John Wayne’s Romantic Movie Scenes

I’m not just saying this to be controversial or to start an argument or anything, but I’m still not convinced you could call John Wayne a real romantic leading man.

One of the reasons I liked John Wayne movies as a kid was because he kept all that girlie love stuff to a minimum, which in turn gave him more time to shoot people instead.

Sure enough, he nearly always gets the dame in the final reel, and quite a few of his leading ladies had no problems falling for his charms – on or off the screen – even though on occasion the age gap might raise a few hackles if the films in question were to be served up to a contemporary audience.

When you watch a John Wayne film you’re not there to feel the love. You’re waiting for the moment when he inevitably gets to wipe the floor with the bad guys, after which he can then indulge in all the kissing and romantic stuff he wants to, on account of that’s the end of the film.

Having said all that, there are enough sequences in his movies to indicate the man had what it took to make those of the female persuasion fall for the big lug lock, stock and two smoking barrels. I can’t be sure if that’s a euphemism or not, but it sure sounds like one to me. Anyway, I’ve selected scenes from 10 John Wayne films that hint at the unbridled lust and insatiable urges that throbbed dangerously close to the surface of the man the girls all called Big John – and in case you’re wondering, that’s most definitely a euphemism.

On with the show…

The Fighting Kentuckian

The Fighting Kentuckian poster with John Wayne & Vera Ralston

The irony of picking a JW romantic scene with Vera Ralston as his co-star is not lost on me.

Although Vera was quite positive in her appraisal of Wayne he didn’t exactly reciprocate, bemoaning the fact that not only was she foisted on him by her sugar daddy, Republic studio head Herbert Yates, in two films (apparently JW threatened to leave Republic if he was required to work with her again), on top of that she couldn’t act either.

I’ve already commented on the fact that he scores with Vera within the first seven minutes of the film, which was surely a record even for John Wayne, but he locks lips with her with such gusto you have to admit he’s definitely the better actor in that screen partnership.

Either that or he was trying to rile Herbert by showing he really enjoyed working with Vera as long as she didn’t say anything.


Hatari poster with John Wayne

Sean Mercer (John Wayne) loves Dallas (Elsa Martinelli). Elsa loves Sean. Cue romance.

But this is a Howard Hawks film, and in a Howard Hawks film the men are totally incapable of actually uttering the words “I love you”.

It’s as though the word “love” has been totally expunged from their vocabulary on account of their hearts having been torn to shreds by some dame in the past.

When Dallas decides to leave, JW has to figure out a way of letting her know how he feels about her. But how can he do that and still avoid uttering those three little words? Buy her flowers? Get someone to skywrite “I love you” with fluffy little clouds of smoke?

Ask one of his friends to tell her “my mate really fancies you”? No. Way too easy.

Seeing as he’s running a group of hunters tasked with supplying wild animals for zoos he decides the best thing to do to make Elsa stay is to have her chased by three cute baby elephants instead, all toddling along to that irritating Henry Mancini “Baby Elephant Walk” tune on the soundtrack.

Elephants? Of course. It’s so blindingly obvious I don’t know why no one had ever thought of it before. Who said romance was dead?

Seven Sinners

John Wayne & Marlene Dietrich in Seven Sinners

I chose this film for a very specific reason. Despite the fact the Hays Code was in full swing back in 1940, there’s a very seductive sequence between John Wayne and Marlene Dietrich that suggests quite clearly that they end up sleeping together.

The scene starts with Dietrich as nightclub singer Bijou Blanche, lying in bed and languidly fanning herself in the hot evening air.

She is called to the window by the sound of a whistling John Wayne, as navy lieutenant Dan Brent, who informs her he was “just hanging around to say goodnight”.

She tells him she must say “goodnight” as well, because “at this time of the night I have no sense”. JW tells her to “look me in the eye and swear to that”. She smiles suggestively, then says “I swear”, after which the screen abruptly fades to black.

I’ve watched enough films to know that when a scene fades in such a manner without a definitive end to the encounter between the main characters then you can bet your bottom dollar that whatever followed on after the fade was definitely not for public consumption.

There’s an added frisson to the sequence knowing that the couple were by now engaged in a very torrid affair off-screen, a liaison that apparently lasted for a couple of years or more.

Of all the three movies in which they co-starred together, this scene is the most memorably romantic of all, even if The Spoilers is by the far the best movie Wayne and Dietrich played in together.

The Alamo

The Alamo with John Wayne poster

Until I saw the roadshow version of The Alamo, I was under the impression the closest Davy Crockett and the beautiful Flaca ever got to even a hint of romance was when he instructs her to “listen tight” before winding up his speech with something about a dead beaver hat.

You know this because in the roadshow version the sequence prior to this ends with Crockett holding a relieved Flaca in his arms as he informs her that villain Emile Sande, who has attempted to force the young lady into marriage, is now deceased, after which, just as in Seven Sinners, the screen fades to black.

The full directors cut, however, paints a different picture, one in which it is heavily implied that the two of them have enjoyed a somewhat more meaningful relationship than previously suggested, with Davy obviously having stayed for breakfast on the morning of the night before.

In the version shown on TV every public holiday, however, this sequence is preceded by the scene in which Sande actually meets his demise, removing any suggestion of carnal knowledge between Davy and Flaca.

Angel And The Badman

It’s true what they say – less is more and there’s a simmering eroticism between Wayne and Russell almost from the very first moment they share the screen together, right up until they finally get to lock lips about one hour and fifteen minutes in.

Up until that point, it’s probably one of the longest bouts of sexual foreplay committed to celluloid in all of Wayne’s films without there actually being any proper sex to contend with.

The first time Wayne, as the Badman, sets eyes on Angel, played by the beautiful Gail Russell, he’s awoken by the noise of someone in the room with him. Half naked – I hope he’s only half-naked anyway – he whips out his pistol and points it straight at Russell, and if that action alone doesn’t denote a highly charged sexual subtext then I’ll burn my MA certificate in film studies right now.

There has been some suggestion that Wayne and Russell might have also held hands off screen as well. If so, just as with Dietrich, the private aspect of their lives seeps quite heavily onto the screen whenever they’re together.

They Were Expendable

There’s a wonderfully understated romantic sequence in this famous John Ford WWII movie in which it is obvious both Wayne and Donna Reed, as Rusty and Sandy, have feelings for each other.

Sandy, an army nurse, is invited to dine with Rusty and five of his fellow navy comrades, with her being the guest of honour.

As the evening draws to a close the other men make their excuses and vacate the table one by one, eventually leaving the couple alone together.

They sit silently for the moment, their reverie broken by the arrival of the cook who clears the table then thoughtfully blows out the candles on the table, heightening the unspoken intimacy between the two of them.

What’s interesting about this scene is that once the men start to leave you don’t actually get to see Reed’s face, just those of Wayne and the others as they express their thanks for dining with them.

Rusty finally gets to put his arm around her after which they then rise from the table and walk out towards the open porch where Rusty suddenly realises Sandy is crying.

Crying for the men she’s just met, and crying because deep down she and Rusty both know the war isn’t going to allow them a happy ending. After all, as the title of the film makes clear, they’re expendable.


Stagecoach 1939 with John Wayne & Claire Trevor poster

Another of those meals in which John Wayne and a lady get left alone at their table, only this time it’s because the lady in question, Dallas, played by Claire Trevor, is also – ahem – a lady of the night.

The fact that the outlaw, Ringo, played by Wayne, has no idea that this is why they’re being ostracised is what lends the scene such poignancy, naively remarking “Looks like I got the plague, don’t it?”.

He then serves Dallas some food, this moment marking the beginning of a relationship that neither of them is yet aware of. There’s an added layer to all of this because the lady who gives offence by refusing to sit at the same table as Ringo and Dallas, the pregnant Mrs. Mallory, ends up dining with a back-shooting gambler and a corrupt manager who has just stolen a large amount of cash from his own bank.

The cold-shouldered couple may both be of dubious morality but the group that exclude them are guilty of rank hypocrisy, and it is their hypocrisy that binds Ringo and Dallas together.

Rio Bravo

Rio Bravo with John Wayne Dean Martin poster

I know I could have taken the easy way out here and picked the scene in which Duke gathers a sleeping Angie Dickinson up into his arms then climbs the stairs with her to his boudoir – kind of a faux Rhett Butler / Scarlett O’Hara sequence but without all the screaming and the red carpet.

I’ve controversially plumped instead for what I consider to be the most delightfully surprising of all JWs romantic scenes.

I’m talking of course about the sequence in which he kisses Walter Brennan. Now, before you go looking for a bucket of tar, a sack of feathers and a rail to run me out of town on just hear me out.

I mean, it’s not as if I’m suggesting that they’re going to walk out of the jailhouse hand-in-hand and go choose curtains together. I’m talking here of the love a man can have for another man without recourse to that which dare not speak its name.

Besides, it’s just a little kiss on the forehead, followed by Brennan whacking a retreating Wayne with a broom. It’s obvious that deep down they respect each other. What the hell. They love each other. Get over it. Move on.

Not sure about the age gap though.

The Searchers

The one truly romantic scene in the whole of the film featuring John Wayne is played out just before Ethan Edwards rides out with a group of ranchers to track down a band of Comanche warriors that have stolen a herd of cattle, unaware they’re being drawn away from their homesteads so that the rest of the Comanche can attack the undefended homesteads. 

His sister-in-law, Martha, goes to get Ethan’s coat from his room, lovingly stroking it before returning with the garment. This act of tenderness is accidentally witnessed by a third party, the Reverend Clayton, played by Ward Bond, who studiously averts his gaze as Ethan and Martha say goodbye.

Ethan kisses Martha chastely on the forehead before walking from the cabin, Martha following closely behind to wave him goodbye. It is obvious the couple have hidden feelings for each other which makes the scene even more touching as this will be the last time Ethan will see Martha alive.

A beautifully yet unbearably sad moment from one of John Ford’s finest films.

The Quiet Man

John Wayne in The Quiet Man

It’s a long way into the film, about one hour 40 minutes or so before Wayne and O’Hara finally get to grips with each other, so to speak.

Mary Kate has decided to give Sean Thornton’s cottage, “White O’Morn” a good spring clean before he moves in. Thornton turns up unexpectedly and interrupts the proceedings, forcing her to hide. 

Realising he’s not alone, he flushes out the interloper by smashing a window and letting out what I think they refer to in the colonies as a “Rebel Yell”. In a beautifully choreographed set of movements akin to a dance, Mary Kate runs out the front door, Thornton catches her by the hand, swings her back into the cottage, pulls her close and kisses her.

John Wayne & Maureen O'Hara kissing scene in The Quiet Man

She momentarily relaxes in his arms – what gal wouldn’t I guess – before reverting to type and taking a swing at him.

Being a trained boxer and all, Thornton shields the punch and launches into a romantic speech about “the sight of a girl coming through the fields, the sun on her hair, kneeling in church with a face like a saint “. She softens, turns to leave, suddenly kisses him and runs out the door.

I love that this is the sequence the little rubber alien gets to see in E.T. when he’s drunkenly scrolling through the TV channels.

If memory serves me correctly, composer John Williams even utilises a small sample of “Isle of Innisfree” on the soundtrack when E.T.’s friend, Eliott, who is psychically connected to his little friend, mirrors the actions of Wayne and O’Hara, pulling his first girlfriend – played by a young Elenia Eleniak of “Baywatch” fame – in the process.

Which only goes to show, when it comes to John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara and director John Ford, you can’t keep a good movie down.

Photo of author
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.

8 thoughts on “John Wayne’s Romantic Movie Scenes”

  1. Janet, can you give us an idea of when you saw the film? I’m assuming you were watching it at the cinema in which case we might be able to narrow things down a bit.


  2. For more than 60 years an image is haunting me (sorry: English isn’t my native language). John Wayne in a Far West movie was always wiping unwanted kisses of a girl. Then almost on the last scene she kissed him on the lips and said (something like): – “You’ll never wipe the taste of this kiss”… or a variation of it as “you’ll never forget” or “never wash out”. The movie was with portuguese subtitles so…
    Thank you

    • Mark, we’re trying to figure what John Wayne film you might be referring to. If you’re recollecting something from over 60 years ago then that obviously confines it to John Wayne films prior to 1960. We’ll do all we can to check this out further and get back to you at a later point.

      Kind regards

    • Oh my goodness, Mark, I am here checking this website because of the same movie, especially the last scene. I literary googled and this page came out. I watched it probably around 35 years ago through. I didn’t even remember that it was John Wayne. I guess I am one step closer to solving a his mystery :-).


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