Sunday, October 5, 2008


The trail of a notorious Confederate gunslinger through and after the American Civil War as shown in the superb western "The Outlaw Josey Wales" (**** out of ****) is a dangerous and blood splattered trail to follow. As directed by Clint Eastwood, "Josey Wales" is as much an attack on war and the degrading effects war has on man as it is on the double-dealing politicians and scalawag soldiers who tried to profit by war to achieve their own selfish aims at the expense of innocent men's lives. "The Outlaw Josey Wales" is about revenge and rebirth. When the family of a harmless sod buster, Josey Wales (Clint Eastwood of "Hang'em High"), massacred by Northern raiders, Wales joins a band of Confederates led by Bloody Bill Anderson (John Russell of "Pale Rider") to go North and "set things a-right." In a masterful stroke of directorial genius, Eastwood compresses the Civil War into a tightly constructed title credit sequence which documents the transformation of Wales the poor dirt farmer into Wales the most feared of all guerrilla fighters. At the end of the war, as Josey is about to hang up his six-guns, he witnesses an incredible act of cold-blooded murder. Reluctant to turn himself over the Federal authorities, Josey remains behind and watches as his men surrender to the Yankees who repay them by wiping them out with a Gatling gun after they have been disarmed. "There is no end to doing right," cries the leader of these ruthless Yankees, a Captain Terrill (Bill McKinney of "Deliverance") who was also responsible for killing Josey's wife (director William Wellman's daughter Cissy Wellman of "Redline 7000") as well as son and leaving Josey literally scared for life with than painful memory. Indeed, Terrill slashes our protagonist's face so he wears a scar.

Josey tries to escape Terrill and his troops, but everywhere he goes, he is found out and must fight. Finally, in the unlikely company of renegade Indians and the survivors of Comanchero raiders, Josey tries to start a new life. He picks up an Indian friend, Lone Watie (Chief Dan George of "Americathon"), and Watie becomes his sidekick. Before Josey can fully restart his life, however, he must confront the man who destroyed his life.

For all its macho, action-paced gunfights, "The Outlaw Josey Wales" is also a film about the growth of America and the Utopia that the West offered in place of the war-torn East. Among the film's assets are Bruce Surtees's outstanding, widescreen color cinematography and a richly comic performance by Chief Dan George. One example of the humor occurs during a ride through the wilderness when Wales observes, "When I get to knowing somebody, they ain't around for long." To which Lone Watie replies, "I noticed when you get to disliking somebody, they ain't around for long." Eastwood shuns a poncho and his wardrobe reflects the time period. He doesn't wear his "Rawhide" gun belt with the low-slung holsters. Instead, he sports black powder pistols in holster that ride high on his hips and he totes multiple firearms. Black powder pistols required a longer time to reload because they didn't accommodate store-bought metallic cartridges. Eastwood doesn't smoke a cigar as he did in his Sergio Leone westerns. Instead, he chews tobacco and gets a lot of mileage out of spitting before he shoots and kills. Lone Watie narrates one of Josey's confrontations from afar and says, "Now, spit." After Josey spits, he blows away the opposition in a hail of gunfire.

Wales and Lone Watie befriend an immigrant group and rescue them from the Comancheros and Wales falls for a slender, thread of a woman, Laura Lee (Sondra Locke of "The Heart is a Lonely Hunter"), and helps the remnants of this settler family when Terrill and his marauders arrive to wipe him out. At the end, when Wales tries to make peace, he remarks "a little part in each of us died in that damned war." Although the character refers to the American Civil War, there is a strong underlying suggestion that runs throughout "Josey Wales" that director Clint Eastwood and his scenarist Philip Kaufman of "Raiders of the Lost Ark" that they are alluding to the Vietnam war.

Some of the more memorable scenes include the Missouri boat ride scene, the shoot-out in the trading post when Josey displays his skill with twirling guns around, and the scene at the end when Josey dry-fires his arsenal of guns before he runs the villain through with a saber. Anybody that loves seminal westerns and Clint Eastwood westerns in particular MUST watch "The Outlaw Josey Wales."

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