As an actor, John Wayne was quite proud of his body of work in many different genres of film, including Westerns. Wayne may not have considered himself an actor, though. One time, he commented that he considered himself to be more of a reactor than an actor.
Yet he continued to work on his trade in the film business. Wayne really ramped up his film career by starring in rather quickly-made Westerns. These were not of the long, vast, Technicolor type at all. No, these were black-and-whites done on rather slender budgets.
Still, they gave a younger Wayne a chance to hone his craft. But with all this work behind him, Wayne just never felt like he amounted to much as an actor. It’s funny that he would think that with his experience.
John Wayne Worked Well With Howard Hawks
It was not until he worked on a more serious Western that his viewpoint changed. Howard Hawks was one of Wayne’s favorite directors. Wayne did have a solid working relationship with John Ford and they made magic together.
This time, though, it would be Hawks’ direction that led to Duke’s change of heart about himself. Wayne starred in a 1948 film titled Red River. Thomas Dunson, Wayne’s character, displayed rather shoddy behavior in a cattle drive. You might call him a bit of a tyrant to these people. It led to Dunson’s adopted son to mutiny against his old man.
Here’s a key to note. Wayne figured that in order to extract empathy for Thomas he’d really have to go to work. Also, the usual “tough guy” persona Wayne flashed in many of his Western movies would not work in this situation. He also had to make sure the moviegoers could see that the character wasn’t stronger than co-star Montgomery Clift. After all, Clift was half the size of Wayne.
John Wayne Noticed A Shift In His Abilities
His work in Red River led Wayne to say that it marked a pivotal point. He said he “felt like a real actor, someone who could make a unique contribution to motion pictures,” according to Far Out Magazine. Hawks liked Wayne’s effort in the film. And it led Ford to utter this line, saying, “I didn’t know the big son of a b*tch could act!”
Future Westerns like The Searchers and Rio Bravo were awaiting in the future for him. Yet he could look back upon Red River as a turning point in his career. Wayne could go back and play his “regular” character in future movies. But his acting range, and Wayne’s ability to work it, were never in doubt to him.
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