Friday, February 02, 2007


I don’t know what the occasion is, but they seem to be showing an awful lot of John Wayne movies on AMC lately (or is that a lot of awful John Wayne movies?). As I caught snippets of these films, I was reminded of my lifelong ambivalence toward The Duke. In the 70s, it was fashionable to sneer at the old-fashioned, conservative hawk who, although he played war heroes from every branch of the armed services on the silver screen, actively avoided real-life military service during WW II. Later on, I took sadistic joy in finding a VHS copy of The Conqueror where John Wayne portrays Genghis Khan (!) in bad makeup and the same drawling delivery he used in every other movie. His films from the 60s were particularly bad, looking hastily assembled and existing only to cash in on Wayne’s box-office power. Still, you can’t deny that he had a certain appeal, and I’ve probably had repeat viewings of more of his movies than any other star besides Elvis.

I would have to count his non-western films as my favorites, among them Back to Bataan, Sands of Iwo Jima, The Longest Day, and McQ. The latter film was especially fun with Wayne trying to be an older, stockier version of Dirty Harry. The anti-hero with questionable ethics was a departure for Wayne, and the sight of him mowing down bad guys with an Ingram MAC-10 was pretty cool. I even liked The Hellfighters despite its bad script and awkward directing simply because it exposed me to a world I had never known before. The Green Berets was a missed opportunity, in my opinion. I agreed with its intention to pay tribute to an elite fighting force operating in
a difficult and unpopular war, but the silly story and glaring technical errors only emboldened anti-war protestors who saw it as wildly inaccurate propaganda.

Among his westerns, I loved Rio Bravo, partly because it featured two other favorites of mine, Dean Martin and Ricky Nelson. I also enjoyed Hondo, The Sons of Katie Elder (Dino again!), and The Shootist. I know film critics praise him for other, more accomplished films like Stagecoach and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, but I’m going purely by my gut reactions which don’t always match with film school criteria.

When I discovered that headsculpt master Dale Van Slyke offered a John Wayne head for 1/6th scale action figures, I decided to create a John Wayne figure. I wanted him to look much like the way he appeared in several of his westerns, so I went with tan pants, tan boots, a faded red shirt, vest with lapels, and a soiled white cowboy hat. The boots were the trickiest find. I ultimately settled on a pair of Ken boots and, since Ken has such tiny feet, I was forced to cut the toes off my action figure to make them fit. Not only did he lose his head to a John Wayne resin head, but his toes were lopped off as well! The pants, holster, and vest I ordered from Cotswold Collectibles and Old Joe Infirmary. The shirt came off a Planet of the Apes Dr. Zaius doll with buttons that I drew on. The hat I bought from a crafts store. It was black, so I painted it white with acrylic paint. The black bleeds through, creating the proper soiled look. The neckerchief I made from a piece of cloth.

Overall, I think it’s a pretty nice tribute to The Duke. Saddle up, pilgrim!

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