The Best John Wayne Western Movie Intros · Mostly Westerns

The Best John Wayne Western Movie Intros

At the risk of sounding as if I’m stating the obvious, we all watch a John Wayne movie to see him in action, whether that be a John Wayne western, one of his war films or any other genre. You wait in anticipation for Duke to make an entrance because you know that once he’s finally onscreen then it’s time for the film to really start.

On that basis, I thought I’d take a random look at some of his Westerns and consider the different and more memorable ways in which JW muscles his way into a movie.

JOhn Wayne in StagecoachStagecoach (1939)

I think the audience is served up with nearly 18 minutes of screen time before Duke, here playing the Ringo Kid, eventually appears. And what an appearance it is.

You’re not just being treated to the first sighting of the hero of the film, in this instance you’re witnessing the creation of an iconic legend of the silver screen if that’s not too highfalutin a statement. Don’t forget that prior to Stagecoach, Wayne had languished for nearly ten years in a whole bunch of B movies churned out by poverty row studios such as Republic and Monogram after the misfire that was The Big Trail back in 1930. By the time John Ford gave Duke a break in Stagecoach he was in his early 30s with approximately 60 films under his belt, excluding those he appeared in during the silent era. Ford knew Wayne was finally ready to nail the part of the Kid and the rest, as I believe I said in a previous article, is history.

By the time John Ford gave Duke a break in Stagecoach he was in his early 30s with approximately 60 films under his belt, excluding those he appeared in during the silent era. Ford knew Wayne was finally ready to nail the part of the Kid and the rest, as I believe I said in a previous article, is history.

By the time John Ford gave Duke a break in Stagecoach he was in his early 30s with approximately 60 films under his belt, excluding those he appeared in during the silent era. Ford knew Wayne was finally ready to nail the part of the Kid and the rest, as I believe I said in a previous article, is history.

Ringo’s presence is signalled by a shot from his Winchester rifle as he hails down the stagecoach to Lordsburg. JOhn Wayne in StagecoachThe first time we see Wayne / Ringo he is framed against a background of towering buttes and wild landscape, a saddle draped over his left arm as he twirls the rifle with his other hand. It’s obviously a studio shot but the impact of Ringo’s first appearance is

It’s obviously a studio shot but the impact of Ringo’s first appearance is emphasized by the camera moving in from a mid-shot to a close-up of Duke, the image going slightly out of focus for a second or two as the camera moved forward. The moving of the camera wouldn’t be deemed to be so unusual unless you’re familiar with the fact that John Ford very rarely moved it at all.

Ringo’s face registers both surprise and disappointment as he realizes that the marshal of Tonto, Curly Wilcox, is riding shotgun. Despite Ringo telling Curly that he ‘may need me and this Winchester’ after pointing out Apache war smoke on the horizon, the fact is that John Wayne’s first appearance in a major Hollywood Western since The Big Trail entails him being relieved of his weaponry.

No one ever made that mistake again without paying for it. Ask the gunmen in the saloon in Rio Bravo.

John Wayne in The AlamoThe Alamo (1960)

I’ve watched this movie more times than I can remember over the years but, as with a lot of other things in life, you never forget your first time.

My mother took me to see The Alamo when it was first released locally back in 1960 / 1961. She was a big Richard Widmark fan and I, of course, was a budding follower of John Wayne. Even though we’re talking about over 50 years ago I can still remember the thrilling expectation waiting for my hero to appear, which he eventually does after nearly twenty minutes into the film, and, just to put the icing on the cake, he was playing Davy Crockett as well. Two heroes for the price of one. How good was that?

I’d like to say there was a big cheer from the audience once Duke / Davy finally got round to deigning us with his presence, but this was still Puritanical Great Britain back then, and the English, in particular, would not have been so vulgar in making their feelings apparent in such a public place, even if it was a darkened cinema in Gillingham.

John Wayne in The AlamoTaking another look at Duke’s introduction into the film I note that the first sighting is somewhat cursory, he and his band of Tennesseans reacting to the sound of gunshot ahead of them. There’s a quick discussion as to whether or not this is from ‘Parson and the boy’, with Davy replying ‘Think so’, before they ride off to hitch up with Hank Worden and Frankie Avalon. It’s at that moment Duke makes his proper appearance in the film, and it is a thing of beauty.

Dimitri Tiomkin’s wonderful score slowly surfaces on the soundtrack as Wayne and the boys ride through the tall grass, accompanied by a flutter of birds and a couple of small deer that seem to come out of nowhere and race off.

A real hero’s welcome if ever I saw one. ‘Don’t worry, folks’, this scene is saying. ‘Look, John Wayne is here to save the day and even the animal kingdom is rejoicing’. It must have taken quite a while to coordinate this sequence, to

It must have taken quite a while to coordinate this sequence, to synchronize the release of the birds and the deer just as the Tennesseans ride towards the camera, but it was worth the effort. On top of all this, it’s obvious that Wayne as a director has taken a page out of John Ford’s directing manual as well.

Duke gets his cameraman to accentuate the importance of these characters by tilting the camera upwards to capture them astride their horses, a shot highly reminiscent of the sequence in The Searchers when Ethan Edwards finally makes it back to the burnt out cabin of his brother’s family.

I love this John Wayne western movie intro so much I think I’m going to have to go and watch it again.

John Wayne in Big JakeBig Jake (1971)

Maureen O’Hara declares that the job of overseeing the delivery of a ransom for her grandchild requires the services of an ‘extremely harsh and unpleasant man’. Cue an almost Sergio Leone-type close-up of Duke sighting down the barrel of his rifle as he declares he’s not going to interfere in anyone’s business anymore.

He’s talking to his dog by the way as he says all this – just thought you ought to know. An innocent Scottish sheepherder is about to be hung and Duke doesn’t want any of it? Give me a break. Just as he’s about to turn his back on the proceedings, one of the hanging party kicks a young boy to the ground, eliciting the response from Duke of ‘Aw, what he have to go and do that for?’. From that moment on we are left in no doubt that the game, as they say, is now most definitely afoot.

Just as he’s about to turn his back on the proceedings, one of the hanging party kicks a young boy to the ground, eliciting the response from Duke of ‘Aw, what he have to go and do that for?’. From that moment on we are left in no doubt that the game, as they say, is now most definitely afoot.

Duke rides down to confront the hanging party, his dog taking out one of the three executioners – is that what they mean by a bit part I wonder? Duke buys the sheep from the doomed herder which means the trio of would-be killers now has to deal with Big Jake himself. Upon learning his identity, the leader of the gang, played by Jim Davis (I think he plays the nasty again in El Dorado) tells Jake he thought he was dead. ‘Not hardly’ is the reply, as Jake insists Davis cuts the

Upon learning his identity, the leader of the gang, played by Jim Davis (I think he plays the nasty again in El Dorado) tells Jake he thought he was dead. ‘Not hardly’ is the reply, as Jake insists Davis cuts the

Upon learning his identity, the leader of the gang, played by Jim Davis (I think he plays the nasty again in El Dorado) tells Jake he thought he was dead. ‘Not hardly’ is the reply, as Jake insists Davis cuts the herder down himself. Then comes the best bit. As the herder walks away, Duke / Jake warns Davis and his two cronies, ‘You follow him I’ll hunt you down and kill ya. Every last mother’s son of

As the herder walks away, Duke / Jake warns Davis and his two cronies, ‘You follow him I’ll hunt you down and kill ya. Every last mother’s son of ya. Can’t argue with that. Cruel but fair. Just when you think it can’t get any better, Duke rides away to the strains of yet another magnificent Elmer Bernstein score.

JWs insouciance as he turns his back on three very dangerous hombres is almost Biblical. In fact, I’m willing to bet good money that stencilled on the vest beneath that red shirt he’s wearing are the words ‘And yea, though I walk through the valley of death I will fear no evil, for I am without a doubt the meanest son-of-a-bitch in the valley’.

Amen to that.

John Wayne in The ComancherosThe Comancheros (1960)

I’ve written previously on JWs first appearance in The Comancheros, stating that I think it’s ‘nearly the best scene in the film’, even though we’re talking about the opening credits to the film itself.

Reflecting upon this again, I still stand by that statement and go even further by claiming that is not just nearly the best scene, it is most definitely the best scene in the whole film.

Imagine for just a moment, back in the late 1960s say, that you meet up with someone who has spent the last forty years of their life marooned on a desert island. Finally returned to civilization this poor individual has to come to terms with a changed world, a world in which a certain John Wayne is the top box-office attraction at your local cinema.

How do you explain John Wayne to someone who has no idea who he is? Simple. You just sit the guy down in the front row of the nearest cinema and get him to watch the beginning of The Comancheros. If you don’t have a new and dedicated convert once the opening credits have finished you may as well send him back from whence he came.

Everything about this sequence is total cinematic perfection. The end of the pre-credit sequence in which Stuart Whitman kills a man in a duel segues into the main credits, accompanied by a drum-roll on the soundtrack. John Wayne then rides across the screen as Elmer Bernstein’s score settles into the main theme of the film. Wayne and his horse seem to move in time with the music itself, gathering speed in

Wayne and his horse seem to move in time with the music itself, gathering speed in synchronization with the score. Like all great Western movie cowboys such as Randolph Scott and James Stewart in particular, Duke appears to spring from out of nowhere as if by magic into the wild landscape that frames him in the background. He is instantly confirmed as a man with a sense of purpose – in this case on a mission to hunt down Whitman – who one way or another is going to get his man.

Wayne and Cinemascope were made for each other, as much as Wayne and landscape, Wayne and the Western and Wayne and Elmer Bernstein. The blood red titles that splash across the screen adds a further frisson to the scene as a whole. Watching this again I realize that JW is literally only on screen in the credit sequence for a few seconds, the rest of the credits played across a montage of shots of the landscape.

It’s strange but in my memory, I had always imagined that he was present throughout all of this sequence but even so, his brief appearance sears its way into the mind of the audience from the very start.

The rest of the film isn’t that bad either.

JOhn Wayne in The ShootistThe Shootist (1976)

Duke’s final film has quite an interesting and unique introductory sequence over the credit titles comprising of three aspects worth considering in a little detail. First off we are presented with assorted clips from previous films such as Red River, Hondo, Rio Bravo and El Dorado.

As Miles Swarthout, son of the author of The Shootist, Glendon Swarthout, suggests, ‘many film critics and historians have mentioned this opening montage […] because it was innovative in cinema technique, using a star’s old movies to delineate his new story’s character’.

It also comes in useful if you ever meet another of those guys marooned on a desert island too long – see previous comments on The Comancheros.

Secondly, Ron Howard’s commentary, which is voiced over the clips as they run, informs us what kind of person the main character is going to be. He’s ‘not an outlaw’, and he has a creed that he lives by. ‘I won’t be wronged. I won’t be insulted. I won’t be laid a-hand on. I don’t do these things to other people, and I require the same from them’. So there you have it. Duke as aged gunfighter JB Books is a stand-up guy. Who knew?

Finally, once the clips have finished, Wayne can be seen slowly riding from out of the wilderness– where else? – towards the camera. Watching it again it reminds me in particular of the famous shot of Omar Sharif making his way towards the waterhole in Lawrence in Arabia.

Both Wayne and Sharif emerge slowly from a harsh landscape and are eventually transformed from a small unrecognizable dot in the distance to fully fledged, and in both cases, very dangerous characters capable of extreme acts of violence.

Wayne’s action credentials are introduced immediately after the credits have rolled when he is waylaid by a varmint requesting he hand over his wallet. Duke obliges but then gut shoots said varmint with a gun concealed next to the wallet, or, as our hero remarks, ‘a little extra something’.

Wayne’s parting comment to his inept bushwhacker of ‘Mister, you’d better find another line of work. This one sure don’t your pistol’, happily reassures us that JW as JB Books is most definitely in Big Jake ‘cruel but fair’ mode.

John Wayne in Rio BravoRio Bravo (1959)

There’s a lot to like about the opening minutes of Rio Bravo. The slow strumming of the guitar in the background as Dude, played by Dean Martin, slinks in through the rear of the saloon looking for his next drink.

The fact there’s no dialogue right up until the moment Duke arrests Joe Burdette. And the first full shot of Duke as John T Chance as he tries to save Dude from further degradation. As I believe I’ve mentioned before it’s a superior example of classic filmmaking from one of the few directors to match John Ford in both cinematic style and mastery of film language, Howard Hawks.

What I also like about it is that Hawks throws the audience right into the middle of the action from the very beginning without bothering to indulge in any kind of exposition or explanation on behalf of the viewer. He takes for granted that his audience is intelligent enough to understand and catch up with what is happening on screen for themselves, which makes this opening scene even more gratifying than usual.

Angie Dickinson in Rio Bravo

Angie Dickinson is in it too. Couldn’t think of another excuse

We know Dude is a drunk by his appearance and manner but we don’t know straight away that he’s also a lawman as well. In fact, we’re kept in the dark on his status in the community right up until the point he helps JW arrest Joe Burdette a few minutes further on.

What we do know is that he is prepared to debase himself for a drink, preparing to place his hand in a spittoon to retrieve a silver dollar thrown by the villainous Burdette, and it’s at this point that Chance / Wayne makes his entrance.

Or rather his right foot to be exact, as he kicks the spittoon away before Dude can get to the money. The next shot shows John T in full profile but shot from the ground up, towering over Dude with a look of disgust to indicate the disdain he feels towards the fallen figure before him.

The unusual angle of this shot serves to emphasize and confirm to the audience that John T holds the moral high ground, which is just as it should be. After all, this is John Wayne we’re talking about. Chance then turns his anger towards Joe Burdette with a look that indicates that he fully intends to knock seven

Chance then turns his anger towards Joe Burdette with a look that indicates that he fully intends to knock seven colours of excrement out of the smirking villain at the bar. The fact he doesn’t get to do that straight away due to Dude taking offence at Chance spoiling his opportunity of getting a drink by clubbing him over the head with a large piece of wood is neither here or there.

The film and the characters within are on a roll and the audience knows it’s going to stay that way right through to the end. And what a ride it is.

John Wayne in The SearchersThe Searchers (1956)

Those of you familiar with this film – and if you’re not then you should be ashamed of yourselves – will acknowledge that the main title sung by the Sons of the Pioneers kind of gives a big reveal of the story away, especially the end of the film.

‘What makes man to wander
What makes man to roam
What makes a man leave bed and board
And turn his back on home
Ride away
Ride away’

Ride away is of course exactly what Ethan does once he has helped rescue his niece from the Comanches. It’s worth mentioning the end of the movie because it is inexorably linked to the opening sequence.

The most obvious connection is the manner in which the film starts after the opening credits. The camera follows Martha, the wife of Ethan’s brother Aaron, as she opens the cabin door from the inside and walks out into the bright sunlight as Ethan appears out of the wilderness in the distance.

This is almost the complete reverse of the famous sequence at the end when the door closes on Ethan walking away. It’s not the same cabin that Ethan approaches at the beginning, but it’s still home, and still indicative of the domesticity and family life that Ethan eventually rejects.

‘Martha’s Theme’ plays on the soundtrack as she walks out onto the porch. Aaron appears next to Martha and says just one word – ‘Ethan?’ as his brother slowly rides into view. You can tell more from the expression on Martha’s face than you can her husband that Ethan’s arrival is totally unexpected.

The buttes of Monument Valley frame the figure of Ethan as he rides up and dismounts. The combination on screen of John Wayne filmed against the breath-taking beauty of Monument Valley is a wonder to behold.

It’s therefore totally fitting that this composition of iconic cowboy star against an iconic Western landscape is the very first shot in the film that we, the audience, recognize the approaching stranger as John Wayne himself.JOhn Wayne in The SearchersHe and his brother Aaron shake hands and just nod at each other, no words exchanged between them. As with the almost silent film sequence at the beginning of Rio Bravo, the dialogue is to a minimum. Aaron and Martha’s three children, along with their dog, are the most vocal during Ethan’s arrival, but Ethan himself does not utter a word.

No explanation as to why he is there, not even a vocal greeting to his brother. Martha’s reaction to Ethan’s sudden appearance is more telling. After she and Ethan embrace, Martha briefly leaning close to him whilst Ethan kisses her chastely on the forehead, she steps up onto the porch with her back to the cabin.

She then moves backwards, keeping her eyes on Ethan as she moves through the doorway, and it is at this moment, not later on when she caresses his overcoat, that we realise Martha loves Ethan.

A poignant opening to the masterpiece that is The Searchers.

Please follow and like us:
Spread The Word

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below

Douglas Tipton - April 16, 2018 Reply

The opening of Angel and the Bad man is great, action.

    Steve Mayhew - April 16, 2018 Reply

    Just reran the opening sequence again and I agree. Any cowboy film that features Monument Valley at the beginning is well worth watching – and to have JW in it as well is a real bonus

JOHN BOOK - April 16, 2018 Reply

I can say that there isn’t a move of John Wayne that i didn’t like.J B BOOKS was a thought rising story. knowing that this was his last move.He was a man of truth and would tell you so. J.B. (john book)

    Steve Mayhew - April 16, 2018 Reply

    I agree. In fact, I finally got around to checking out the original novel by Glendon Swarthout, on which the film was based (he also wrote The Homespun as well), and it was a very poignant read, knowing it was also going to be Duke’s last film.

Leave a Reply: