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John Wayne: The Duke’s Most Memorable Movies When He Wasn’t a Hero

John Wayne: The Duke’s Most Memorable Movies When He Wasn’t a Hero

John Wayne, the iconic hero of Westerns and war movies, also graced the silver screen in roles where he played anything but the typical hero. Though his persona was that of the gruff do-gooder, Wayne occasionally pushed himself as an actor. Here are some of The Duke’s most interesting turns outside the hero mold.

In Howard Hawks’ Western masterpiece Red River, The Duke played Thomas Dunson, a tyrannical cattle driver attempting to transport a herd to Missouri. The drive represents over a decade of work, with two heads of cattle turning into 10,000, with the potential to secure Dunson’s future. However, his cruelty during the journey sparks a mutiny among the cowboys, led by his adopted son. While The Duke typically portrayed noble heroes, Hawks drew a powerfully sadistic performance from John Wayne, intensifying the heart-wrenching feud with his son.

In 1962’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance Wayne portrays gunslinger Tom Doniphon, while Jimmy Stewart plays Senator Ransom Stoddard. The story unravels with an enigmatic twist: who’s responsible for the demise of outlaw Liberty Valance? As Stoddard reveals his political beginnings at a funeral, the film takes an intriguing turn. Wayne’s character, infamous for his lethal skills, is shrouded in captivating ambiguity. Stewart’s beloved persona as an actor cunningly conceals the notion that he may have exploited Doniphon’s shot at Liberty Valance for personal gain.

One of John Wayne’s Earlier Movies Showcases a an Antihero Turn

In the 1942 movie Reap the Wild Wind directed by Cecil B. DeMille, John Wayne portrays the character of Captain Jack Stuart, who finds himself entangled in a captivating rivalry with Stephen Tolliver, played by Ray Milland, for the affection of Loxi Claiborne, played by Paulette Goddard. Loxi, a skilled ship salvager in the scenic landscapes of Florida, is irresistibly drawn to Wayne’s charismatic captain after his ship meets a fateful wreck on the shores of Key West. However, their blossoming romance faces obstacles when Tolliver, a cunning lawyer who also harbors feelings for Loxi, enters the picture. Wayne’s character effortlessly balances hero and antihero, embodying an intriguing rogue persona that captures The Duke’s iconic charm.

In 1965’s The Sons of Katie Elder, John Wayne stars with singer Dean Martin, Earl Holliman, and Michael Anderson Jr.. They play four brothers seeking revenge for their parents’ deaths. Their family ranch was swindled in a card game, leading to trouble in Clearwater, Texas. Despite just having surgery for lung cancer, Wayne delivers a compelling performance. This part hints at his role in True Grit, his next collaboration with director Henry Hathaway.