Does any name in film history carry such vivid associations with the western as John Wayne’s? Maybe Sergio Leone, Italian director of the Clint Eastwood-starring “Man with No Name” trilogy, comes in second. But in pioneering the European-made “spaghetti western,” Leone created a genre apart from the thoroughly American western, exemplified by those classic films starring the thoroughly American John Wayne. At the top of the post, you can watch one of them, 1943’s War of the Wildcats (also known as In Old Oklahoma), which casts Wayne as Dan Somers, a cowboy and ex-Rough Rider hired by Teddy Roosevelt himself to accompany a valuable shipment of oil to Tulsa as a scheming robber-barron does his criminal utmost to keep his grip on the market. 1939’s Stagecoach proved Wayne, later known to his several generations of fans as “The Duke”, could carry a major picture; War of the Wildcats proved he could keep doing it. And boy, would he.
Just above, you can watch an earlier but still notable Wayne performance in 1934’s Blue Steel, widely considered the finest of the “Lone Star” westerns, a series that eventually came to include sixteen of Wayne’s starring roles. The previous year had seen the release of, among other Lone Star entries, Riders of Destiny, in which Wayne takes a musical turn as gunslinger Singin’ Sandy Saunders. That film used Wayne’s real singing voice no more than later ones used his own hair, but he reportedly displayed a hearty off-camera sense of humor about Hollywood fakery. For a rare example of Wayne getting comedic on-screen, you’ll want to watch McLintock!, his 1963 western comedy based on The Taming of the Shrew. We’ve included these and 21 more freely viewable Wayne-starring westerns in a collection called, yes, John Wayne: 25 Free Western Films Online. (It’s a subset of our collection of 635 Free Movies Online.) They’ll provide you plenty of entertainment, but if you’ve watch them and decide to see the rest, know that The Duke starred in a hundred more pictures besides. Saddle up; you’ve got a long ride ahead.
Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on cities, aesthetics, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.