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The Outlaw Josey Wales

USA 1976
Directed by
Clint Eastwood
135 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars

The Outlaw Josey Wales

Clint Eastwood’s film trades on one of the staple themes of Hollywood mass entertainment  - revenge - the revenge Western being his particular area of genre specialization having already handled it skilfully with High Plains Drifter in 1973. For the most part it’s a tired ruse oft-used to license the violent extermination of low-life, presumably a fantasy dear to the heart of many Americans males yearning for an opportunity to demonstrate their manhood. But with here Eastwood, thanks to a script by Phillip Kaufman and Sonia Chernus, from the novel 'Gone To Texas' by Forrest Carter, has contrived a vehicle that justifies the bloody action but leavens it with humour and, ultimately redemption, in what is a superior contemporary Western.

Set at the end of the American Civil War, Josey Wales is a Southern homesteader whose rural idyll is shattered by a gang of Kansas Red Legs; thugs working in the pay of the Union army, who destroy his home and murder of his wife and child. Bitter with righteous anger, Wales joins a posse of Southern renegades under Captain Fletcher (John Vernon) who eventually surrender to the Union but Wales choses to fight on alone, the Implacable Avenger, whilst Fletcher is ordered to track him down in the company of Tyrell (Bill McKinney) the Red Leg who commanded the raid on Wales’s home.

Although tending to get over-romanticized with the Sondra Locke character, Laura Lee, a winsome lass clad in white who represents the restorative goodness that will recoup Wales’s life, for the most part this is a well-crafted story with sure-footed direction from Eastwood who also commands the screen with his unique variant on the morally just “outsider” hero that is a staple of Hollywood film. For all this playing on his iconic character, forged in his Sergio Leone days, Eastwood lightens proceedings with some lighter elements, largely due the presence of Chief Dan George who plays an ageing Indian who Wales picks up along the way. Eastwood also has fun with his idealized tobacco-spitting, squint-eyed gun-slinging character whom he plays with dead-pan straightness whilst directorially having his tongue-in-cheek.  Perhaps a little too long, particularly in its closing stages but nicely photographed by Bruce Surtees, Eastwood would not make as good a Western again until Unforgiven (1992).

FYI: The film was based on a novel by one, Forrest Carter. It was later discovered that the author’s real name was Asa Carter and that he was a  white supremacist, a former member of the KKK and speechwriter for George Wallace.

Sondra Locke who plays the virginal waif that Wales saves from rape starred in 5 more films with Eastwood. Their 15 year relationship only ended in 1999 after an acrimonious split in the early 90s and a $7m payout in Locke's favour,




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