The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976)
Directed by Clint Eastwood
Screenplay by Philip Kaufman (as Phil Kaufman) and Sonia Chernus, based on the novel Gone To Texas by Forrest Carter
Produced by Robert Daley
Paul Newman is Cool Hand Luke, Steve McQueen is Bullitt and Clint Eastwood’s screen persona is personified by Josey Wales. The finest material he ever chanced upon originated with Forrest Carter, who had approximately 75 copies of a novel then titled The Rebel Outlaw Josey Wales printed by Whipporwill Publishers in Alabama. Without knowing any better, Carter mailed a copy to Malpaso, where the book would’ve been returned without being read if not for a soulful cover letter that struck producer Robert Daley. Eventually giving the novel a read, Daley absorbed it one sitting and recommended it to Eastwood, who was game to make the movie. Malpaso story editor Sonia Chernus asked to write the adaptation, which was injected with greater suspense by Philip Kaufman, who Eastwood tapped to direct before replacing several days into filming.
When talking about The Outlaw Josey Wales, the question is: What doesn’t the film do masterfully? The colorful saga stretches from farmland to battlefield, the Missouri River to the Indian Nations, a windswept outpost in Texas to an abandoned silver town where ghosts of war catch up to Wales. The characters are so compelling that even roles taken by Chief Dan George, Sam Bottoms or John Vernon (playing a non-asshole for once!) have the fullness of the heroes in any other movie. The script is a tapestry of deliciously crafted dialogue, goofy wit, idealistic spirit and riveting action. For all its frontier excitement, The Outlaw Josey Wales is ultimately an antidote to war, implying that communities are capable of living together by making peace that their governments seem unable or unwilling to. This is as vital a message for today as it was for the Bicentennial. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and The Wild Bunch aside, it’s the best western ever made.
On a plot of dirt in Missouri, farmer Josey Wales (Clint Eastwood) stands helpless to protect his wife and son from a marauding Union outfit known as the Redlegs. Wales takes up arms for the Confederacy and once the war is lost, becomes the only member of his unit to reject the offer of commanding officer Fletcher (John Vernon), who’s accommodated disarmament terms with the Union. Fletcher is betrayed when the bloodthirsty Captain Terrill (Bill McKinney) summarily executes the men he’s turned in, but is well compensated to ride along with the Redlegs in the manhunt for Josey Wales and a young wounded rebel (Sam Bottoms). Wales and the boy outsmart the Redlegs at a ferry crossing, then a pair of bounty hunters in a marsh, but his young traveling companion succumbs to his wound before they can reach the safety of the Indian Nations.
Resigned to returning to Missouri to settle up with Fletcher, Wales runs into a wily old Cherokee (Chief Dan George) headed to Mexico to join others who refused to surrender. At a trading post, Wales inherits a Navajo woman (Geraldine Keams) he rescues from servitude. The trio beat it through Texas with Redlegs on their tail, stopping to assist Kansas pilgrims set upon by bandits. The two survivors — punchy Grandma Sarah (Paula Trueman) and her odd granddaughter Laura (Sondra Locke) — join Wales next. Followed by Comanche warriors, the band reaches the dried up silver town of Santa Rio, whose residents (Matt Clark, Royal Dano, Joyce Jameson) are ecstatic to receive settlers. Wales brokers peace with Comanche chief Ten Bears (Will Sampson) whose land they build on, but when a bounty hunter tips the Redlegs off to Wales’ location, the war finally catches up to him.
Rotten Tomatoes “Tomatometer” average among 31 users: 97% for The Outlaw Josey Wales
Metacritic “Metascore” average among leading critics: Not available
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