Clint Eastwood in The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976)


(director: Clint Eastwood; screenwriters: based on the book Gone to Texas by Forrest Carter/Philip Kaufman/Sonia Chernus; cinematographer: Bruce Surtees; editor: Ferris Webster; music: Jerry Fielding; cast: Clint Eastwood (Josey Wales), Chief Dan George (Lone Watie), Sondra Locke (Laura Lee), Bill McKinney (Terrill), John Vernon (Fletcher), Paula Trueman (Grandma Sarah), Sam Bottoms (Jamie), Cissy Wellman (Josey’s wife), Will Sampson (Ten Bears), Geraldine Keams (Little Moonlight); Runtime: 135; MPAA Rating: PG; producers: Robert Daley/Fritz Manes; Warner Brothers; 1976)
“A top-notch Western.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A top-notch Western directed and starring Clint Eastwood (“High Plains Drifter”/”Unforgiven”). Forrest Carter is the author of the novel the film was based on. It was later discovered that his real name was Asa Carter, and that he was a former member of the KKK and speechwriter for George Wallace. Producer Clint Eastwood hired Philip Kaufman to direct and write the script with Sonia Chernus. But Clint soon became disenchanted with Kaufman’s slow-paced style of film-making and fired him shortly after filming began, taking over the directing honors himself.

It opens with peaceful Missouri farmer Josey Wales left helpless as a malevolent gang of Union Red Legs, led by Captain Terrill (Bill McKinney), sets his home on fire, killing his wife and son. Josey turns Confederate guerrilla raider during the war to get revenge on Terrill. After the Confederacy loses the war Wales refuses to surrender to his superior officer and former friend Fletcher (John Vernon), who betrays his men after being paid by the Union. Josey rescues a young wounded comrade Jamie (Sam Bottoms) and takes the dying man along as he continues on as an outlaw, fleeing to Texas with a price on his head. Josey is pursued by Terrill and his Union posse, a reluctant Captain Fletcher, a series of vicious lawmen and scores of bounty hunters. Josey dispatches a platoon of Union soldiers and many of the bounty hunters, and eventually hooks up with an old Indian chief, Lone Watie (Chief Dan George), and some other outcasts. One of the outcasts, Laura Lee (Sondra Locke), Josey saves from a rape and develops a love interest in. Laura’s spirited grandma Sarah (Paula Trueman) is one of the more vocal outcasts. Though reluctant, at first, Josey helps this group locate to the Promised Land they are seeking (an abandoned farm in the ghost town near Santa Rio). The film turns away from its revenge motives and gives Clint a human heart. It closes like it opened, as Clint returns to being a simple farmer.

The most memorable line is said by Josey Wales: “You gonna pull those pistols or whistle ‘Dixie’?” This occurs as he is facing down 4 uncertain Union soldiers.

Though the dialogue was often too flowery, the acting too stiff (especially Bottoms), and the film could have used a tighter rein on its long drawn-out scenes, it nevertheless digs out the complex nature of the Eastwood character with an appealing mixture of dash and cowboy heroic myth. It’s not as bad as most early critics claimed but neither is it as good as most later critics claimed. The film worked best as a circular odyssey tale of the loner figure who at last realizes that he needs to belong to an upstanding community. Bruce Surtees’ beautiful photography captures the Western vistas and adds much to the film’s value.