This is part 3 in what is becoming a bit of a mini series of John Wayne movies that I missed when they were originally released largely as I wasn't a JW fan until I was born.
So it was only later or even recently that I have caught up with some gems and some not so shiny. Check out the original post that brought me here The 10 Best John Wayne Movies From My Childhood.
These are lesser known JW movies I didn't catch up with until later so we present 5 more John Wayne Movies I Missed Part 3.
The Spoilers (1942)
I’ve already written on the subject of the climactic fistfight between John Wayne and Randolph Scott in this film so I won’t be going into any detail on that sequence again. Just to say though that, as punch ups go, it’s pretty good.
As with Seven Sinners the main star of the film is Marlene Dietrich, playing a saloon owner Cherry Malotte. John Wayne is third down the cast in a film that occupies much the same territory and story as North to Alaska.
It is also infinitely better than the later Wayne vehicle, with just the right mixture of humour and drama in equal balance, without the need for over-the-top broad comedy that marred so much of North to Alaska.
Wayne’s a bit of a heel in this one, playing off one woman against the other, which gives the even more villainous Randolph Scott, as a fraudulent gold commissioner, a chance to make a play for Marlene’s Cherry. Sorry I couldn't help myself.
The thing about watching Marlene Dietrich in this kind of role is that her performance will always be overshadowed by Madeline Kahn as Lily von Shtupp in Blazing Saddles.
You’re almost waiting for Dietrich to ask someone ‘is that a gun in your pocket or are you just pleased to see me?’ Strangely enough Dietrich doesn’t get to warble her chords this time, so no chance she’s going to tell someone to ‘get your fwiggin’ feet off the stage.
Harry Carey gets the thankless role of Wayne’s sidekick but it’s good to see the pair of them sharing the screen together a year after they co-starred in The Shepherd of the Hills.
At least Carey doesn’t get to shoot Duke this time. I’m still trying to get over that one myself.
An ill-advised sequence in which JW, Carey and a couple of other gold miners black up in order to steal back their own money might make not make the cut in our more enlightened times. What with Wayne and Carey upping the ante by performing a short Black and White Minstrel African American comedy double act (possibly based on the popular Amos and Andy radio show of the time), this will probably have the easily offended liberal middle class audiences of today choking on their ethically sourced skinny latte’s.
The title of the film by the way refers to the imposters, lead by Randolph Scott, who arrive in town to defraud the population.
Although Wayne is not the main star he gets more screen time than Scott, whose acting style on display in this film is rather more animated than the one he adopts in his later Westerns.
On the evidence here It’s a pity the two of them didn’t team up more often later on in their respective careers. There’s quite a spectacular train crash towards the end of the film, featuring a shot in which the locomotive heads straight towards the camera.
The crash itself appears to feature a full-scale train so I’m not sure how they made the shot of the train careering into the camera unless I’m mistaken and they used models all along. Either way, this sequence is very impressive with the film itself a sterling example of good old-fashioned 1940s Wayne Western fare.
In Old California (1942)
I swear John Wayne is wearing exactly the same getup of top hat and fancy suit here that he wore in Lady From Louisiana. Or was it Lady For a Night? One of those Republic lady films anyway.
It seems the studio was so cheap it just recycled the costumes then built some flimsy story to suit the suit, if you get my drift. And boy, is this one flimsy.
I’m finding it very hard to actually type the words ‘John Wayne plays a modest pharmacist’ without losing the will to live. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again - Duke belongs on a horse, tall in the saddle, mean and ornery, punching, fightin’ and a shootin’ his way through a whole passel of pesky Injuns / dangerous outlaws / wily land grabbers / despicable corrupt businessmen (delete that which is not applicable), not playing a bloody pill-peddling chemist like he does here.
And another thing. Wayne lets someone hit him and he doesn’t even thump the guy back. I mean – WTF? To top it all off he plays a character called Tom Craig which is probably one of the most boringly innocuous and nondescript named roles he’s ever portrayed.
Duke falls foul of fraudster Albert Dekker who extorts protection money from innocent land-owners. Along the way he befriends Dekker’s saloon singer fiancé, played by Binnie Barnes who had only four years on Wayne but here looks like she puts the old in the old West.
The position of ubiquitous JW side-kick falls to Edgar Kennedy. Just to show how ineffective Wayne is as a fighting hero in this film, the townspeople try to lynch him after mistakenly thinking he’s poisoned the local drunk with tainted medicine – I’m sorry but you’ll have to check the film out yourself if you want the backstory to this.
Instead of punching his way out of the situation Wayne is saved only after the crowd are distracted by a miner riding into town declaring there’s gold in them thar hills.
Albert Dekker is quite convincing as the sleazy villain of the film. In fact you almost feel sorry for him when he gets shot in the back by one of his own – but not that much.
There’s a couple of exciting shootouts and a fistfight between JW and Dekker that nearly gets close to John's encounter with Randolph Scott in The Spoilers, but as I said at the beginning this is a flimsy affair at best.
Even the trailer on the DVD is a bit naff but I did like the description of Wayne as a ‘two-fisted pharmacist’, and as I’ve already said, therein lies the problem.
Reunion in France (1942)
This is a real class act. An MGM movie, produced by Joseph Manciewicz (All About Eve, The Philadelphia Story), directed by Jules Dassin (Brute Force, Never on a Sunday) and starring Joan Crawford (lots and lots of other films).
Throw in music by Franz Waxman and gowns by Irene and you can see JW is really starting to play in the big league now, even if he’s still only on loan-out from Republic.
The thing is, you can’t really categorise Reunion in France as a full-blown John Wayne movie, with or without him as the star, as he doesn’t wander onto the screen until 40 minutes in, and when he does I only counted about 6 scenes in which he actually featured.
If anything it’s Crawford’s love interest, Philip Dorn, who should have received second billing, with Duke maybe tagged on the end of the cast as a guest star.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Richard Boone had more screen time in The Alamo than Duke gets here.
All that aside though, this is quite a good typical Hollywood French war movie, with someone singing Frere Jacque in the background just in case we’re not sure where the film is set, and the French newspapers sporting English headlines.
Without Wayne this would be an old-fashioned studio vehicle for Joan Crawford to play yet another of her staunch female characters sporting large shoulder pads, a haughty look and a cigarette and glass of champagne always within easy reach.
She’s a rather superior upper class dame forced onto her uppers once the Nazis occupy France and compulsorily moved out of her palatial dwelling into the flat of her former concierge.
A couple of nice touches along the way - the dining tables with candles set up in the shape of a swastika, and nasty Nazi John Carradine bemoaning the fact that once they invade England he’ll soon be enduring a foggy winter in London.
Throw in a bit part from Ava Gardner as an uncredited sales girl and those gowns (with not one wire coat hanger in sight) and it gives the similarly themed Casablanca, which was released the month before this, a good run for its money.
When Duke finally turns up he’s playing a hungry and tired (and a bit frisky too – talk about overpaid, oversexed and over here) bomber pilot on the run from the Gestapo.
It turns out he’s a member of the RAF Eagle squadron which was populated during WWII by American volunteer fliers looking for action.
Wow, Duke Wayne flew in the RAF. Who knew? What with him and Ben Affleck fighting on our side (check out the first 20 minutes or so of Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor – on second thoughts maybe not) it’s no wonder Great Britain won the war.
Too much Crawford – not enough Wayne.
Not the best of the Dietrich / Wayne trilogy of films – that honour belongs to The Spoilers – it’s also not that engaging either. Even Randolph Scott in the cast doesn’t help lift this one above mere curiosity value.
It’s a strange concoction of WWII propaganda film joined up with a coal mining story that tells in flashback the story of two successful industrialists – Scott and Wayne – who start out as lowly paid miners.
It’s a bit of a heavy handed saga as the fortunes of JW, as Pittsburgh Markham, waxes and Waynes – sorry about that. It’s also unintentionally hilarious, especially the early sequence in which Dietrich, dressed to the nines as usual, helps to lift a huge wooden beam in a mine cave-in.
It turns out she’s from a coal mining community as well, which is even more risible in a way. The script’s not that hot either. Sample line from Wayne to Dietrich: “I’m your kinda guy, see, and you’re my kinda gal. We were cut from the same chunk.”
I’m assuming by chunk he means chunk of coal but it could just as equally be an example of 1940s script hep talk that I have yet to become acquainted with.
And another thing. Should Randolph Scott really be smoking a cigarette in the middle of a laboratory surrounded by God knows how many combustible solutions? Didn’t they have health and safety back then, or was that invented just to get up everybody’s nose in today's world?
I also detect a slight whiff of socialism in the script, what with Wayne’s character arguing that if Scott sets up business with him they’ll be able to pay workers a living wage and provide medical care.
Wayne’s back to heel country again, as in The Spoilers, this time using everyone around him, including Scott and Dietrich, to further his own ambitions.
Wayne and Scott, as his ex-business partner, inevitably square up to each other in a fistfight, Scott this time taking the honours. It’s nowhere near as good as their encounter in The Spoilers, and the whole exercise comes across as something the studio hurriedly threw together in order to cash in as soon as possible on America entering WWII.
The overt message that everyone needs to forget their personal issues and pull together in time of war is however a laudable one. The propaganda element also gives credence to the suggestion that Wayne was more useful making these kind of Hollywood films rather than actually going off to fight.
The problem is that this overwhelms the obligation to also entertain the audience and provide a storyline that should occasionally veer towards realism, something Pittsburgh fails to do.
Mildly entertaining at best, although watching these JW vehicles chronologically gives one the opportunity to see him grow and stretch himself as an actor, so it’s not all bad. Just a bit ‘so-what?’.
One for only the most ardent JW fan if I’m honest.
A Lady Takes a Chance (1943)
I have to admit this isn’t a JW film that’s ever touched upon my consciousness at all. In other word’s I’d never heard of it until recently.
You can tell just by the opening music and the declaration of ‘Once upon a time’ on a title card that we’re going to the land of romantic comedy with this one.
To be more specific we’re in Cowboy and the Lady territory, only instead of Gary Cooper and Merle Oberon we get JW and Jean Arthur. JOhn Wayne plays a rodeo rider called – who else? – Duke.
Jean Arthur as Mollie decides to take a bus trip out West to get a flavour of the place, as young women back in the 1940s were wont to do, and immediately falls for the first cowboy to be thrown from a horse and land in her lap. Guess who that cowboy is.
The film gets off to a lively start with Phil Silvers in early Bilko mode as a bus driver but it’s no more than a cameo, which is a shame. A bit more Silvers and this film could have been genuinely funny.
Although I have to admit the sight of Wayne wearing a kitchen apron is slightly amusing.
Duke’s a bit of a lady’s man and marriageaphobic to boot, whilst Mollie is a one-man at a time woman so they don’t exactly hit it off straightaway until she brings Duke some luck at the gambling table.
Along the way we’re treated to a meticulously choreographed comedy bar room brawl and plenty of stock film footage of real rodeo riders in action. Not too sure how JW was helping out the war effort with this concoction but maybe he churned out one for himself every now and then.
The character of Mollie comes across as a bit of an air head if truth be told, what with having an imaginary horse called Gwendoline with ‘eyes as big as hamburgers’.
I’m guessing that what with a lot of scriptwriters unavailable due to the inconvenience of Word War II the studios resorted to employing drug addicts in their stead.
Jean Arthur gives it a touch of the Frank Capra’s - highly appropriate seeing as she made three films with Capra back in the 1930s - with a blatant steal from It Happened One Night, revealing her legs in true Claudia Colbert fashion to hitch a ride.
The whole ‘will they won’t they?’ rom-com thing includes Molly taking the blanket from Duke’s horse and the horse ending up with pneumonia so it’s a bit of a lightweight affair with hardly any cowboy action to speak of, but that’s cowboy fish-out-of-water romantic comedies for you.
On the whole it’s a fairly likeable JW vehicle and Jean Arthur more than holds her own with her onscreen partner, but it’s no Hollywood classic.