A more complex John Wayne in ‘Quiet Man,’ ‘Yellow Ribbon’

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    • A more complex John Wayne in ‘Quiet Man,’ ‘Yellow Ribbon’

      Kevin added a new article:



      In the popular imagination of John “Duke” Wayne, there’s a soft side to him that goes unpraised: the delicious romantic, the cool hipster or relaxed compadre who doesn’t want to get in anyone’s way. We tend to think of Wayne as a prowling neon sign of America, an uncomplicated cliche: a hard, indestructible cowboy, more mythic than mortal (think of that unbearably hammy Rooster Cogburn in “True Grit”), a self-appointed symbol for “justice” in a West that, in the pervasive myths told about America by Americans, was lawless and untamed.

      But Wayne’s greatest roles are those in which he is but a humble sliver of a mosaic-like community. There is Wayne in Howard Hawks’ “Rio Bravo” (1959) as a human puppy, shy around womenfolk, best buddies with struggling alcoholics and Mexican hotel owners in a middle-of-nowhere town. There is Wayne in John Ford’s “They Were Expendable” (1945), a World War II film in which he plays a young PT boat captain who doesn’t spout banal speeches about what war and America mean to him, but who simply tries to survive, even as the men around him are maimed or blown apart.

      Two more Waynes, directed by John Ford and on display at the Stanford Theatre, are surprising in their lyricism and complexity: the American boxer who goes to Ireland to escape his past in “The Quiet Man” (1952) and the aging soon-to-be-retiree of the cavalry in “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon” (1949).

      With Howard Hawks’ Western “Red River” (1948), Wayne began playing older, world-wearier…
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