My favorite John Wayne movie

Dennis Warden

Before Star Trek and Star Wars, before science fiction movies, before Marvel movies with Captain America, the Hulk, Iron Man and Thor there were westerns, and of course John Wayne, the Duke.

According to what I found on the internet the Duke appeared in over 250 movies from The Big Trail in 1930 to The Shootist in 1976. That’s over five movies a year, 84 were westerns.

Growing up in the 60s and 70s, I watched a lot of John Wayne movies, mostly westerns. I have my favorites, I bet you have yours too.

My dad’s favorite Wayne movie The Quiet Man, is the only one in my Top 10 that is not a western. 

In that movie Wayne is paired up with possibly his favorite leading lady, Maureen O’Hara. Playing a retired American boxer, he returns to the village of his birth in Ireland to escape his past, where he finds love.

A great movie. I try to watch it at least once a year.

My favorite John Wayne movie is Big Jake. It has too be. You see my nickname when I was growing up was Jake. My closest friends still call me that. When I die and go to heaven (God willing) my grandma will be there and she’ll call me Jake. I don’t remember her ever calling me anything else.

When I was a young lad there was a gate strategically placed to keep me from leaving the yard. When I wanted to go through the gate I asked mom or dad to open it. But my pronunciation was a little off. I asked them to open the “jake.”

The name stuck.

Long before Connie and I met I knew the name of my first born son. There would be no discussion. He would be named Jacob. That was a condition of our marriage.

Big Jake is a classic John Wayne movie. Set in 1909, John Fain’s gang (played by Richard Boone) kidnaps Big Jake McCandles’ grandson (named Jacob) and holds him for ransom. Big Jake sets out to rescue the boy.

This movie was the final film in which John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara worked together. Two of Wayne’s sons were also part of this movie. Ethan Wayne played Big Jake’s grandson and Patrick Wayne was one of three of Big Jake’s sons.

In this movie John Wayne’s character works with a dog, named Dog. The dog was one of Lassie’s offspring.

This movie also includes my favorite line from one of John Wayne’s characters. When asked if the sight of blood bothers him he replies “only my own.”

I must have seen close to 40 of his movies. The list of my Top 10 movies by the Duke are (in order of the year they were released):

3 Godfathers

The Quiet Man

Rio Bravo

The Sons of Katie Elder

True Grit

The Undefeated

Big Jake

The Cowboys

Rooster Cogburn

The Shootist

One thing I remember about John Wayne is that often he fought for the underdog in his movies. Also, many of his movies included prominent roles for Indians and I don’t mean as his enemy. In Big Jake his guide and partner in the rescue of his grandson was an Indian. In The Undefeated he has an adopted Indian son.

Here is some more trivia about the Duke.

When asked about his fellow actor Rock Hudson in The Undefeated, Wayne replied “Who the hell cares if he’s queer? The man plays great chess.”

He even had a connection to the newspaper business. Wayne was born in Iowa but went to Glendale Union High School in California, where he played for the football team. Most fans know this. But did you know he was also a member of its newspaper staff and wrote sports reports under byline ‘M.M.M.’

In a YouTube video I found this line from an unnamed John Wayne movie that pretty well sums it up — “There’s right and there’s wrong. You gotta do one or the other. Do the one and you’re living. Do the other and you may be walking around but you’re dead as a beaver hat.” 

John Wayne movies made you proud, proud to be an American. That is something we need more of.