Category Archives: John Wayne

Blu-Ray Review: Flying Leathernecks (1951).

Directed by Nicholas Ray
Produced by Edmund Grainger
Screenplay by James Edward Grant
From a story by Kenneth Gamet
Director Of Photography: William E. Snyder
Film Editor: Sherman Todd
Music by Roy Webb

Cast: John Wayne (Maj. Daniel Xavier Kirby), Robert Ryan (Capt. Carl ‘Griff’ Griffin), Don Taylor (Lt. Vern ‘Cowboy’ Blithe), Janis Carter (Joan Kirby), Jay C. Flippen (MSgt. Clancy), William Harrigan (Dr. Lt.Cdr. Joe Curran), James Bell (Colonel), John Mitchum, Hugh Sanders, Gail Davis

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Howard Hughes wanted an airplane picture in Technicolor, and he cast John Wayne in it. Nicholas Ray thought a patriotic picture might keep the HUAC off his back, even though he hated war movies (and the politics of this one), and he cast the likeminded Robert Ryan.

When you take all that into consideration, it’s amazing that Flying Leathernecks (1951) works as well as it does. (In the divided, contentious  political environment of today, it’s doubtful something like this would get past the contract phase, much less result in a completed movie.) Flying Leathernecks has a lot of the things we count on (an ensemble cast, incredible battle sequences) and dread (back-home flashbacks of soldiers) about Hollywood war pictures of this period.

But it was put together by some of the absolute best Hollywood had around at the time — Wayne, Ryan, Ray — who somehow managed to keep the meddling Howard Hughes from screwing the whole thing up. And the end result is a well-acted, technically stunning story of Marine Corps pilots in the Pacific during World War II.

Robert Ryan is the Captain who wants to bond with his men. Wayne’s the Major whose strict methods are intended to bring as many planes back to base, and to get as many solders back home, as possible. The two officers battle each other as much as the Japanese.

Maj. Daniel Xavier Kirby (John Wayne): “You just can’t bring yourself to point your finger at the guy and say ‘go get killed!'”

These kinds of conflicts have fueled war pictures since the silent days. And they provide a bit of interest in watching them — how will this one approach the conventions, and how well will it all work? What will carry this one — the writing, direction, acting, stunts, effects or something else? With Flying Leathernecks, the answer might be all of the above.

Nick Ray was a great actors’ director — many performers were never as good as they were in his films. This was Wayne’s only Ray picture; Ryan and Ray would follow this with On Dangerous Ground (1952). At the same time, Ray had an eye for composition that remains unmatched. (He’d really hit his stride when ‘Scope came along.) Flying Leathernecks was the director’s first color movie, and it looks terrific. Director Of Photography William E. Snyder does a particularly good job of matching his footage to color combat footage. The aerial sequences are really something, especially with the added allure of Technicolor. I’m sure those scenes, and that gorgeous color, made Mr. Hughes very happy indeed.

Snyder’s color camerawork is the main reason for making the leap from Flying Leathernecks on the old Warners DVD to the new, stunning Blu-Ray from Warner Archive. The film’s been given a through cleaning, from dialing in the sharpness and color to dazzling effect to tidying up the 16mm Kodachrome battle footage. You don’t expect a war movie, dominated by greens and browns, to be so vibrant. This is the kind of restoration I’d like to see every Technicolor movie receive. It’s amazing.

Flying Leathernecks is not going to make the list of Nicholas Ray’s best films. It’s job was to please Howard Hughes and make sure Ray could still work in Hollywood, and it seems to have succeeded. It also succeeds as a war movie, a good one — with John Wayne and Robert Ryan doing the good work we expect from them. All that, given a stunning Blu-Ray release, is really easy to recommend. 

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Filed under 1951, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Howard Hughes, John Wayne, Nicholas Ray, RKO, Robert Ryan, Warner Archive

Blu-Ray News #306: Flying Leathernecks (1951).

Directed by Nicholas Ray
Starring John Wayne, Robert Ryan, Don Taylor, Janis Carter, Jay C. Flippen

Another Howard Hughes airplane movie, and it’s a good one. Shot in Technicolor by William E. Snyder and making good use of actual color war footage, Flying Leathernecks (1951) is impressive stuff. It’s great to see John Wayne and Robert Ryan go at it, and you can never really go wrong with Nicholas Ray. (Ryan and Ray would follow this with the terrific On Dangerous Ground.)

Flying Leathernecks has been restored, and Warner Archive is bringing it to Blu-Ray on September 15th. Highly, highly recommended — and with Wayne, Ryan and Ray, why wouldn’t it be?

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Filed under 1951, DVD/Blu-ray News, Howard Hughes, John Wayne, Nicholas Ray, RKO, Robert Ryan, Warner Archive

The Flying Tigers (1942).

That’s John Wayne in Republic’s Flying Tigers (1942).

The real reason for this post is to honor Mr. Frank Losonsky, the last survivor of the Flying Tigers, who passed away this week at 99.

The Flying Tigers were 311 U.S. military service members recruited to help the Chinese Air Force fend off the Japanese in mid-1941. Mr. Losonsky was a crew chief and sergeant with the 3rd Squadron. Thanks to the John Wayne movie, a number of books on the subject and those cool-looking planes, I’ve been in awe of these men since I was a little kid.

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Filed under John Wayne, Republic Pictures

Bob Dylan In In Harm’s Way?

From an interview posted on BobDylan.com —

Bill Flanagan: You met John Wayne in 1966. How did you two hit it off?

Bob Dylan: Pretty good, actually. The Duke, I met him on a battleship in Hawaii where he was filming a movie, he and Burgess Meredith. One of my former girlfriends was in the movie, too, and she told me to come over there. She introduced me to him and he asked me to play some folk songs. I played him “Buffalo Skinners,” “Raggle Taggle Gypsy,” and I think “I’m a Rambler, I’m a Gambler.” He told me if I wanted to, I could stick around and be in the movie. He was friendly to me.

Love that poster art by Saul Bass!

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Filed under 1965, Bob Dylan, Dana Andrews, Henry Fonda, John Wayne, Kirk Douglas, Paramount, Saul Bass, Slim Pickens

RIP, Michele Carey.

Michele Carey
(February 26, 1943 – November 21, 2018)

Just saw that Michele Carey has passed away. She didn’t make many movies, but when you’ve worked with John Wayne, Howard Hawks and Robert Mitchum (El Dorado, 1967) and Elvis (Live A Little, Love A Little, 1968), not to mention Frank Sinatra (Dirty Dingus Magee, 1970) — what else do you need? Oh, and then there’s How To Stuff A Wild Bikini (1965).

She’s terrific in El Dorado — everyone is. She holds her own up against some real heavyweights, in a movie that relied on Hawks’ typical rambling, improvisational tone. That’s no small task.

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Filed under 1965, 1967, 1968, 1970, AIP, Elvis Presley, Howard Hawks, John Wayne, Robert Mitchum

Happy Birthday, Vera Miles.

Vera June Miles
(Born August 23, 1929)

Vera Miles was lucky enough to survive Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), but she had to be the one to discover Mrs. Bates.

Vera shot scenes as John Wayne’s wife in The Green Berets (1968), but they were cut by Warner Bros. I’ve never even seen a still from one of her scenes. Wayne made it up to her by casting her as his better half in The Hellfighters (1968).

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Filed under 1960, Alfred Hitchcock, John Wayne, Vera Miles

Blu-Ray News #135: John Wayne Sets Sail In HD — The Sea Chase (1955) And Blood Alley (1955).

John Farrow, John Wayne and Lana Turner working on The Sea Chase.

Two mid-50s John Wayne pictures are making their way to Blu-Ray from Warner Archive. Both were shot in early CinemaScope by William H. Clothier, so an upgrade to high-definition is certainly worthwhile.

The Sea Chase
Directed by John Farrow
Starring John Wayne, Lana Turner, David Farrar, Lyle Bettger, Tab Hunter, James Arness, Paul Fix, John Qualen, Alan Hale, Claude Akins

Wayne’s a German freighter captain trying to make it home from Australia in the early days of World War II. Production in Hawaii was cursed with all sorts of problems: Wayne had a terrible ear infection, Lana Turner hated John Farrow, etc. But it’s hard to beat that cast.

Blood Alley
Directed by William A. Wellman
Starring John Wayne, Lauren Bacall, Paul Fix, Mike Mazurki, Anita Ekberg

This was to have starred Robert Mitchum, but he and director William Wellman had a falling out. Mitchum was fired and Wayne took his place — it was produced by his Batjac company.

Wayne is an American sailer who’s broken out of a Red Chinese prison by a group of villagers who want him to help them sail away to freedom in Hong Kong. Wellman’s great at this kind of stuff, and Blood Alley is a solid adventure picture with a great cast and terrific Scope photography from William Clothier.

This is the movie Wayne was plugging on I Love Lucy, when Lucy and Ethel stole his footprints from outside Grauman’s Chinese Theater.

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Filed under 1955, DVD/Blu-ray News, James Arness, John Wayne, Warner Archive

Remembering D-Day.

This is a movie blog, so we’ll pay tribute to those who fought on the beaches of Normandy via color stills from The Longest Day (1962, which is in glorious black and white CinemaScope), itself a tribute to the many sacrifices that helped push World War II toward its end.

Here’s the crew hard at work recreating the events of June 6, 1944.

Richard Burton (as Officer David Campbell) and Richard Beymer (as Private Dutch Schultz). Burton took time off from Cleopatra (1963) to shoot his scenes. Cleopatra was bleeding 20th Century-Fox dry at the time, which had a huge (negative) impact on Darryl Zanuck’s budget for The Longest Day.

Robert Mitchum as Brigadier General Norman Cota.

Richard Todd as Major John Howard. Todd’s voice is one of God’s great gifts to mankind — I would listen to him (or Richard Burton, for that matter) read the phone book.

John Wayne as Lt. Colonel Benjamin Vandervoort.

From the Army’s website: “The cost in lives on D-Day was high. More than 9,000 Allied Soldiers were killed or wounded, but their sacrifice allowed more than 100,000 Soldiers to begin the slow, hard slog across Europe, to defeat Adolf Hitler’s crack troops.”

To quote John Wayne in an entirely different movie (John Ford’s She Wore A Yellow Ribbon): “Lest we forget.”

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Filed under 1962, 20th Century-Fox, John Wayne, Richard Burton, Robert Mitchum, Robert Ryan, Roddy McDowall, Sean Connery

Happy Memorial Day.

Lets all take a minute to remember the brave Americans who’ve given their lives for their country.

This is a detail from the Japanese poster for The Green Berets (1968), John Wayne’s tribute to the men and women serving in Vietnam. As a kid, I’d get lost in Frank McCarthy’s incredible poster art (click on it and it’ll get a lot bigger), absorbing all the rich detail he packed into it. Wonder where that art is now?

John Wayne visiting the 7th Marines at Chu Lai, June 1966.

Wayne’s movie still gets people stirred up. But honoring our military folks isn’t about politics, it’s about gratitude. We owe them all so much.

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Filed under 1968, John Wayne

Making Movies: Bonnie And Clyde (1967).

B&C 2

I’ve always loved Bonnie And Clyde (1967) — and always been fascinated by how it all came about.

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Here’s Arthur Penn, Gene Hackman and Warren Beatty — obviously shooting the scene where Buck Barrow gets shot.

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This one spares me the trouble of writing anything.

B&C 4

This is the scene where Bonnie and Clyde meet C.W. Moss (Michael J. Pollard).

Ranchman Cafe ad

The real Bonnie and Clyde robbed the bank in Ponder, Texas. The Ranchman Cafe ran this ad after the movie people came to town. The cafe is still there — and they claim John Wayne ate there, too.

B&C 1

One of the great achievements of Bonnie And Clyde, as I see it, is how well it captures the rural Texas way of life. My grandparents lived in Strawn — not far from the National Guard Armory in Ranger, robbed by Bonnie and Clyde. Aside from all the shooting, the movie feels a lot like my summer visits to towns like Strawn, Breckenridge and Albany.

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It (and The Beverly Hillbillies) also introduced me to bluegrass.

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Filed under 1967, Arthur Penn, Faye Dunaway, Gene Hackman, John Wayne, Making Movies, Warren Beatty