The Young Adventures of John Wayne

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Marion Morrison had to work hard to become John Wayne. His earth-straddling lope and taffy-stretched line readings were not invented by John Ford or Howard Hawks, only finely exploited by them. The flood of Republic Pictures movies released on Blu-Ray by Olive Films illustrates this fact, filling in the blanks of the evolution of one of the screen’s most indelible personalities. Following the box-office failure of the Raoul Walsh masterpiece The Big Trail (1930), Wayne would have to wait nearly a decade before his delayed acceptance as part of Hollywood’s firmament in John Ford’s Stagecoach (1939). The period in between shows him sliding into obscurity, from Columbia and Warners down to the resourceful Poverty Row studios Mascot, Monogram and the slightly more reputable Republic. Olive has so far transferred sparkling editions of seven of the Republics, most of which finds him stepping in to play Stony Brooke, the leader of the long-running Western trio The Three Mesquiteers (he already played in a modern dress Three Musketeers for a 1933 Mascot serial – endless remakes are nothing new). Stony Brooke is lithe and quick where the classic John Wayne figures are slow-moving monuments, visible in Olive’s gorgeous 4K scan of The Quiet Man, out today on Blu-Ray, but his Mesquiteers voice exudes the chummy warmth and presence of Wayne-ness, not yet weighed down with history.

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The Mesquiteers films were Wayne’s second go-round at Republic, after a series of low-cost A action films at Universal failed to ignite audience interest. He told Maurice Zolotow that “the exhibitors wouldn’t touch a John Wayne movie with a ten-foot projector”, so when his Universal contract expired, he returned to Republic at a lowered salary. He considered his return the lowest point of his career, and was suitably dismissive of his work in this period, saying “Christ, they were awful. They were kids’ movies.” Secretary Mary St. John recalled that Wayne looked like a “wounded puppy — sad, frustrated and unhappy. He felt like his career has bottomed out.” Yet these are marvelously entertaining works, with spectacular stunts directed with speed and clarity by George Sherman, Joe Kane, and other Republic craftsmen. Wayne may have been in a depressive funk, but on film he registers with his lighthearted, almost lilting delivery, emitting from a powerfully angular frame knifing through the wilderness.

While John Ford’s Waynes are always haunted by the past, his step slowed to allow his pained memories to emerge around him, the Republic Wayne is engaged in the perpetual now of a chase. Stony is without past or future, each Mesquiteers film a new beginning. Paired mostly with fellow upright gent Tucson Smith (Ray Corrigan) and comic ventriloquist sidekick Lullaby Joslin (Max Terhune), these three earnest cowhands inevitably get roped in to save their community from evil land developers of one shade or another. These quickies are strongly pro-New Deal, pitting the Mesquiteers against a parade of oily land speculators and tin-pot dictators. In this series Wayne is, above all else, a community organizer.

Ostensibly a Western series, the constant need for stories (Wayne made 8 in less than two years) incorporated all 800_the_night_riders_blu-ray_03_manners of cliffhanging dramatics, from the crime procedural of Red River Range (where Stony impersonates a gangster) to the surreal circus comedy of Three Texas Steers. By the end of the Mesquiteers’ time-folding run, they were fighting Nazis. The most elaborately strange of the Wayne Republics would have to be The Night Riders (1939), which imports a Mexican revolution narrative onto the Western U.S. A disgraced cardsharp is convinced to impersonate a Spanish nobleman in order to claim a “Western Empire” of 13 million acres from forged land grants. So what starts as a riverboat gambling brawler ends up as a revolutionary war drama, complete with the Mesquiteers donning masks as a violent protest group, redistributing wealth with the verve of a 99-percenter. The vigilante trio even stumbles into the bedroom of a slumbering President Garfield, who can only offer back channel support against the Western Empire dictator, his hands tied by the isolationist mood of the government. Screenwriters Betty Burbridge and Stanley Roberts stole not only from pulp novels but from the headlines, as FDR was battling isolationist sentiments even as Hitler had invaded Czechoslovakia in March ’39. The Night Riders was released on April 12th.

Wayne’s career was at a standstill until his friend John Ford cast him in Stagecoach. Eager for the chance to star in an A picture, he accepted the part of Ringo Kid for the low salary of $3,000, barely above his Republic pay. In 800__three_texas_steers_blu-ray_10_comparison, the female lead, Claire Trevor, would receive $15,000. Republic agreed to release him to film the project in return for $600 a week. Herbert Yates had no expectations that the film would raise Wayne’s standing. In fact, by the time Stagecoach was released in March of 1939, Wayne was already back making the Mesquiteers quickies Three Texas Steers, Wyoming Outlaw and New Frontier. But eventually the film’s overwhelming success, both critically and at the box office, made Wayne a valuable commodity, and he became their A feature star, for the one or two big budget features they produced each year. Dark Command (1940), one of the first results of this new contract, reunited Wayne with director Raoul Walsh, who had tapped him for stardom ten years previously in The Big Trail.

Wayne’s performances, perhaps chastened by the incessant insults Ford would throw at him on set, became more deliberate and thoughtful, as if he weighed each word before letting it loose. This makes Wayne’s characters seem haunted from the first frame in Ford’s works, even in the sprightly Irish romance The Quiet Man, in which Wayne is dogged by an accidental murder in his past. Winston Hoch’s luminous cinematography, which elaborates an endless palette of greens, can do nothing to prettify the striding husk of Wayne, who drags his violent history along with him into every frame. When he sees Maureen O’Hara emerge like a flame-haired ghost in the open plain though, some of that Mesquiteers lightness returns.

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26 Responses The Young Adventures of John Wayne
Posted By swac44 : January 23, 2013 8:05 am

Thanks for the insight into Wayne’s early years, I’ve seen very little of his work between The Big Trail and Stagecoach, aside from Haunted Gold. It’s one of a handful of loan-outs to Warner Bros. producer Leon Schlesinger, rare live action titles from the man better known for running the studio’s animation department (the film even has animated titles done by the peons at Termite Terrace). And I can’t wait to see The Quiet Man on blu-ray, I’ve held off from buying a copy until I could see it done properly, and that still certainly whets my appetite.

Posted By swac44 : January 23, 2013 8:05 am

Thanks for the insight into Wayne’s early years, I’ve seen very little of his work between The Big Trail and Stagecoach, aside from Haunted Gold. It’s one of a handful of loan-outs to Warner Bros. producer Leon Schlesinger, rare live action titles from the man better known for running the studio’s animation department (the film even has animated titles done by the peons at Termite Terrace). And I can’t wait to see The Quiet Man on blu-ray, I’ve held off from buying a copy until I could see it done properly, and that still certainly whets my appetite.

Posted By Heidi : January 23, 2013 1:18 pm

Great post, thanks! I love John Wayne, and he is my uncle’s absolute favorite star. I have never seen any of the Mesquiteers movies, and will look out for them. I am thrilled to know that The Quiet Man is out on bluray, just in time for my birthday! I have already sent a link to my husband. We have it on dvd, but it is among my favorite Wayne movies, and I look forward to seeing it sparkling new.

Posted By Heidi : January 23, 2013 1:18 pm

Great post, thanks! I love John Wayne, and he is my uncle’s absolute favorite star. I have never seen any of the Mesquiteers movies, and will look out for them. I am thrilled to know that The Quiet Man is out on bluray, just in time for my birthday! I have already sent a link to my husband. We have it on dvd, but it is among my favorite Wayne movies, and I look forward to seeing it sparkling new.

Posted By Doug : January 23, 2013 1:58 pm

Mr Sweeney, thank you for the insights into Wayne’s early years. Great artists shine through lesser material. Your point about
“Wayne’s performances, perhaps chastened by the incessant insults Ford would throw at him on set, became more deliberate and thoughtful, as if he weighed each word before letting it loose.”
How bad was Ford? Motivating people through insults-I’m guessing that he must have been pretty tough to work for. But the loyalty of his stock company-they loved working for him, coming back picture after picture? A mystery.
I’m on the fence about getting the Blu Ray of “The Quiet Man” as the DVD looks pretty good already.

Posted By Doug : January 23, 2013 1:58 pm

Mr Sweeney, thank you for the insights into Wayne’s early years. Great artists shine through lesser material. Your point about
“Wayne’s performances, perhaps chastened by the incessant insults Ford would throw at him on set, became more deliberate and thoughtful, as if he weighed each word before letting it loose.”
How bad was Ford? Motivating people through insults-I’m guessing that he must have been pretty tough to work for. But the loyalty of his stock company-they loved working for him, coming back picture after picture? A mystery.
I’m on the fence about getting the Blu Ray of “The Quiet Man” as the DVD looks pretty good already.

Posted By chris : January 23, 2013 4:42 pm

Nice post. I remember watching some of Wayne’s Poverty Row work late night when I was a kid.

Posted By chris : January 23, 2013 4:42 pm

Nice post. I remember watching some of Wayne’s Poverty Row work late night when I was a kid.

Posted By swac44 : January 23, 2013 4:45 pm

I never got the Artisan DVD of The Quiet Man, there were mixed reviews about its picture quality at the time, as outlined by the DVD Savant in his review of the new blu-ray:
http://www.dvdtalk.com/dvdsavant/s4070quie.html

As luck would have it, he also just posted a review of the blu-ray of Wayne’s The King of the Pecos:
http://www.dvdtalk.com/dvdsavant/s4081peco.html

Posted By swac44 : January 23, 2013 4:45 pm

I never got the Artisan DVD of The Quiet Man, there were mixed reviews about its picture quality at the time, as outlined by the DVD Savant in his review of the new blu-ray:
http://www.dvdtalk.com/dvdsavant/s4070quie.html

As luck would have it, he also just posted a review of the blu-ray of Wayne’s The King of the Pecos:
http://www.dvdtalk.com/dvdsavant/s4081peco.html

Posted By Doug : January 24, 2013 10:18 am

Thank you, swac44, for linking that review of the Blu Ray “The Quiet Man”. I have the Artisan disc, and thought that it was okay, but it has been a few years since I’ve looked at it-I’m planning on picking up the Blu.

Posted By Doug : January 24, 2013 10:18 am

Thank you, swac44, for linking that review of the Blu Ray “The Quiet Man”. I have the Artisan disc, and thought that it was okay, but it has been a few years since I’ve looked at it-I’m planning on picking up the Blu.

Posted By robbushblog : January 24, 2013 11:46 am

My dad actually preferred the poverty row stuff to the later, big budget pictures that Duke made, so I got to see many of them in my teens, including some of the Three Mesquiteers ones. Those were his favorite John Wayne movies. I may have to check some of those out on DVD.

As far as The Quiet Man is concerned: I absolutely love that movie and am now considering replacing my DVD with the Blu-ray. I will check the review to see if the Blu has any special features. Older movies should always have good special features. That still looks beautiful though…

Posted By robbushblog : January 24, 2013 11:46 am

My dad actually preferred the poverty row stuff to the later, big budget pictures that Duke made, so I got to see many of them in my teens, including some of the Three Mesquiteers ones. Those were his favorite John Wayne movies. I may have to check some of those out on DVD.

As far as The Quiet Man is concerned: I absolutely love that movie and am now considering replacing my DVD with the Blu-ray. I will check the review to see if the Blu has any special features. Older movies should always have good special features. That still looks beautiful though…

Posted By whynot47 : January 24, 2013 1:15 pm

re- The Quiet Man… I have frequently argued that were I to only have access to one movie for the rest of my life it would likely be this one! From the score to the lush settings, from the fireworks between the two leads and the comic relief of the bit characters this story has everything I can want from an (escapist) movie-watching experience.

Posted By whynot47 : January 24, 2013 1:15 pm

re- The Quiet Man… I have frequently argued that were I to only have access to one movie for the rest of my life it would likely be this one! From the score to the lush settings, from the fireworks between the two leads and the comic relief of the bit characters this story has everything I can want from an (escapist) movie-watching experience.

Posted By R. Emmet Sweeney : January 24, 2013 1:25 pm

RobBush – the QUIET MAN Blu-Ray has a half-hour documentary by Leonard Maltin (which I think was also on the old DVD) and a booklet with an excerpt from Joseph McBride’s biography of John Ford.

The new Blu-Ray is a big upgrade on the old Artisan DVD. You can see stills from the new transfer in the Blu-Ray.com review:

http://www.blu-ray.com/movies/The-Quiet-Man-Blu-ray/58675/#Review

And at DVDBeaver too:

http://www.dvdbeaver.com/film4/blu-ray_reviews_58/the_quiet_man_blu-ray.htm

Posted By R. Emmet Sweeney : January 24, 2013 1:25 pm

RobBush – the QUIET MAN Blu-Ray has a half-hour documentary by Leonard Maltin (which I think was also on the old DVD) and a booklet with an excerpt from Joseph McBride’s biography of John Ford.

The new Blu-Ray is a big upgrade on the old Artisan DVD. You can see stills from the new transfer in the Blu-Ray.com review:

http://www.blu-ray.com/movies/The-Quiet-Man-Blu-ray/58675/#Review

And at DVDBeaver too:

http://www.dvdbeaver.com/film4/blu-ray_reviews_58/the_quiet_man_blu-ray.htm

Posted By robbushblog : January 24, 2013 11:56 pm

Rats! I’m buying this thing. I’ll keep my DVD too, for the additional special features, and in case I want to watch it with mom in her Blu-ray-less home. If I watch it at home though, it’s the Blu-ray that will get my business. Thanks for the info.

Now if Olive had only put out Invasion of the Body Snatchers with at least SOME special features…

Posted By robbushblog : January 24, 2013 11:56 pm

Rats! I’m buying this thing. I’ll keep my DVD too, for the additional special features, and in case I want to watch it with mom in her Blu-ray-less home. If I watch it at home though, it’s the Blu-ray that will get my business. Thanks for the info.

Now if Olive had only put out Invasion of the Body Snatchers with at least SOME special features…

Posted By Richard B : January 25, 2013 12:30 am

Another huge fan of ‘The Quiet Man’ here but I get a big kick out of seeing John Wayne in some of the uncharacteristic parts he had on his way to fame: decked out in top hat and tails as a playboy in ‘His Private Secretary,’ bit parts in William Wellman movies like ‘College Coach,’ and best of all as one of Barbara Stanwyck’s whiny discarded suitors in ‘Baby Face’!

Posted By Richard B : January 25, 2013 12:30 am

Another huge fan of ‘The Quiet Man’ here but I get a big kick out of seeing John Wayne in some of the uncharacteristic parts he had on his way to fame: decked out in top hat and tails as a playboy in ‘His Private Secretary,’ bit parts in William Wellman movies like ‘College Coach,’ and best of all as one of Barbara Stanwyck’s whiny discarded suitors in ‘Baby Face’!

Posted By The Long Voyage Home (1940) | timneath : February 22, 2013 7:29 am

[...] The Young Adventures of John Wayne (moviemorlocks.com) [...]

Posted By The Long Voyage Home (1940) | timneath : February 22, 2013 7:29 am

[...] The Young Adventures of John Wayne (moviemorlocks.com) [...]

Posted By MovieMorlocks.com – George Sherman, Director of Westerns : April 2, 2013 10:00 am

[...] some of Sherman’s Three Mesquiteers Westerns that he made for Republic (which I wrote about here), but a recent column by Dave Kehr has made me ravenous for more. Reviewing Dawn at Soccoro (1954, [...]

Posted By MovieMorlocks.com – George Sherman, Director of Westerns : April 2, 2013 10:00 am

[...] some of Sherman’s Three Mesquiteers Westerns that he made for Republic (which I wrote about here), but a recent column by Dave Kehr has made me ravenous for more. Reviewing Dawn at Soccoro (1954, [...]

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