The Outlaw Josey Wales is my favorite western movie classic, and certainly a favorite western read. A gritty western with touches of humor and a slight splash of romance, what I like most about this story is the detail to history and the stark portrayal of good and bad in EVERYONE. At the start Josey Wales is a peaceful Missouri farmer. He’s driven to revenge by the brutal murder of his wife and son by a band of pro-Union Jayhawkers — Senator James H. Lane’s Redlegs from Kansas.
Wales joins a group of pro-Confederate Missouri guerrillas/bushwhackers led by William T. Anderson. At the conclusion of the war, Captain Fletcher persuades the guerrillas to surrender, saying they have been granted amnesty. Josey Wales, still holding a grudge, refuses to surrender. As a result, he survives the massacre of the men by Captain Terrill’s Redlegs, who’ve now joined the Union Army. Wales intervenes and guns down several Redlegs with a Gatling gun.
Senator Lane puts up a $5,000 bounty on Wales. Wales begins a life on the run from Union militia and bounty hunters while still seeking vengeance and a chance for a new beginning in Texas. Along the way, he unwillingly accumulates a diverse group of traveling companions despite all indications that he would rather be left alone. His companions include a wily old Cherokee named Lone Watie, a young Navajo woman, and an elderly Yankee woman from Kansas and her granddaughter rescued from a band of Comancheros.
In the final showdown, Josey and his companions are cornered in a ranch house which is fortified to withstand Indian raids.
The film was inspired by a 1972 novel by Forrest Carter, originally titled Gone to Texas and later retitled The Rebel Outlaw: Josey Wales. I’m much more inclined to curl up with a book than turn on the tube–but as far as movies go, this is one that can hold me captive from the first scene to the last. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it! I watched it again last summer on the History Channel.
The script was worked on by Sonia Chernus and producer Bob Daley, and Eastwood himself paid some of the money to obtain the screen rights. Michael Cimino and Philip Kaufman later oversaw the writing of the script. Kaufman wanted the film to stay as close to the novel as possible and retained many of the mannerisms in Wales’s character which Eastwood would display on screen, such as his distinctive lingo with words like “reckon”, “hoss” (instead of “horse”) and “ye” (instead of “you”) and spitting tobacco juice on animals and victims. The characters of Wales, the Cherokee chief, Navajo squaw and the old settler woman and her daughter all appeared in the novel In 1996, the film was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress.
Here’s an original movie trailer:
I found a site with favorite quotes from the movie. Here’s a few of my favorite:
Josey Wales: Now remember, when things look bad and it looks like you’re not gonna make it, then you gotta get mean. I mean plumb, mad-dog mean. ‘Cause if you lose your head and you give up then you neither live nor win. That’s just the way it is.
Laura Lee: Kansas was all golden and smelled like sunshine.
Josey Wales: Yeah, well, I always heard there were three kinds of suns in Kansas, sunshine, sunflowers, and sons-of-bitches.
Josey Wales: When I get to likin’ someone, they ain’t around long.
Lone Watie: I notice when you get to DISlikin’ someone they ain’t around for long neither.
Carpetbagger: Your young friend could use some help.
[holds up a bottle of patent medicine] This is it… one dollar a bottle. It works wonders on wounds.
Josey Wales: Works wonders on just about everything, eh?
Carpetbagger: It can do most anything.
Josey Wales: [spits tobacco juice on the carpetbagger’s coat] How is it with stains?
Josie Wales: You be Ten Bears?
Ten Bears: I am Ten Bears.
Josie Wales: I’m Josey Wales.
Ten Bears: I have heard. You are the grey rider. You would not make peace with the Bluecoats. You may go in peace.
Josie Wales: I reckon not. I got no place else to go.
Ten Bears: Then you will die.
Josie Wales: I came here to die with you. Or to live with you…I ain’t promising you nothing extra. I’m just giving you life and you’re giving me life. And I’m saying that men can live together without butchering one another.
Ten Bears: It’s sad that governments are chiefed by the double tongues. There is iron in your words of death for all Comanche to see, and so there is iron in your words of life. No signed paper can hold the iron. It must come from men. The words of Ten Bears carries the same iron of life and death. It is good that warriors such as we meet in the struggle of life… or death. It shall be life.
Eastwood has called The Outlaw Josey Wales an anti-war film. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, he said:
“As for Josey Wales, I saw the parallels to the modern day at that time. Everybody gets tired of it, but it never ends. A war is a horrible thing, but it’s also a unifier of countries. . . . Man becomes his most creative during war. Look at the amount of weaponry that was made in four short years of World War II—the amount of ships and guns and tanks and inventions and planes and P-38s and P-51s, and just the urgency and the camaraderie, and the unifying. But that’s kind of a sad statement on mankind, if that’s what it takes.”