Øje for øje
It is hard to think of a movie more quintessentially Clint Eastwood than “The Outlaw Josey Wales”. It is as if he condensed his most iconic roles to this date, from his days with Sergio Leone and as Dirty Harry, into a single character. Mannerism, attitude, politics, you name it. Josey Wales is, or would appear to be, the sum of Eastwood.
Josey Wales was a farmer in Missouri, when early in the civil war his homestead is raided and wife and son murdered by a plundering gang of unionist, known as Redlegs. As a result, Wales joins a band of Confederates chasing the Redlegs. When the war ends Wales has become a lean, mean, fighting machine and he refuses to yield. Good for him because the amnesty extended to Confederates was a scam and almost all of his band got massacred, adding more villainy to those Redlegs. Soon Wales is chased across the country and ever so often has to stop to take care of some bounty hunters.
Along the way, Wales pick up a motley band, including an old Native (Chief Dan George, a woman kept as a slave at a trading post (Geraldine Keams) and the leftover of a raided pioneer train (Paula Trueman and Sondra Locke). Not out of design, Wales is a loner, but he has not the heart to turn them away.
Finally, after making peace with the local Comanche tribe, Wales seems to be able to catch a break and be allowed to settle down, but, alas, fate is catching up with him…
Clint Eastwood is the quiet man, efficient, economic and extremely capable. Skills that come in very handy considering the large number of bounty hunters, soldiers and scum who are out to get him. This constant cat and mouse game results in an awful lot of dead cats and make up the majority of the movie. The rest is also classic Eastwood, human integrity among those considered least worthy. The old Indian who sold his soul, the fallen woman and the self-righteous pilgrims who learn who the good guys are. When Wales makes peace with the Comanche it is in opposition to the Indians as the murderous barbarians stereotype and show them as having more moral integrity than the representatives of the government, exemplified by the Redlegs.
This is all very Dirty Harry, very Eastwood and it is kind of fun and gratifying, until you, or at least I did, start to get an unpleasant feeling that this is Eastwood presenting himself as a saint. This was very much his movie, he directed and partly funded the movie and it functions very much as a vehicle for him. Josey Wales is just a tad too sharp with the guns, a little too good to those in need and a little too self-sacrificing. When we get to the final show-down things start to fly off the rails when Wales’ band take down a small army with Josey Wales himself lying on the ground shooting left and right, hitting someone with every shot. Yeah…
If I close my eyes to that stuff, this is really an entertaining movie and as I generally like Clint Eastwood’s movies, I enjoyed watching it. It is mostly afterwards, when I start thinking about it that it starts to taste foul and even then, I cannot rule it out. Who does not like a Robin Hood story?
Personally, I thought Clint was cooler in Sergio Leone’s rendition.