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They Might Be Giants … Movie Review

film wayne john western

Film historian Louis Giannetti has called the western the most popular epic genre in the United States. Raoul Walsh's The Big Trail (1930) is probably most noted as the film that announced the potential of John Wayne as a star. This should not overlook the initial use of 70mm to produce a spectacle that displays magnificent and vast scenery while relaying the saga of a wagon train on its treacherous journey west. Nothing this big will be seen for the rest of the decade of the 1930s. King Vidor's Duel in the Sun (1946) was an ambitious venture by producer David O. Selznick to outglamorize Gone with the Wind (1939). Not quite realizing that goal, the film nonetheless features some fine cinematography that holds more interest than the storyline of brothers (Gregory Peck and Joseph Cotten) competing for the family empire. The film proved a blockbuster and one of the highest-grossing westerns of all time. John Ford took advantage of the popularity and talent of John Wayne by directing Wayne in a calvary trilogy—Fort Apache (1948), She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949), and Rio Grande (1950). Each film has Ford's signature of absorbing post-Civil War stories that question what the soldier is told about his duty versus what he knows is right. Of course, the films are all set within the stunning and remote background of Monument Valley.

Two of the most recent western epics have been produced and released in such close proximity that comparisons have to be made, especially since the storylines are almost identical. George Pan Cosmatos' Tombstone (1993) and Lawrence Kasdan's Wyatt Earp (1994) both used the well-worn myth of Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, and the shootout at the O.K. Corral. The 1993 production uses the violence of the Old West to emphasize the response of character, while its 1994 counterpart skimps on action and over-emphasizes character. Most critics agreed that Tombstone wins out when it comes to adhering to the genre and providing sheer entertainment.

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