In the forty years since John Wayne‘s death, and even longer since his Western heyday, the man has become as much as a myth or legend as the heroes he portrayed. Ronald Reagan called him; “more than an actor; he was a force around which films were made.” There was a decade or so when Wayne was the Western, and he helped change the genre into the grittier movies that became synonymous with the 60s and 70s.
Before John Wayne, cowboy movies were mostly seen as being for kids. Through playing complicated antiheroes like his protagonist in what is widely considered the best western of all time – The Searchers (1956) – Wayne and John Ford helped transform the genre, along with James Stewart and Anthony Mann.
One of the ways Wayne changed things was in the fight scenes, as explained in Tyler Malone’s 2019 LitHub article which wrestles with the legacy on an American icon. Wayne is quoted as saying; “Before I came along it was standard practice that the hero must always fight clean. The heavy was allowed to hit the hero in the head with a chair, or throw a kerosene lamp at him, or kick him in the stomach.”
Wayne continued; “But the hero could only knock the villain down politely and then wait until he rose. I changed all that. I threw chairs and lamps. I fought hard and I fought dirty. I fought to win.” Wayne may not be considered one of the best actors of all time, but he was certainly one of the most influential.
The hero fighting dirty is something which can seen in the best action movies to this day – especially in the Jason Bourne movies where our hero uses pens, magazines, toasters, fans, and saucepans as weapons. Bourne would go on to have a huge influence on the Craig Bond movies, of course.