson, Az

      thanks hypodude...is rated and stumbled a good thing?

      love to you

    • hypnodude profile image

      Andrea 7 years ago from Italy

      The Duke was my father's preferred actor, and I have to admit that it was and it is mine also. I agree with you, he always tried to do the right thing, and acted on the goods side. Great hub, rated and stumbled.

    • RNMSN profile image
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      Barbara Bethard 8 years ago from Tucson, Az

      I agree, he said so often as well...turned down roles he felt was not the type of persona he was and protrayed...great role model eh?

    • Skip Charles profile image

      Skip Charles 8 years ago

      I think the big thing about JW was that the "acting" came natural because he was that kind of man he often played

    • RNMSN profile image
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      Barbara Bethard 8 years ago from Tucson, Az

      ahh yes, the quiet man, one of my Hubby and my favorites! my David always tells me "you know Boo,Victor McLaglen was the number one bare fisted heavy weight champion in Canada and provost marshall of Baghdad!" my fav of all wayne films is angel and the bad man, and second is the one where he is Hellcats/where his dtr falls for one of waynes employees? man that's a good one :) thank you for your comment!!

    • Laurie Favelle profile image

      Laurie Favelle 8 years ago from Canberra, Australia

      Always believed "The Duke" was a great actor, when actors had to act. Who now could do those scenes in The Searchers, particularly following the indian attack on his brother's family. No Butchery, no blood and guts, just acting...and you understood. And, of course, there's always The Quiet Man.

    • RNMSN profile image
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      Barbara Bethard 8 years ago from Tucson, Az

      yes, I am very lucky.

      Besides, he cooks better than I do :)

    • maggs224 profile image

      maggs224 8 years ago from Sunny Spain

      'always keep your word, try never to intentionally insult someone and always do the right thing' I'm with your hubby good maxims to live by