Title: The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976)
Director: Clint Eastwood
Stars: Clint Eastwood, Chief Dan George, John Vernon, Sondra Locke and Sam Bottoms
The story begins with Josey’s (Clint) wife and child being killed and his house burned to the ground. Naturally Josey doesn’t take this lying down and decides to join the Confederate Guerillas. After much hell-raising they are forced to surrender and are brought in by their leader Fletcher (Vernon). However, they are double crossed and massacred by the ‘red leg’ soldiers, but Josey escapes with a young rebel called Jamie (Bottoms). After seeing his friends gunned down in cold blood and Fletcher apparently in cahoots with the enemy, he promises recompense. Josey is then pursued relentlessly by the enemy, who are being aided by Fletcher. Along the way he joins up with an old Indian, a mangy dog, a squaw and a group of down on their luck settlers from Kansas. Eventually Josey has a bloody and dramatic showdown with the man who killed his family, Terrill (Bill McKinney).
This is Clint’s best performance in a Western and probably his greatest in any film ever. He doesn’t deviate from his usual low growl/squinting menacingly routine, but there was something special in the air with this one. It helps that the script is fantastic and has so many quotable lines, which Eastwood delivers in his own inimitable style. If another actor tried them they wouldn’t work, but Clint is the master at delivering a withering put-down or a funny aside. If you search ‘The Outlaw Josey Wales’ on Google, the first word that comes up is ‘quotes’.
The rest of the cast is nicely varied and contains some great character actors. Chief Dan George, was seventy-seven at the time, but delivers a loveable performance as the former Indian chief who once met Abraham Lincoln. Will Sampson is also memorable as the towering Ten Bears and was most famous for portraying the Chief in the previous year’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Sam Bottoms, who plays Jamie, went on to star as Lance the surfer in Apocalypse Now, before fading into obscurity. John Vernon, who plays Fletcher, has one of the richest voices that will ever grace your ears, and it is a pleasure to hear him talk. Finally, Bill McKinney, who takes the part of Terrill and famously made Ned Beatty “squeal like a pig” in Deliverance, scores well as the villain.
Forget Unforgiven, The Outlaw Josey Wales is Clint Eastwood’s greatest Western. It has the perfect blend of action and humour and has a once in a lifetime cast, who breathe life into the film. That many of the cast were regulars in Eastwood’s movies and were real life friends of his, made all the difference, as they work together so harmoniously. The Outlaw Josey Wales is forty years old this year and should be remembered for the classic that it is and will continue to be. Instead of whistling ‘Dixie’, watch this instead.