I don’t like westerns that much. There are exceptions of course—Eastwood’s the Man With No Name series, the Wild Bunch and a couple of others but that is really about it. Then there is the Outlaw Josey Wales, a western that is near the top of that genre’s food chain in my book. Eastwood directed part of the film (the initial director Phillip Kaufman was fired) and starred as the Outlaw Josey Wales (as well as his son playing a small role) along with soon to be longtime lover Sandra Locke (a big mistake there)—but more on that later.
The Outlaw Josey Wales was an adaptation of Forrest Carter’s 1973 novel The Rebel Outlaw: Josey Wales (republished, as shown in the movie’s opening credits, as Gone to Texas).
The story is about Josey Wales, a Missouri farmer, who is driven to revenge for the murder of his wife and son by a band of pro-Union Jayhawkers—Senator Lane’s Redlegs from Kansas. Seeking revenge Wales joins a guerilla group of pro-Confederate Missouri Bushwhackers. Being on the losing side, when it is all over the group is promised amnesty. But Wales was not in the war for the politics, but revenge, and not having succeeded he refuses to surrender. Luckily Wales avoids a trap in which his compatriots are massacred by the same bunch that killed his family.
Well this puts Wales on the run from Union militia and bounty hunters. Along the way, despite wishing to be left alone, he accumulates a rag-tag group of followers including an old Cherokee named Lone Watie, a young Navajo woman, and an elderly woman from Kansas and her granddaughter (Sandra Locke) whom Wales rescued from Comancheros.
In Texas, Wales and his companions are cornered in a ranch house which is fortified to withstand Indian raids. The Redlegs attack but are gunned down by the defenders. Wales, despite being out of ammunition, pursues the fleeing Captain Terrill on horseback. When he catches him, Wales dry fires his pistols through all twenty–four empty chambers before stabbing Terrill with his own cavalry sword.
Wounded and recovering at the bar in Santa Rio, Wales finds Fletcher with two Texas Rangers. The locals at the bar successfully hide his identity and convince the Rangers that Wales died in Monterrey, Mexico. Fletcher pretends he does not recognize Wales, and says that he will go to Mexico and look for Wales himself. Seeing the blood dripping on Wales’s boot, Fletcher says that he will give Wales the first move, because he “owes him that.” Wales rides off.
This is a great film that had some not so great long term consequences for Eastwood. First, the film began a close relationship between Eastwood and Locke that would last six films and the beginning of a romance going into the late 1980’s. This relationship would cause some serious headaches later for Eastwood eventually resulting in a lawsuit that ended up in my law school contracts casebook. In 1995, Locke sued Eastwood for fraud, alleging that he had paid Warner Bros. to keep her out of work since the studio had rejected all of the 30 or more projects she proposed, and never assigned her to direct any of their in-house projects (maybe they just sucked). In 1996, just minutes before a jury was to render a verdict in Locke’s favor, Eastwood agreed to settle for an undisclosed amount. The outcome of the case, Locke said, sent a “loud and clear” message to Hollywood “that people cannot get away with whatever they want to just because they’re powerful.” This case appears in law school textbooks as an example of breaching the implied duty of good faith in every contract. In my opinion, she deserved nothing because I think all palimony cases are nonsense (palimony was the underlying basis for her claims).
The second unflattering item for Eastwood that came out of this great film occurred when, on October 24, 1975, Kaufman was fired at Eastwood’s command by producer Bob Daley. This caused an outrage amongst the Directors Guild of America and other important Hollywood executives, since the director had already worked hard on the film, including completing all of the pre-production work. Heavy pressure was put on Warner Brothers and Eastwood to back down, but their refusal to do so resulted in a $60,000 fine (a fair amount of money in the mid-seventies). This led to the Director’s Guild passing new legislation, known as ‘the Clint Eastwood Rule’ in which they reserved the right to impose a major fine on a producer for discharging a director and replacing that director with himself.
Besides these two unflattering matters that arose out of the film, the Outlaw Josey Wales is some of Eastwood’s best work. It combines some of his “man with no name” characteristics with a more complete human being—though never taking the mystique out of Wales. The movie also has some very funny scenes in it, an unusual trait found in most westerns. Though long, the Outlaw Josey Wales gets a worth-the-time-to-watch thumbs up from me.
Next time a-to-be-determined film I hate.