Island in the Sky (1953)

This post is written for the Avaition in Film blogathon hosted by Taking up Room, be sure to read the other fun entries!!

Growing up, I had always been curious about, Island in the Sky (1953), because my grandfather, “Bop-Bee“, was very much a fan of the movie. Bop-Bee was a major fan of John Wayne, and always used to say, “John Wayne reminds me of me.”

(wikipedia)

While Bop Bee was halfway joking, I think there were similar qualities in the two: both were pro-armed forces (I’m not going to say pro-war, no one technically wants to go to war, but they supported those who honor the call; Bop-Bee fought in WWII), had high moral codes, were great card players, and both of them had a “coolness” about them that can’t be explained verbally, it had to be seen visually, in person.

Yet ,there was one more similar thing Bop-Bee had in common with John Wayne, but this time it was with one of his characters: flying a plane.

Bop-Bee in a Piper Cub Plane circa 1946-1949

I didn’t find out until my late teens, but Bop-Bee used to fly Piper Cub planes (1 passenger max plus the pilot) which is why I think he was drawn to the movie Island in the Sky, as he resonated with the Dooley character of flying such an intimate plane.  I always gravitate to compare Bop-Bee’s plane with the one in Island in the Sky rather than The High and Mighty (1954) or The Flying Tigers (1942), because Bop-Bee did not go see Flying Tigers in theaters (he was at war, and probably did not see the movie until years later on TV) and in H&M its the commercial airline sort of plane, something Bop-Bee never flew.

Both the Douglas C-47 used in the movie and the Piper Cubs were extensively used during WWII. Bop-Bee did not pilot planes in WWII, as he was an army infantryman, but he did fly after the war for a little while when he returned to Indiana. I bet in 1953 when going to see Island in the Sky in theaters, Bop-Bee was thrilled to see John Wayne flying a plane, probably excited to see him “do” something he did!!!

Oddly, I didn’t watch Island in the Sky for the first time until I was in my 20s, and viewed it a few years ago.  

Bop-Bee’s favorite star: Duke as Dooley and the Douglas C-47 Plane

Directed by William Wellman, Island in the Sky is the survivor movie in the Duke’s resume.  Usually I don’t enjoy survivor and rescue movies, but its John Wayne not only in the picture, but also behind the picture as this was one of his and Robert Fellows collaborations (a precursor to Batjac). The story is loosely based on the real life event of Ernest K Gann’s memoir Fate is the Hunter who also was involved with the writing of The High and Mighty.

Duke stars as Dooley, a former airlines pilot who flew supplies over the Atlantic during WWII. During a flight along with 4 crewmen: co-pilot Lovatt (Sean McClory), radio man D’Annunzia (Wally Cassell), navigator Murray (James Lydon), and engineer Stankowski (Hal Baylor) they are forced to make an emergency landing on a frigid lake on the border of two Canadian provinces: Quebec and Labrador. With limited supplies, limited communication devices, and the weather getting worse, its up to Dooley to keep his crew not only alive, but get them to work as a team so they all can be rescued.

When headquarters hears word, “Dooley is Down“, there is no shortage of searchers on the rescue team. To only name a few: Col. Fuller (Walter Abel) and his sergeant (Regis Toomey); as well as fellow pilots: Stuz (Lloyd Nolan), McMullen (James Arness), Moon (Andy Devine), Handy (Allyn Joslyn) and Fitch (Louis Jean Heydt) are all in on the search.

The movie has a great pace and it covers all the elements of a survival movie without tiring you out. You have the weather element, the guys arguing about whose ideas are better, the moments of hope and despair all equally and emotionally well played.

And not to mention the supporting cast is stellar. Aside from those I mentioned you also had: Harry Carey Jr, Paul Fix, Andy Devine, Bob Steele, Darryl Hickman, Gordon Jones, Carl “Alflafa” Switzer, Fess Parker, Mike “Touch” Connors and George Chandler. Add that on with John Wayne producing, its difficult to dislike the movie.

Surprisingly, Island in the Sky was out of circulation on home video and TV for nearly 2 decades until the officially licensed and restored DVD was released in 2005. It’s still pretty unknown by movie fans and even sometimes John Wayne fans, and I think its under-rated. It has Duke in a different but not so different role and its refreshing and fascinating to see his acting.

I can understand why Bop-Bee considered it to be one of his favorite non western JW movies, and I have to agree with him, as there is so much to adore about the movie. My biggest regret is not sitting down to watch this movie from start to finish with Bop-Bee when I was a child, but I think me watching the movie now and understanding it as an adult is more than satisfying. It still connects me to him even after he passed away- and that’s the most important thing of all.

Stagecoach 1939: Forever the Original

This is written for the March 2022 Genre Grandeur hosted by Movie Rob with this month’s theme being Oscar winners and nominees.

(Filmzie)

Before beginning the article, with the 94th Oscars airing soon why not take this opportunity to check out Filmzie, a free streaming service available online and on the app, that currently is offering hidden Oscar winners and nominations. They are currently hosting semi forgotten short titles such as 1941’s Churchill’s Island , 1956’s A Chairy Tale, 1957’s City of Gold and many more!

Warning: Minor spoilers to follow!

When I first learned of the John Ford and John Wayne collaboration team when I was younger, there always seemed to be this age old debate when trying to figure out the best movie the pair did together: The Searchers or Stagecoach. Oddly, although I didn’t see these movies fully at that young age, I was more interested in saying, “Well what about She wore a Yellow Ribbon” because the VHS cover looked interesting or, “What about The Quiet Man” because I had heard it was a, “romance”, movie. I was less interested in two hardcore westerns, even though that’s exactly what the duo was legendary for.

Now that I’m older, and have seen these films many times each, I think I’m more inclined to say the best movie the pair made together is more so a 4-way battle of Stagecoach vs Searchers vs The Quiet Man vs The Man who Shot Liberty Valence. Yet, even with me making my claim for all these legendary movies, Stagecoach is where it all started, and without it, there is no Searchers, Quiet Man, or Liberty Valence.

Stagecoach (1939) is the ultimate example of perfect timing and careful planning to create a rousing success. It was the return to the western for John Ford, if you can believe it, as he hadn’t directed a western since a silent picture from 1926 called 3 Bad Men. While John Wayne had never really been away from the western, it was his return to John Ford, after nearly a decade away from each other professionally with their previous pairing being 1930’s Men Without Women (The Duke was only in a bit part!).

On top of those reunions, Stagecoach was also to be the reunion picture for the western genre and the audience, as the genre had fallen to B-movie filler and radio serial status. Despite the fact the simple story of Stagecoach would introduce nothing “new” to the western overall: 9 strangers gather together in a stagecoach, and it takes them on a journey that will change them by the end of it; what Ford did instead was elevate characters and stunt work to surprise the audience.

For instance, by then cliché characters like the drunk (Thomas Mitchell), the outlaw (John Wayne) and the prostitute (Claire Trevor) were all given layered backstories and behaviors: Doc the drunk ends up sobering up to deliver an officer’s wife’s (Louise Platt) baby, outlaw Ringo only killed to defend his family, and prostitute Dallas ends up being a great caretaker to the newborn baby when the mother falls ill. Other western staples like a carriage attack scene, chase on horseback sequence, and shootout scene were raised to new status when Ford employed the stunt coordination of actor Yakima Canutt (who also would also be a bit player within the film).

Take a look at the intricate carriage chase/ attack sequence, and the careful use of the cameras, actor placement, and rigging in order to pull of the very dangerous scene. There is no CGI, protective gear, or safety equipment; just perfect timing, knowing your marks, and a stuntman dedicated to the craft.

By the time the Oscars came around, Stagecoach would rack up 7 nominations winning two: Best Supporting Actor for Thomas Mitchell, and Best Music (scoring) for Richard Hageman, W. Franke Harling, John Leipold, and Leo Shuken. Most notable nominations include Best Director for Ford and Best Picture- both of which lost to Gone with the Wind.

Perhaps the biggest remembrance of Stagecoach was John Wayne becoming a mega star (despite not scoring an Oscar nom.) after working in movies for 13 years. Ford was very willing on reuniting with Duke, as the financial backer/ producer Walter Wanger wanted better-knowns Marlene Dietrich and Gary Cooper in the roles of Dallas and Ringo. To see his vision become reality, Ford sacrificed half the budget and did not give John Wayne top billing- small prices in my opinion!

The most under-rated John Wayne Leading Lady: Claire Trevor

In the end, I believe Stagecoach has lasted the test of time (although not without criticism of animal cruelty and treatment of Native Americans) and it will always be the touchstone for the western genre. A story of its journey has and will be told many times over, but not to the high caliber that Ford created.

Stagecoach was remade 27 years later in 1966, directed by Gordon Douglas with a star studded cast (Ann Margaret, Bing Crosby, Red Buttons, Stefanie Powers to name a few) and while I personally can’t speak for everyone, I have no desire to watch it and enjoy it. Out of shear curiosity if I ever do decide to watch it, I could only imagine myself hate watching it and longing to watch the original. I always have a stance that when you’re watching or listening to a remake movie or cover version song and you want the original, then the remake is no good to begin with.

What Ford crafted together was utter magic in 1939 and it’s still magic today 9 decades later in 2022. It will live forever in a moment in time in which people could believe in heroes again, and that will never go out style!  

Author Interview: Killing John Wayne: The Making of The Conqueror by Ryan Uytdewilligen

In the world of showbiz, it’s impossible for a performer to have completely perfect films on their resume. You think of any one of your favorites and there is bound to be an embarrassment of a flop.


Some definitely had more than others, and not even a cinema legend like John Wayne got away with not having a flop. In 1956, not only did a flop land on his filmography, but it would turn out to be one of the worst films of all time: The Conqueror.
Directed by Dick Powell for RKO Studios and starring Susan Hayward, Pedro Armendáriz, and John Wayne as Genghis Khan, the film was notorious for being awful at the time of release. In the years to come it gained a reputation for being both a disaster to watch and literally deadly to make; for it was filmed at nuclear test sites in Utah, resulting in a majority of the cast a crew dying from cancer.

65 years after the film’s release Canadian author Ryan Uytdewilligen has written a book: Killing John Wayne: The Making of The Conqueror. Mr Uytdewilligen has spent the last three years researching the subject, and was generous to let me ask him some questions! The book is available now from Rowman and Littlefield publishing, and can be purchased at places such as Amazon, Barnes and Noble.

Killing John Wayne: The Making of the Conqueror by Ryan Uytdewilligen

Below you find the email interview, which Ryan was so cool to take part in!

1-What personally interested you into writing a book about one of the worst films ever made?
The film’s history and place in the pantheon of worst films was told to me a few years back. It always stuck with me, particularly the crazy miscasting aspect I dug deeper and deeper over the years and found out that this movie had so many layers of destruction to it that It became so wild and unbelievable, I simply had to know more.

2-John Wayne usually lobbied hard for roles he truly wanted. How did John Wayne come to land the lead originally meant for Marlon Brando?
From what I could find, John Wayne wanted to try and shake up his image. He also signed a contract with Howard Hughes, promising he would do three films with RKO. He did the first two right away, but the third film took years to set up. He was desperate to take anything. The rumor is that after Brando turned down the script, it was thrown in the trash. Wayne apparently pulled it out of the trash bin, flipped through it, and said that should be the next film.

3- I have read on IMDB The Conqueror wiped out RKO Pictures; In a world of crumbling studio systems, was The Conqueror viewed as a warning to other studios that they could be one bad film away from financial ruin?
It’s kind of a misnomer because RKO was in financial decline for years. Howard Hughes took it over in 1948 and ran it into the ground with terrible, expensive choices. When he sold it in 1955, all the studio had left was The Conqueror. They released it but failed to break even.


4-1956 also saw the release of one of the best movies ever made, The Searchers, which also starred John Wayne. How did The Conqueror not hurt John Wayne’s overall popularity?

Wayne said later on that he regretted taking the role and that he wasn’t suited for it. Critics were hard on it, but he followed it up with The Searchers, Rio Bravo, and a couple other hits, so it really fell by the wayside. In those days, most actors did two or three movies each year.

5- I personally have read in other books, John Wayne himself wasn’t happy during production. Was anyone on set glad to be making the film, or was it a pretty miserable shoot for all?
It was a miserable shoot all around. Susan Hayward was drinking and trying to allegedly have an affair with John Wayne. Second-time director Dick Powell was so in over his head, he wasn’t sleeping. Harsh weather conditions in Utah were harming the cast and crew. It was rough all around.

6-The Conqueror was a flop at the time of release and is still considered a flop today, for even someone like myself who hasn’t seen anything but trailer can agree on this. What would you cite as the reasons why the film has maintained it’s awful reputation?
It’s awful in many ways, but the miscast of John Wayne as Ghengis Khan is so startling, it’s hard to comprehend. But the performances are all very hammy, the story is lacklustre, and one-quarter of the movie is very sexist dance numbers that have nothing to do with the story. I will say, the production value is better than most things made today.

7-Branching off the previous question, The Conqueror has rarely aired on tv and is difficult to find on dvd and streaming platforms, why should movie fans still watch this flop of a film, even if it’s only to say, “I’ve seen it once”!
If you are a John Wayne fan, you can’t claim fandom unless you’ve seen this one. It also has so much lore around it, that it’s simply one of those bucket list watches that will not disappoint. 

8-The Conqueror is not only known for its content, but also for its filming location at nuclear test sites in Utah; was anyone aware at the time of filming how dangerous the location was?
The location scouts did bring this to attention to the producers who deemed it safe. The cast and crew got worried when they arrived and heard this from the locals, but ultimately, Howard Hughes called up the Atomic Energy Commission and was assured there would be no problems. Any link or danger from radiation was not known for at least a decade after. 

9-Unfortunately for most of the cast and crew, many people, including John Wayne himself (and his son Michael, a producer on the film), died from cancer due to the radiation present at the filming site; When did this link of cancer and location become apparent?
Dick Powell, the director, died from cancer in 1961, while co-star Pedro Armendariz died shortly after that from suicide after learning his cancer diagnosis. It wasn’t until the early 1970s that cast and crewmembers began dropping like flies. Wayne beat cancer in the mid-1960s, but ultimately succumbed to it in 1979. It was in that moment downwinders who were fighting for government aid finally brought their case to the US Senate. A journalist happened to see a connection between the filming location, the downwinder plight, and John Wayne’s death that year. He published an article that inspired many similar stories ever since. 

10- Last question: What overall lessons can be learned from The Conqueror and how can biopics today strive not to make the same mistakes?
This movie was made with no intent to get facts rights. The screenwriter even said he did no research and didn’t know who Ghengis Khan was before he took a meeting with Hughes. It was made for money and entertainment with no regard for authenticity. The production was very rushed too. So it was made with no care. I think a few Khan biopics have been made since. They were more cautious and careful, however, this film, The Conqueror, lives on because of how bad it is.

Bonus question: What are your favourite John Wayne films? 

I tend to gravitate to his stuff in the later 1950s and early 1960s, particularly Rio Bravo (his best and most entertaining western) and the riveting The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

Again, Killing John Wayne: The Making of the Conqueror by Ryan Uytdewilligen is available online: Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Thanks so much to Ryan for answering the Questions and I’m very excited to read the book!!!You can learn more about Ryan by visiting his website HERE

The Wings of Eagles (1957)

When a well known movie couple is put together in many films, they usually end up in a biopic together. Take Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, they played Vernon and Irene Castle; Myrna Loy and William Powell played the Florenz Ziegfeld and Billie Burke, and it even happened for John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara who portrayed Frank “Spig” Wead USN Ret. and his wife Min in the 1957 John Ford picture: The Wings of Eagles.

Wings of Eagles 1957.jpg
(wikipedia)

The real Frank Wead was born in Peoria IL in 1895. He was a Navy man who served on both land and sea before serving in World War I. In 1926, Spig was forced to retire early due to an accidental fall at home, as he fell down the stairs running to his daughter after hearing her crying. Spig was temporarily paralyzed and learned how to walk again, before going to Hollywood in the early 1930s, working as a screenwriter.
He worked on films such as Hell Divers, Test Pilot, both with Clark Gable, and They Were Expendable with Ford and Wayne.  The amazing part is after Spig recovered from his injury, he then enlisted in World War II- first in a non active position of planning, but then moved to an active duty at sea. Unfortunately after formally retiring from service his life was cut short at the age of 52 in 1947, due to complications from surgery .

Frank Wead | Military Wiki | Fandom
The real life Frank “Spig” Wead

The Wings of Eagles was Maureen O’Hara’s fifth and final film with Ford, as she would never professionally cross paths with him again (they of course they stayed in each other’s lives until his death, while Duke Wayne would work with him professionally until 1963’s Donovan’s Reef). In Duke’s first post Searchers film, it’s easy to dismiss this film as silly 1950s biopic fluff, but look beneath the surface to realize it’s actually got more credit than what it initially presents.

Although "Wings of... - Maureen O'Hara Magazine Website | Facebook
Tender moment!

According to Ford, everything in this movie is true, including the plane flying in the pool, and the cake fight too (Ford swears he personally dodged the cake!!! The film even gets really meta when Ford veteran Ward Bond plays a spoof of Mr. Ford himself: John Dodge. The scene in which Frank goes into Dodge’s office, if you look closely you can see Ford’s real life Oscars, cane, pipe, and Bond even sports an eye patch in true homage.

Unfortunately for Maureen, her “character” Min received cut screen time. In her autobiography, she talks about more scenes that were shot, but due to the objections of the Wead’s real life daughters, the scenes were cut. Maureen also mentions the daughter’s and the studios efforts to omit from the picture the fact the real life Mrs. Wead was an alcoholic.

The Wings Of Eagles (1957) - The 1950's - John Wayne Message Board (JWMB)
(JWMB) Spig is gonna move that toe!

In my personal view, this film proves John Wayne is an actor. The scenes in which Spig learns to walk again, and the agony over being separated from his wife, it’s all raw and real.I’d like to point out, there’s something natural about the way John Wayne plays this “character”, the tenderness of his scenes with his family and the camaraderie he has with the men in the Navy scenes. It proves you don’t need ‘action scenes’ for a John Wayne picture to be good, because what really counts is the actor himself. 

Overall, to me this film is marvelous, because it brings a real life Naval hero to the attention of the movie public. If you’re a John Wayne fan- which if you’re reading this you probably are-, and if you love Duke with Maureen (which again, you probably do love them together if you are reading this!) you are going to end up watching this movie and learning about a hero whose story is not always told. Not everyone’s story is as big as JFK’s or Abraham Lincoln’s, yet their contributions to society are just as important. Added in the fact its the dream team of Ford, Wayne and O’Hara- you’ve got one solid Hollywood biopic!

this was written for the Sept/Oct 2021 Biopic Blogathon hosted by Hometowns to Hollywood . Make sure to check out other entries!

Ethan Edwards: Loner

This entry is for Movie Rob’s March 2021 Genre Grandeur theme of Loners in Film. I chose to focus on Ethan Edwards in the 1956 film The Searchers. Be sure to check out Rob’s other entries!

In the Summer of 2020, John Wayne’s infamous 1971 Playboy interview was brought back into the public eye, and with it came claims that John Wayne should be cancelled. Duke’s Alma Mater, USC, removed his bust from campus, TCM removed him from that year’s Summer Under the Stars and some were calling for his name to be removed from the airport in California.


In the midst of all this, the one thing I was fearing was they were going to cancel his films, namely Stagecoach and The Searchers to be precise. While Stagecoach can somewhat slip the hook for not having certain topics and themes at the center of its narrative, it’s The Searchers that had me concerned it would be the victim of cancel culture, and I will say: I defend The Searchers for being one if the greatest American westerns ever made.

As Ethan Edwards in "The Searchers" | John wayne movies, John wayne,  Western movies


The character (emphasis on CHARACTER) of Ethan Edwards is complex to say the least: he blatantly holds prejudice against Native Americans and his actions towards them are nothing short of despicable. No one would deny this. At the end of the day, however, I venture to say what Ethan is truly: a loner. Perhaps the ultimate loner that film has even seen.

The Searchers (1956)
THIS is Debbie!

Ethan starts off coming through the desert, solo. When he arrives in view of his brother’s homestead, his own nieces and nephew don’t even realize who he is. Shortly after that, Ethan himself doesn’t recognize Debbie, mistaking her for Lucy. It’s basically confirmed in this short sequence that Ethan doesn’t see much of his family. Yes, he fought in the Civil War, and it’s also hinted he fought in the Mexican Revolution, but suffice to say, Ethan goes where he wants, when he wants with no strings attached.

In The Searchers" (1956), there many implications that the kidnapped  "niece" Debbie is actually Ethan Edwards (John Wayne) daughter, from an  affair with Ethan's brother's wife. When Debbie is kidnapped, Ethan's long
Unspoken look of.. Love?

Many viewers have suggested Ethan is a loner because of his racist outlook towards Native Americans. While this is definitely a top theory, it can also be argued Ethan’s loner status comes from a deep feeling of guilt. At the start of the film, it’s been noted Ethan has been way for 8 years, and niece Debbie is 8 years old. Pair that fact with the obvious look of unstated love Ethan gives Martha and it’s a  justifiable claim. Going on this contention, Ethan feels so guilty for cuckolding his brother he feels he needs to distance himself from his family.

The Searchers | The searchers, Jeffrey hunter, Classic hollywood
Not family?

One no doubt feels that distance, emotionally when he is on his quest to find Debbie. He brings along Martin and Brad (well initially Brad, Lucy’s fiancee) but all at the same time, it’s always clear Ethan is out for his own agenda and doesn’t necessarily look out for the interests of others.  He even tells Martin he’s not his family and he has no reason to come with; going as far to ditch him when resuming the search after taking a break.

Going Home

Yet, Ethan is full of contradictions, and although he is distant both physically and emotionally, he does exhibit a sense of loyalty to his family, and this is what makes him stand out against other loners. When Debbie and Lucy are kidnapped, he doesn’t hesitate to set out to find them. When he learns of Lucy’s brutal death, he gets insanely angry. And despite his cruel and unacceptable actions when it comes seeing Debbie for the first time after many years, his number one priority is making sure she gets home.

The Searchers Final Scene GIF | Gfycat

The ending shot just affirms everything, and John Ford was pure a genius.  The famous shot of Ethan standing in the doorway, his mission completed, and now it’s time to leave. It never fails to make one wonder: where and what will Ethan do next? Perhaps it’s stated best in the Sons of Pioneers/Max Steiner song that plays over the ending: “Ride Away.

Lana Wood: Audio Interview! (2016)

Hey everyone! Happy 2021 and do I have a little treat for you guys! Remember waaay back in 2016 (which seems like a lifetime ago) when I met Lana Wood at the Pickwick Theater in Park Ridge IL? (if you missed it or need a refresher read about it here!) Well as it turns out, during the interview portion of her visit, I, from the audience, was voice recording her interview on my old, old phone. After transferring to two phones (to keep it with me!), and then to my laptop, I have now converted the audio to be YouTube friendly and uploaded it just last month!

I only managed to get 14.5 minutes of what was nearly 45 minutes, but what I managed to get turned out not only to be clear and listenable, but also interesting and insightful. She begins by talking about John Wayne and talks about her experience on set of The Searchers. I am sorry I didn’t capture more, and it cuts off just before the Q and A. I personally DID ask Ms. Wood a question, but didn’t think about recording myself at the time!

Anyways, now, I am happy to share it with all of you! Happy listening and Happy 2021 everyone!

My Top 15 Favorite John Wayne Movies

In today’s world the western is pretty much dead, the war movie has become boring, and leading men don’t come around like they used to. Movies to lift people’s spirits have always been a go-to, and John Wayne now more than ever needs a refreshing in people’s minds. So without further ado, I present to you 15 of my favorite John Wayne movies! (Note: I still feel I am missing some of the greats! But I wanted to keep this relatively short and sweet!!)

15 The Green Berets (1968)- This one makes my list because John Wayne wasn’t afraid to stand up for what he believes in. He supported the troops no matter what and this film is proof of it. Aside from that, this is the granddaddy of all Vietnam war movies.  And Uncle Allen- The helicopter sequence really isn’t that bad! It’s pretty well shot for 1968!!

14 Sands of Iwo Jima (1949) Uncle Allen once said to me, “You’re  my niece so you have to see [this one].” With that I knew I had to watch, and ordered it the next day after seeing him. When I finally did watch it- Uncle Allen was right, this is one of John Wayne’s essential roles. A must see world war II movie.

13 Island in the Sky (1953)- This one I know was one of my Grandfather’s favorite John Wayne movies. Maybe because in it, John Wayne flies a small plane and is a civilian pilot (something which my Grandfather once did!). This is a different kind of film John Wayne did, but it fits his style of storytelling all at the same time.

12 The Sons of Katie Elder (1965)- I know this one has its criticisms, but I truly enjoy the picture. No one should really care if the ages of the 4 Elder boys don’t mathematically make sense. Isn’t it cool that in an alternate world John Wayne and Dean Martian are brothers?

11 Hondo (1953)- Another one of my Grandfather’s favorites, this movie is such a well told story. When I was little I saw a collie dog on the DVD cover and decided it had to be good movie because A- Bop-Bee (the name I called my Grandfather)  liked it and B- There was a dog involved! Years later I watched this fully through and said to myself- I knew as a kid I had a good eye for a good movie!

10 True Grit (1969) Duke won his Oscar- but that’s not the only reason to love this movie. This movie has the best characters who bring out the most in a simple plot. Plus, I believe Duke really got to have fun with this character- being brass and unpolished, yet still being heroic and cool! I saw this on the big screen in May 2019.

9 The Cowboys (1972) I honestly don’t understand some of the negative comments surrounding this movie. This one is one of the most essential John Wayne flicks. The whole point of the film is the teachings of young boys becoming men and who better to do that than John Wayne himself? Personally, I see striking parallels to Red River present in this movie!

8 She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949)- This movie has to contain some of the best use of technicolor on film. It’s the first time ever audiences are Monument Valley in color and what a breathtaking sight it is. John Wayne really proves he is an actor here as he plays a role of a much older person than he actually was.

7 Big Jake (1971)- This movie is close to the hearts of both Patrick and Ethan Wayne- and that’s more than enough for me. Anytime Duke used his family on screen- it’s just really fun. How could you not enjoy the interaction of Patrick and Duke’s characters!!! And it’s awesome to see little Ethan Wayne get some action in the final shootout.

6 Rio Grande (1950)- Its hard to believe John Ford didn’t care about making this movie due to the fact this was essentially an insurance policy for the anticipated fail of The Quiet Man. Yet it’s still such a fine film. Honestly, I love the addition of the “Regimental Singers” (the Sons of Pioneers in real life), and get their songs stuck in my head all the time!

5 The Horse Soldiers (1959)- This is probably the curve ball in my list. Its B grade John Ford- but still a solid Ford. It’s a well made movie considering Ford lost 2 of his stuntmen in a river crossing scene (which affected him deeply, causing him to not care about making the movie) Plus, I love Bill Holden, and for me to see two of my favorite actors ever appear side by side on screen is really awesome!

4 The Shootist (1976)- I hope I’m understood when I say I have to prepare myself before I sit down to watch this movie. It’s such a perfect send off to the Duke’s legacy on screen, making it so emotional. I told my Mom the next time it’s on the big screen, we are going to see it. She then said, “Yes we will, but I’m telling you now, I’m gonna cry.”

3 McLintock! (1963)- it has been said this movie showcases John Wayne’s sense of humor. In addition, it’s basically a Wayne family affair- With Patrick co starring, Micheal producing, and Aissa with a bit part. Add Maureen O’Hara and its perfection. The stairs scene gets me every time!!!!!

2 The Searchers (1956)- I feel like I’m cheating by putting this one down, as it may be too easy. In fact I can’t even call this a number 2 when it’s my favorite John Wayne WESTERN, therefore it is number 1. It is my great hope this movie will still be considered timeless as the world moves into the future. I consider myself forever lucky to have watched this film on the big screen, and in the presence of Lana Wood (young Debbie in the film and Natalie’s sister) in September 2016.

1 The Quiet Man (1952)- This would be my favorite non-western John Wayne did. Again it may be too easy. Call me a hopeless romantic, but I think it’s really sweet to see Duke play a romantic-comedy lead, of course with Maureen O’Hara! I saw it on the big screen in March 2019- and it was just utterly fantastic! And even more romantic on the big screen! 

In my world, John Wayne will always be a hero to admire. He was not a perfect human, but who was? As an immigrant and naturalized citizen of The United States, I truly believe John Wayne is an American Icon; one whose image will last forever.

The Searchers: Meeting Lana Wood

Hello readers! This is a very special post as on September 15 2016 at the Pickwick Theater in Park Ridge IL. I met Lana Wood at a 60th anniversary screening of The Searchers. My lovely Father escorted me for the night- as he was so generous to take a day off work so I could go! Thanks again, Daddy! (also thanks for the pictures!)

It was surely a night to remember, and I’m so glad to share my experience with all of you!

But before I go any further, I’d like to dedicate this post to the man who introduced me to John Wayne and his movies when I was 9, my late grandfather, Mr. Joseph Kasper. Although he couldn’t accompany me to the screening last night, I just know how thrilled he would have been for me and how excited he would have been to see John Wayne on the big screen. The Duke was my Grandfather’s favorite movie star and he always used to say, “I like John Wayne because he reminds me of me”. I know my Grandfather was with me in spirit last night, and for that I couldn’t be happier.

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Photo by Emily Graziano

The screening of The Searchers took place at the glorious art deco Pickwick Theater in Park Ridge IL. It was built in 1928 and in 1975 was officially declared a historic building. Its name “Pickwick” was chosen by the then Park Ridge Mayor, William Malone, for the character of Samuel Pickwick from Charles Dickens’ novel The Pickwick Papers.

The night kicked of with pre- show at 6:30 with music by Jay Warren. Ms. Lana Wood arrived shortly after signing autographs before and after the screening.

Autographs were $20, however all proceeds were to help homeless dogs and cats at no kill shelters! A generous donation on Ms. Wood’s behalf.

I was lucky enough to get Lana’s autograph before the screening and get a picture with her as well!

When I got to the front there were about ten pictures to choose from (ranging from Searchers stills to Diamonds are Forever Plenty O’Toole candids). I asked the man sitting next to Lana which one would be best and he suggested the picture of Lana and Natalie together, as it was a studio picture taken to promote the movie. Ms. Wood then chimed in exclaiming, “Oh yes this one! Its the two Debbies together!”. With that, I took their advice.

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Photo By Emily Graziano

Lana also graciously signed the inside of my Searchers’ blu-ray sleeve, to which the man beside her said was a “good idea” that I brought it.

I also had the pleasure to tell Lana how wonderful it was for me to meet her and that this was my first time viewing The Searchers. I explained I never had met a celebrity before and I told her how honored I was to meet a real movie star. Ms. Wood was ever so generous saying she was “glad” I came out. I also asked her of how she liked Chicago, with her response being “Oh, I love it!”

But the coolest part was when we took this picture together (which my Dad took for me!) I stood next her her and she exclaimed “Finally! someone I’m taller than!” It felt so surreal- but it was so amazing- I felt like I was dreaming!

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At seven o’clock she began her Q and A session. She talked of her memories of Sean Connery and being the bond girl, John Wayne, her sister Natalie, and of course her recollection of making The Searchers.

She recalled the dust storms and how, when she would take a bath the storms made the water come out orange at first. She talked about Patrick Wayne and how both she and Natalie just “adored” him. Ms Wood furthermore revealed her favorite film of Natalie’s: Splendor in the Grass because Natalie was brave enough to take off her cuff that hid her protruding wrist bone. Lana explained Natalie wanted to “bare it all” for this film.

I myself got to ask Lana a question which was “What was your favorite role of your career?” She happily remarked it was a “lesser known mini series {QB VII} with Anthony Hopkins“. She even “parted ways” with her agent as they believed she was too good for the small role and if she took the role, they didn’t want to represent her. But she said the most important part was the character and in the end she was even nominated for an Emmy.

Lana talked for about 40-ish minutes before the film played, with it starting at about 7:40.

I was just in awe of the movie, especially on the big screen- seeing John Wayne in his signature role in a cinema setting was just too cool. It was certainly something I’ll never forget and all other viewings of The Searchers from here on out will never amount to the glory it was last night.

I hope in the future I will be able to go to more events such as this! It was a once in a lifetime opportunity and I’m just thankful I didn’t pass it up. I’ll always remember the magical evening and I no longer wonder why The Searchers is considered the best, for it 100% is the best of the best.

*All PICTURES EXCEPT OTHERWISE NOTED TAKEN BY TOM GRAZIANO