The 2 John Wayne Western Performances Clint Eastwood Thought Were His Best


Clint Eastwood believes two of John Wayne’s best Western performances can be found in his work with director John Ford. Eastwood was one of the last movie stars to make his name off the back of Westerns. He claims this was never his intention, but the fact he looked good on a horse meant he lucked his way into TV series Rawhide, which then led to his starring role in Sergio Leone’s Dollars trilogy. Clint Eastwood’s Westerns were largely in contrast to those being produced during Hollywood’s “Golden Age,” and were more violent and cynical.

Eastwood’s anti-heroes tended to shoot first, and they weren’t above cheating or scheming to achieve their aims. Wayne himself wasn’t a fan of the increase in violence the genre experienced during the ’60s and particularly disliked the bloodshed in films like The Wild Bunch. He didn’t seem keen on Eastwood’s work either, which partly explains why the duo never worked together. That didn’t stop Eastwood from being an admirer of Wayne’s work, as he explained during a DGA event in 2011 while discussing John Ford’s classic Stagecoach.

Clint Eastwood Thinks John Wayne’s Performances In Red River & The Searchers Were His Best

Eastwood believes Wayne proved he was a great actor with The Searchers

During this chat with fellow director Paul Schrader (Master Gardener), Eastwood praised the way Ford broke down common clichés of the era and gave his characters more depth. He also spoke of how well Ford used Wayne as an actor, with Eastwood feeling Red River and The Searchers featured John Wayne’s best performances. While Eastwood had some critiques for the former film – feeling it gets bogged down in exposition during the second half – he was impressed by the way Wayne was able to convincingly play a character who was much older than he was during production.

Clint reserved his highest praise for Wayne’s acting skills in The Searchers. Many critics feel this 1956 adventure is the best John Wayne/John Ford Western, where the star plays a former soldier who spends years hunting after his kidnapped niece. It’s one of the darkest Westerns of its era, and according to Eastwood “He proved he wasn’t just a movie star but a really good actor.”

Why John Wayne And Clint Eastwood Never Worked Together

Clint claims they were from two different generations

Much has been made of an apparent feud between Eastwood and Wayne, but in truth, there doesn’t seem to have been one. There are even photos of the two laughing with each other on the set of The Shootist, Wayne’s final movie. That said, they also came from two different generations, and Wayne wasn’t fond of the direction the new generation was taking cinema. In the aforementioned conversion for the DGA, Eastwood recalls trying to set up a movie for him and Wayne to co-star in called The Hostiles, which didn’t ultimately come together.
This Larry Cohen script involved a gambler winning the estate of an older man, with the two then forced to work with each other. Eastwood was earmarked for the gambler role while Wayne would have played the older man, but a combination of the latter not liking Cohen’s screenplay or Eastwood’s High Plains Drifter quickly killed the idea.
According to Clint, Wayne objected to the way his 1973 Western portrayed the “pioneers” who settled the country, and its use of violence. For his part, Eastwood believes Wayne didn’t get that High Plains Drifter was more of a fable, and not intended to be a serious look at life in the old west.


Clint Is Right: The Searchers Is John Wayne’s Best Performance

Clint says The Searchers proves Wayne was more than a movie star

Like most movie stars, Wayne leaned into the persona that audiences liked best. His unique drawl, walk and fighting style are what kept viewers coming back, and while Wayne was never less than a compelling screen presence, it can’t be denied there were many movies where he didn’t exactly stretch himself as a performer. The Searchers is Wayne’s best performance because he not only subverts his heroic persona, he’s plays a more complex figure.

Wayne’s Ethan is a former soldier who has known nothing but violence for over a decade, and his desire to rescue his niece mixed with his hatred for Native Americans has made him a cruel, violent figure. Clint Eastwood feels this was Wayne’s best work as a performer, which is an option shared by the likes of Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg and other filmmakers and critics. John Wayne didn’t get to break away from his screen persona often, but The Searchers proved he was capable of tackling much heavier material.