This is another in the series of John Wayne movies that have passed me by for one reason or another. Largely because they were films that were out of my reference when growing up. Check out The 10 Best John Wayne Movies From My Childhood.
And maybe because they were lesser known JW movies I didn't catch up with them until later so below we present 5 more John Wayne Movies I Missed P2.
Seven Sinners (1940)
Categorised as a comedy drama romance, this is the first of 3 films with Marlene Dietrich, here playing a torch singer, the improbably named Bijou Franche.
Duke is a Naval officer, Dan Brent, who just as naturally falls for her onscreen as Wayne did off screen, so this part wasn’t going to be too much of a stretch for him.
The film starts slightly differently than normal, with a small pre-credit sequence in which a rowdy nightclub crowd call out for Bijou before a fight breaks out over which the credits are then shown.
Apparently Bijou can incite riots purely by her appearance so she is deported with Broderick Crawford as a mouth-breathing lummox called Little Ned who follows her around like an overeager puppy.
The whole ‘she’s always causing a riot’ thing could so easily be resolved if someone were to take Little Ned out into a field and shoot him in the back of the head, seeing as he’s the one who appears to initiate the fighting a lot of the time, but then of course we’d have no film to watch, so logic, as usual, must go out the window.
Bijou Blanche ends up on the island of Boni-Komba – I don’t understand a word I’m writing here - and takes up residence in the Seven Sinners nightclub, where she wows the local naval contingent, including Duke of course.
There’s quite a nice little supporting cast at work here including John Ford regular Anna Lee, Oskar Homolka, Albert Dekker, Mischa Auer and Billy Gilbert.
By the half hour mark Wayne has only had about 2 minutes of screen time so this is obviously a Dietrich rather than a JW vehicle.
We get a couple of Dietrich musical numbers, one in which she indulges her onscreen penchant for cross-dressing, this time as a navy officer, but no kissing the girls in the audience, as she famously did in Morocco.
Marlene’s costumes grow ever more bizarre as the film progresses, one in particular making her look like an overgrown tree. Dietrich gets to sing the old classic ‘I Can’t Give You Anything but Love’, which is used as a constant theme throughout the film, but is hijacked from the earlier Howard Hawks screwball comedy Bringing Up Baby.
I would have thought that the outrage shown by Wayne’s navy superiors regarding his involvement with Dietrich is rather outmoded, even by 1940s standards.
Even Little Ned, who it turns out was once in the navy, has a change of heart, telling Dietrich she will drag John Wayne's character down just like she did to him.
At the end there’s quite a spectacular saloon brawl which might have been included in the John Wayne punch up article if I’d seen this film earlier.
There’s a weak suggestion of a love-triangle involving Dietrich, JW and Anna Lee, and a slightly risqué element in which it is obvious Dietrich and JW spend the night together.
Dietrich ends up befriending the doctor from the ship that delivered her to the island in the beginning, and any potential suggestion of romance between JW and Anna Lee literally just disappears from the story at the end.
There are a couple of mildly amusing sequences and jokes along the way but I would have to say it’s not the most memorable of John Wayne movies, or Dietrich vehicles come to that. File under faintly interesting.
Lady from Louisiana (1940)
After a rather jaunty theme tune the movie opens on John Wayne and his co-star, Ona Munson, on a steamboat in the 1890s enjoying a lip-locked embrace interspersed with images of boat whistles blowing off white steam and thrusting armatures powering the large paddle steamer.
There’s enough suggestive sexual imagery in literally just the first minute of the movie to keep a film studies student occupied for the next month – but anything that starts with a climax is bound to be a let down at some point, which is where I think this film is headed.
Wayne, as - wait for it – an anti-lottery league lawyer called John Reynolds, falls in love with southern belle Julia on the way to New Orleans, Munson somewhat typecast as she played a character actually called Belle, a southern madam, in Gone with the Wind.
It turns out that Wayne has been summoned to help investigate the unlawful use of lottery funds by Julia’s father, General Anatole. Julia knew nothing about her father’s devious dealings so before you know it we’re in the ‘course of true love never runs smooth’ plot device territory.
There’s plenty of stereotypical African-American characters to offend absolutely everyone, including one scene in which a black servant by the name of Agamemnon doesn’t like answering the telephone, declaring that ‘dat devil machine done speakin’ back to me!’.
As for the dancing piccaninny’s, the less said the better.
Duke gets appointed State Attorney and ends up taking on Julia’s father and his cronies, one of whom, the creepy voiced Blackburn Williams, played by Ray Middleton, has the General murdered after he fires Williams for stealing.
There’s a lot of nefarious to-ing and fro-ing involving the criminal exploitation of small business owners by the swine’s who control the lottery but it’s not a subject that really holds the interest of the audience, or more specifically, me.
As for action, it’s nearly fifty minutes into an eighty-minute film before Duke finally throws the first punch.
The film is lifted towards the end when the levee breaks and the town floods, JW coming to the rescue by plugging the gap with a steamboat, although any steam in the story had long run out by then.
The thing is, Duke is not suited to playing a crusading reformer who wears a white bowtie and top hat and dances at society balls. John Wayne was put on this earth to be a rootin’ tootin’ punch happy pugilist who lays down the law with his fists and a loaded six gun and Winchester repeater, not partaking in namby pamby court cases and police raids.
That is why it’s difficult to recommend Lady from Louisiana, even to the most ardent JW fan.
The Shepherd of the Hills (1941)
I taped this on VHS from TV years ago but for some reason just never got around to actually watching it. Maybe the title put me off, I don’t know, but having viewed it for the first time I have to say I missed out on a pretty good movie.
It’s more of an adventure film than an out and out Western, set in the Ozark Mountains round about the early 1900s.
On first sight you might not be blamed for thinking this is a John Ford movie. John Wayne, Ward Bond, John Qualen and even Harry Carey Senior - all present and correct.
Conversing with the dead at the graveside – check. Minimal camera movement – check. A paen to the poor and dispossessed – check.
But it’s not a Ford film, it’s directed by Henry Hathaway of Katie Elder / True Grit fame. Like a lot of good Western directors, Hathaway gives the landscape a chance to shine on the screen. It’s beautifully shot on location in and around San Bernadino National Forest, and also happens to be John Wayne's first movie in colour.
Wayne, as mountain bootlegger Matt Mathews, hardly figures at all at the beginning of the film. He turns up occasionally for a few moments in the first half hour to show he’s in mean and ornery mode, clipping feisty mountain gal Sammy Lane, played by Betty Field, around the earhole for sassin’ off at the mouth about JWs dead mother.
In truth the film really belongs to Harry Carey, as Daniel Howitt, the shepherd of the title.
Carey is a mysterious stranger who turns up wanting to buy land in the vicinity. It’s hard to understand why he would even think about living there considering how mean and surly everyone he meets seems to be, but then it’s obvious there’s more to the story of the shepherd than meets the eye.
Sammy is the first one to figure out – apart from me and everyone else on the planet – that Carey is actually Wayne’s father, the father he has hated for abandoning the family years before and who he blames for the death of his mother.
Upon finding out that Carey is his father Matt / Wayne gets a case of the Ethan Edwards ‘let’s go kill me some kinfolk’ syndrome.
They face off and – I have to say I didn’t expect this - but father shoots first and guns Matt down. After recovering from surgery Matt looks at his father and says, with a smile, ‘Kinda like being born again right side up’.
What he should have said is ‘You shot me, you bastard. Your own kid. I mean, what’s wrong with you?’
It was an unexpected pleasure watching the film, mainly due to seeing Carey and Wayne together on screen, both actors key figures when it comes to John Ford’s directing career. The irony is that it’s Hathaway, and not Ford, who gets the opportunity to work with Carey and Wayne in a film of some significance.
A real gem of a movie even if, apparently, the film doesn’t stick that close to the original source novel.
Lady For A Night (1942)
I have no insight or background knowledge as to why John Wayne stayed faithful to Republic Studios for so long. I can only assume head of the studio Herbert Yates had a handful of negatives that showed his star indulging in something so unwholesome Wayne was kept chained up for nearly twenty years churning out pieces of fluff such as this.
Like a lot of his previous Republic films, yet again he is not the main star of the film. That honour falls to Joan Blondell, playing Jenny Blake, owner of the steamboat Memphis Belle – the name of which was adopted for the famous WWII American bomber – who strives to be accepted in polite society.
John Wayne is Jack Morgan, a gambler and reprobate who tries to help Blondell further her social ambitions.
The film is supposedly set in Memphis in the 1880s but it looks like a collection of outtakes from Lady of Louisiana, complete with Ray Middleton performing a less villainous reprisal of his earlier role, a whole host of props and costumes that featured in that film as well and a slew of black actors competing with each other to deliver the most hackneyed stereotypical African American characters possible.
The basic plot concerns Blondell’s efforts to be accepted by her betters to the point where she rashly marries Middleton, who has no money but does have some social standing.
Maybe if Wayne hadn’t kept calling her ‘baby’ like some cheap gangster she would have seen the error of her ways but that’s what comes of casting JW against type.
Blondell doesn’t realise it but she’s married into a high society version of the Addams family, complete with a creepy sister modelled on Miss Haversham from Great Expectations and an older and murderous sister carved from the same mould as Mrs Danvers from Rebecca.
I’m detecting a bit of a common theme that runs throughout some of the Wayne / Republic early 1940s films in which everything tends to be tidied up and explained through the medium of a court case, and this film is no exception.
I’m not sure I can be bothered to enlighten you further on the trials and travails Joan Blondell suffers in this rather disappointing film. She and Wayne finally get together by the end of the last reel and that’s all the detail I’m going to give, unless you want to put yourself through the ordeal of watching the film yourself.
JW is totally wasted in this film, and I don’t mean from an alcoholic point of view either. Anyone could have played his part. I could have played his part only I’d have had to have been alcoholically wasted to take it on.
I never thought I’d say this about a film with John Wayne in it, but it’s 1 hour, 27 minutes and 51 seconds of my life I’m never going to get back. Mind you, I’ve not seen The Greatest Story Ever Told yet.
Or The Conqueror for that matter.
Reap the Wild Wind (1942)
John Wayne is, again, not the actual star of this film in a part that requires him to play a bit of a swine to be honest.
In fact it’s the somewhat bland Ray Milland who turns out to be the hero of the story in this seafaring epic from Cecil B. DeMille set in the 1840’s.
Second billed in the part of Jack Stuart, captain of a boat that founders on the rocks at the beginning of the film, JWs character starts out as a man of principle, a good man who falls in love with salvage business owner Paulette Godard.
Once Milland appears on the scene the ever-reliable love triangle of so many other films / books / plays etc. is then firmly established.
JW is found guilty of negligence and stripped of his captaincy. If you’re in the armed services and you’re found guilty of misconduct you’re either dishonourably discharged or court martialled or your uniform torn from you by one of your peers.
In the American Merchant Navy it appears you’re forced to dump a small scale model of the boat you lost amongst a whole load of other model boats that represent the ships that have been ‘left to rot on the bottom’.
Well, you learn something new every day.
The best I can say about the film is that it looks good. DeMille and his cinematographer certainly know how to apply colour to a scene, something Martin Scorsese praises DeMille for in his 1956 version of The Ten Commandments.
On occasion though I had to keep reminding myself I wasn’t watching a remake of Gone With the Wind, what with Paulette Godard playing her part as a poor man’s Scarlett O’Hara, complete with a Hattie McDaniels look-alike black hand-maiden and a ‘y’all quit that lolly-gaggin‘ round me now, ya here?’ accent.
We even get ‘fiddlesticks’ which is about as close to ‘fiddle dee dee’ as you can get without being served with a plagiarism suit.
JW goes over to the dark side when he thinks Ray Milland, who ends up owning the shipping company Duke worked for, has deliberately held back on telling him he’s going to be captain of a new ship.
In reality Milland was the one who recommended the shipping company keep Duke on until he could be cleared of having anything to do with the sinking of his other ship.
In an act of mistaken revenge JW takes part in wrecking the very ship Milland had arranged for him to command. Susan Hayward has stowed upon the boat – keep up at the back there - that JW helped to sink so, seeing as someone has died through his actions, and according to writing for film 101 and the cardinal rules of storytelling, JW must therefore himself die as well.
And die he does, giving his life to save his rival in love from a giant rubber squid and thus freeing Miss Godard to marry the wimp that is Ray Milland.
Best John Wayne line in the film is ‘I’ll tear the jaw from your face’.
The best end credit is a certain Keith Richard who apparently plays a certain Captain Carruthers. I’m guessing this was an early try out before playing Johnny Depp’s dad in a couple of the Pirates of the Caribbean films.
It certainly lends credence to the suspicion that 'Keef' is not of this world. If the cast list is to be believed he was making films one year before he was actually born.