The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976)
June 26, 2021 10:52 AM - Subscribe

Missouri farmer Josey Wales joins a Confederate guerrilla unit and winds up on the run from the Union soldiers who murdered his family.

Josey Wales watches helplessly as his wife and child are murdered, by Union men led by Capt. Terrill. Seeking revenge, Wales joins the Confederate Army. He refuses to surrender when the war ends, but his fellow soldiers go to hand over their weapons -- and are massacred by Terrill. Wales guns down some of Terrill's men and flees to Texas, where he tries to make a new life for himself, but the bounty on his head endangers him and his new surrogate family.

Roger Ebert: Various, and inexhaustible, bounty hunters are constantly on the outlaw's trail, despite the Eastwood ability (in this movie as before) to wipe out six, eight, ten bad guys before they can get off a shot. Eastwood keeps moving West, picking up along the way a young Indian girl and then the survivors of a Kansas family nearly wiped out on their quest for El Dorado. The relationships in the group are easily established or implied. There's not a lot of talking, but everybody understands each other.

Eastwood is such a taciturn and action-oriented performer that it's easy to overlook the fact that he directs many of his movies -- and many of the best, most intelligent ones. Here, with the moody, gloomily beautiful, photography of Bruce Surtees, he creates a magnificent Western feeling.

Jacoba Atlas: It’s filled with contradictory moments,, some brilliant, some hackneyed, measuring up to a paradoxical whole that promises a kind of bravado it just can’t deliver. Eastwood is hamstrung by the script, which purports to be about revenge (for the murder of a farmer’s wife and young son), but so quickly veers off into other directions it’s virtually impossible to keep the original impetus in mind. Like a picaresque novel that never quite mastered the style, Josey Wales deals, at one time or another, with the Civil War, the conflict between Kansas and Missouri, the escape to Texas and Mexico for confederate soldiers who refused to say die

Richard Eder: The movie tends to muffle and sell short whatever points it may be trying to make. There seems to be a ghost of an attempt to assert the romantic individualism of the South against the cold expansionism of the North. Every Unionist is vicious and incompetent, whereas Wales, despite his spitting, is really a perfect gentleman.

There is something cynical about this primitive one‐sidedness in what is not only a historical context, but happens also to be our own historical context. To the degree a movie asserts history, it should at least attempt to do it fairly.

posted by Carillon (6 comments total)
I admit I really struggled with this one for a lot of the reasons that Eder talks about. Particularly knowing what I know about cavalry raids in the civil war, specifically Southern cavalry raids, having him become a hero felt like getting spit in my eye. There was a lot to like, but man, some of the premise is super tough.
posted by Carillon at 10:54 AM on June 26, 2021 [3 favorites]

Same problem here. There are some great moments and even greater lines ("Buzzards gotta eat, same as worms" is my favorite) but could not enjoy the movie as a whole and its embrace of the southern viewpoint.
posted by mark k at 3:04 PM on June 26, 2021 [1 favorite]

There was lots of bad behavior by both sides during the Kansas-Missouri conflicts before and during the Civil War, but during the Sacking of Osceola that inspired the book, the Kansas-based Jayhawkers freed 200 enslaved people and executed nine townspeople after unofficial courts martial. Osceola had a population of 314 in the 1860 Census. So maybe Josey Wales wasn't a slaveowner, but many of his neighbors were.

A year after the raid, James Henry Lane, who commanded the Jayhawkers during the raid, recruited the 1st Regiment Kansas Volunteer Infantry (Colored), the first Black unit to see combat during the Civil War.
posted by kirkaracha at 11:41 PM on June 26, 2021 [5 favorites]

OJW is problematic on several levels but yet, I can watch it again and again for the parts that do work. The action scenes are gripping and well thought out. John Vernon's little monologue at the end is really well done. And Chief Dan George steals every damn scene he is in.
posted by Ber at 7:27 AM on June 27, 2021 [6 favorites]

It definitely falls into a "virulent racist writes story with racist premise, accidentally winds up with film that is often accidentally antiracist" area of problematic
posted by maxsparber at 9:07 AM on July 4, 2021

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