John Wayne’s Movie Verbal Magic Moments

John Wayne’s Movie Verbal Magic Moments

Having delved into the JW film catalog and selected some of my favourite non-verbal ‘magic moments’ in John Wayne’s movies, I thought I’d list a few of the memorable verbal moments as well.

A pivotal moment in this Ford / Wayne classic in which JW proves to the many naysayers out there that, given the right script and the right director, he could hold his own in the acting stakes against the best that Hollywood had to offer.

John Wayne in The Searchers

The Searchers

Poor old Brad thinks he’s just seen Lucy, his fiancé, in the Comanche village but Ethan has to tell him that ‘What you saw was a buck, wearing Lucy’s dress’.

When a distraught Brad pushes for more information, Ethan’s anguish explodes to the surface as he shouts ‘What do you want me to do? Draw you a picture! Spell it out! Don’t ever ask me. Long as you live don’t ever ask me more’.

Of course, Brad has about one minute left to live before he rides off to his doom.

I found this scene even more impressive after Harry Carey Jr. related the story about how they had to do it twice. Apparently Ward Bond accidentally unplugged the power to the camera so that he could use his electric shaver.

It’s a wonder he got out of there alive himself.


I hesitate to include this as it’s probably one of the most revered JW ‘moments’ of all time, but I can still remember, when I first saw the movie back in 1963, the reaction of the delighted audience who almost burst into applause when Duke punched Leo Gordon.

Goaded by Gordon poking him in the stomach with a loaded shotgun – watch the scene for yourselves and note Strother Martin wincing each time it happens – Wayne snatches the rifle away then famously declares ‘Somebody ought to belt you in the mouth. But I won’t. I won’t. The hell I won’t’.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Prior to delivering the knockout punch, Wayne refers to Gordon as ‘Pilgrim’. Either Duke was improvising or he’d forgotten Gordon’s character was called Jones.

The Alamo

I’ve been very critical of the script that James Edward Grant wrote for The Alamo, finding it in turn bombastic, preachy and at times downright corny.

There is, however, one moment in the film when Grant subtly captures the poignancy of the characters left to ponder their fate the night before the final battle.

As the defenders silently contemplate their thoughts, Crockett is asked what he might be thinking, to which he replies ‘Not thinking – just remembering’.

It’s a powerfully emotional moment in a somewhat overblown production but serves to remind JW fans why Duke felt he had to make the film.

She Wore a Yellow Ribbon

A sadly non-Oscar nominated performance from Wayne, playing a character, Captain Brittles, several years older than he was at the time. His troops throw in a collection for a retirement present – ‘even Sergeant Houghbauer’.

Brittles takes the gift, a watch, then looks around in embarrassment as he retrieves a pair of glasses in order to make out the sentiment on the back.

Brittles reads out loud, ‘To Captain Brittles, from C Troop. Lest we forget’, the last three words spoken with a catch in his voice. He clears his throat and sniffs to staunch the emotions that lay just beneath the surface and we, the audience, see Brittles as a real person and not just as Captain of C Troop.

He thanks the soldiers then takes a moment to compose himself. The man then becomes the soldier again, ordering his Lieutenant to take his troop and ‘proceed on your mission’.

Utterly sublime.

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

One of the most enjoyable aspects of watching any John Wayne movie, particularly his Westerns, is anticipating at what point our boy decides he’s not going to take any more crap from whoever’s been goading him throughout the film.

There are so many examples of this I could be writing about them until I fall off the perch. I’ve already mentioned McLintock! so here’s a couple more in the same vein worth mentioning.

Duke waits patiently for his dinner, then watches as as Liberty Valance trips up the waiter, ‘Pilgrim’ James Stewart, who ends up wiping the floor with JWs steak. Mr. Valance then receives the heart-stopping news from JW that ‘that was my steak, Valance’.

For a moment we salivate at the prospect of JW finally meting out some frontier justice to Liberty, but before violence erupts between the two protagonists, in steps a rather incautious Strother Martin, as one of Valance’s cronies, rather unwisely attempting to retrieve the steak and break the tension.

Unfortunately for him the only thing that gets broken is his head as Duke delivers a well-aimed boot to Martin’s face.

The moral of the story: Never get between Duke and his dinner.

Rio Bravo

This is another JW ‘he plum riled me’ moment in which Duke tries to keep his anger in check and fails miserably.

He saunters in though the back door of a saloon into which it is believed the killer of one of his friends has fled.

An unusually sober Dude oversees the interrogation of the rest of the saloon as John T. plants himself firmly next to two villains at the other end of the saloon.

When Dude announces ‘we’re looking for somebody who ran in here’, second villain at the back of the bar asserts ‘Nobody’s run in here’. An affronted John T. menacingly informs the idiot that ‘We’ll remember you said that’.

When it turns out second villain at the back of the bar was lying, Chance impresses upon him the error of his ways by whacking him across the face with his rifle, Duke’s weapon of choice in this particular bar (see part 1 of this article on another Rio Bravo moment).

Dude prevails upon his colleague to lighten up, to which John T. replies ‘I’m not gonna hurt him’, which is kind of moot on account of second villain at the back of the saloon is already lying flat out on the floor.

Another moral: Never lie to John Wayne unless you want to keep your teeth.


I’ll keep this one short.John Wayne joke:‘Knock knock’‘Who’s there?’‘Brannigan’Love it.

Keep your suggestions for more memorable John Wayne moments coming in either in the comments below or on the MostlyWesterns FB page and we may look having a roundup article on this subject at a later date.

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Steve is a film scholar of note, gaining both an MA in film studies and a Ph.D. for his thesis on the silent films of John Ford. Steve, a scriptwriter and published novelist, provides much of the content you see here and is a dedicated aficionado and longtime fan of John Wayne, John Ford and Western films in general.

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