Glasgow Film Festival - John Wayne tribute

Shooting star

As GFF fires the starting gun on its John Wayne Tribute, Paul Dale examines the enduring appeal of the man they called The Duke.


Asked towards the end of his life why he had never written an autobiography John Wayne replied, ‘Those who like me already know me, and those who don’t like me wouldn’t want to read about me anyway.’ Modern day celebrities would do well to take note.

Wayne was born Marion Robert Morrison in Iowa in 1907 and, to mark the centenary of his birth, GFF presents a retrospective of the Duke’s films. In his red-blooded all-American 72 years Wayne went from ranch hand and pharmacist’s delivery boy to the iconic epitome of big, leggy generic Western machismo.

The classics all feature in the ten films chosen by journalist Andy Dougan - Stagecoach, Red River and The Searchers. But there are some puzzling omissions. Why, for example, are only two thirds of John Ford’s remarkable Cavalry Trilogy being screened? 1948’s Fort Apache and 1949’s She Wore a Yellow Ribbon are magnificent films, but their resonance is compounded by the healing finality of the absent Rio Grande (1950).

Also, surely Big Jake and North to Alaska (where you can see Wayne’s toupee lift off his head in a fight scene) would have been better bets than the dreary, over-familiar True Grit and The Alamo. Either way, these are quibbles. If you only have time to see one of these films, see The Big Trail, an early, and rarely screened, example of Wayne’s immense screen presence.

Wayne captivated generations of Americans for decades by speaking low, slow and little. This retrospective is a reminder of why.

Andy Dougan presents the Duke is at GFT, Glasgow from Fri 16 Feb, 1pm, £2.50.