“What John Wayne film do you think had the biggest impact on the cinema industry?” asks Marisa Wayne in the first episode of the John Wayne Gritcast. Ethan Wayne says 1930’s The Big Trail, as it was 23-year-old John Wayne’s first leading role.
Patrick Wayne disagrees, stating that The Big Trail was a failure. And it was; as one of the first films with sound to hit theaters, it also followed the Great Depression by a year. Shot in new widescreen format, most theaters refused to spend the money to upgrade their projection equipment in order to show the film, according to the Gilcrease Museum.
Patrick votes for The Searchers, a 1956 western epic directed by John Ford and also starring Natalie Wood and Jeffrey Hunter. The American Film Institute seems to agree with Patrick Wayne: in 2008 the organization named The Searchers the greatest American Western.
According to Patrick, The Searchers was not a critical or financial success. But, with the help of up-and-coming directors in film school who discovered the film, it became a cult classic. “I don’t know if it’s that it was a generation later, people look at it with a different eye,” said Patrick. “But it became impactful and it is today one of the 50 top westerns ever made.”
He goes on to tell the story of how The Searchers got made. Apparently, John Ford wanted to make The Quiet Man, and Warner Bros. weren’t sure about John Wayne in Ireland. So, they made a deal with Ford that if he made a western with John Wayne as well, they would let him make The Quiet Man.
“They made a two-picture deal,” says Patrick. “And that’s how those two films got made. Otherwise they wouldn’t have gotten made.”
John Wayne’s Most Impactful Films
Along with The Searchers, Patrick also spoke about 1949’s Sands of Iwo Jima. The film followed a squad of Marines through basic training all the way to the battle of Iwo Jima in World War II. John Wayne played Sergeant John Stryker, who the men in his squad greatly disliked. He put them through rigorous training, which they eventually learned to appreciate as the battles escalated.
“The U.S. Marine Corps claims today that that film is the reason why the Marine Corps is still existent,” says Patrick. “They have a special place in their heart for John Wayne.”
According to Ethan Wayne, apparently John Wayne was the Armed Forces’ “greatest recruiting tool.” He says that it’s possible General Douglas MacArthur actually wrote to John Wayne to tell him “not to change a single thing he was doing.” John Wayne made most of his war films during the actual war, so it’s no wonder they were great for morale.
When speaking of why so many people come back to his father’s films, Ethan Wayne says, “He led us. He gave us an example to follow.” And ain’t that just the way, pilgrim.