I decided to view several movies staring John Wayne. I thought he would be a good actor to examine, as he stared in hundreds of movies. I didn’t realize how much his career influenced American culture. John Wayne is the perfect example of a star echoing the mood and viewpoint of our country as a whole. Following his career, you can get a very good idea of how the average middle age White male though about himself, his country and the world.
John Wayne’s movies and characters showcase contemporary American thoughts and attitudes during the time that they were made. Sometimes these attitudes were very racist. Although we were required to view three movies, I found myself viewing much more than that. My research turned up several movies that I wanted to screen for this paper, as they were noted as fine examples of the transition of racial and political attitudes in America from the 1930s clear up to the 1960s.
When examining the ideological concerns and values of the wider culture of the time period that the John Wayne represents, we see a man who seems to be molded to symbolize the image of the American male. Early on in his career, Wayne is the tough cowboy that stands firm on his beliefs or the military leader who is willing to kill and die for his country and its virtue.
His example of how to be an American helped John Shalikashvili, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as he learned how to speak English by watching Wayne’s movies. (Willis, Gary “John Wayne’s America”) Waynes is the image first thought of when you mention the word “cowboy” as he practically perfected the role. His portrayal of the American cowboy and his tough nature is one that foreign leaders have said that our leaders copy.
Wayne played the role of the no nonsense, tough as nails Tom Doniphon in “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance”. This was a interesting movie as it featured him and another big star at the time, James Stewart. Stewart plays U.S. senator Ransom Stoddard, the lawyer who moves into a lawless town. The two form a friendship and help steer their lawless town to order by facing the town bad guy Liberty Valance.
To further complicate matters, Wayne has made plans to marry the town sweetie Hallie, played by Vera Mills. He just hasn’t told her yet. When Stewart arrives, Hallie soon falls for him, much to the displeasure of Wayne, who almost kills himself by setting his house on fire in a drunken rage. Wayne’s character is a bit grumpy to his black servant Pompey, but it is clear that Wayne depends on him, up to his death. This movie isn’t nearly as racist as some of the other movies John Wayne would go on to play.
~to be continued~
Additional links on the subject: