Saturday, February 23, 2013

Saturday Matinee: The Outlaw Josey Wales

By Matthew Pizzolato

There are a lot of great Western movies to pick from and narrowing down the list to just one is quite a difficult endeavor.  I like everything from Shane to The Searchers to Tombstone.

Even so, I'd have to admit that it's a tossup between Unforgiven and The Outlaw Josey Wales as to which one is my favorite.  Generally, it depends on which one I've watched most recently.  There are different things about both films that make each of them great. 

However, I'm going to give a slight edge to Josey Wales as my favorite simply because it was such a ground breaking film for its time and because the movie had such a big influence on me.  I've been told that I even talk like Josey sometimes.  Well... I reckon I do. 

The movie is chock full of great one liners and I can quote them all day.  But aside from that, it's a serious film that makes quite a statement and it has just the right amount of humor.  The characterization is outstanding all the way around. 

Clint Eastwood's portrayal of Josey Wales is excellent. Josey becomes a fully fleshed out character, not just a one dimensional stereotype.  He's a man of honor and principle and not afraid of doing what needs to be done.  As a youngster looking for a hero, Josey was exactly the type of man who embodied the virtues that I wanted to emulate.   

It was one of the first Hollywood movies to cast Native American actors in prominent roles.  To my knowledge, it was also one of the first film's to portray the Indian as something more than an ignorant savage, a stereotype that has long pervaded the Hollywood Western. 

In The Outlaw Josey Wales, the Native American characters are depicted with more honor than some of their white counterparts such as Captain "Redlegs" Terrill and the Senator, something unheard of in Hollywood until that point and long before Dances With Wolves.

The following scene shows that Ten Bears is much more than a savage. Instead, he is a complex man of nobility and peace. 

Ten Bears: These things you say we will have, we already have.

Josey Wales: That's true. I ain't promising you nothing extra. I'm just giving you life and you're giving me life. And I'm saying that men can live together without butchering one another.

Ten Bears: It's sad that governments are chiefed by the double tongues. There is iron in your words of death for all Comanche to see, and so there is iron in your words of life. No signed paper can hold the iron. It must come from men. The words of Ten Bears carries the same iron of life and death. It is good that warriors such as we meet in the struggle of life... or death. It shall be life.

That is one of the ground breaking scenes that contribute toward making The Outlaw Josey Wales an all around great movie experience.  I consider it to be one of the greatest Westerns ever made, for a host of reasons, more numerous than I could possibly list.  

Matthew Pizzolato's short stories have been published online and in print. He writes Western fiction featuring his antihero character, Wesley Quaid, that can be found in his story collection, The Wanted Man and the novella Outlaw.  

Matthew is the editor and webmaster of The Western Online, a magazine dedicated to everything Western and can be contacted via his personal website: or he can be found on Twitter @mattpizzolato

I'll be giving away a Kindle copy of OUTLAW through Amazon to one lucky commenter. All you have to do is leave your email address along with your answer to the question: What is your favorite Western movie?


  1. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance has always been way up there in my favorite westerns though there are many. The struggle of law and lawless along with the subject of legend vs reality are two of the reasons it remains my favorite. John Wayne, Lee Marvin, and James Stewart gave outstanding performances. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend. This movie is legendary.

  2. Loved this movie -- my fave of Clint's is Hang 'em High, though. But I agree, I like the movies where Indians are shown as real people.

  3. To hard a question...Every time I read another actors name another movie pops in to my head. Most of John Wayne (even the old B&W). Lee Marvin 'Paint your Wagon.'Like Robert Mitchum's too.

  4. How does the changing cultural depictions of native peoples and the west effect your interest in a movie. For in stance, The Searchers is a neat movie in a lot of ways, but it also is horribly racist, particularly with our current understanding of cultural sensitivity. When you write, do you use a more modern understanding of native peoples, or do you use the more archaic (and I don't mean that in a slanderous way, just old) depiction of them as seen in the golden age of westerns?

  5. I've got so many, it would be hard to pin one down. As you say, it may be the last one you saw at any given time. Josey Wales rates high under any circumstances.

    Just wanted to comment. Don't worry about me. I've already bought a copy of OUTLAW>

  6. Rick, Liberty Valance is a great movie.

    Meg, I like all of Clint's Westerns.

    Lisa, it is a very difficult question to answer. There's no such thing as a bad John Wayne movie. The Searchers and El Dorado are favorites of mine.

    Evan, when I write it's in the tradition of Josey Wales as far as depicting other cultures.

    Thanks for commenting, Randy and thank you for the support.

  7. Great post, Matt. As you say, to pick one film is a difficult task. I agree with Rick, that The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is one of the top ones. But I also love so many of the John Wayne movies, and so many of Clint Eastwood's. I know that purists will disagree, but I also like the Sergio Leone movies, having walked through a lot of the Almeria territory in Southern Spain. While there we stayed at a ranch-turned-hotel where Lee Van Cleef used to stay. I think he played great villains.

  8. My favorite is "Magnificent Seven", but that may be due to my love of "The Seven Samurai". I have also been a follower of Helen Hunt Jackson and her work on Native American rights and the man who inspired her, Chief Standing Bear of the Ponca Tribe. Still Outlaw Josey Wales is up there.

    Additionally "Outlaw" is a great read. Enjoyed it.

  9. Yep, it's hard to pick just one, isn't it? My husband's fave is this one, Matt, and he can quote the lines Josey (and others!) say before they do. LOL

    I have two favorites--The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and High Plains Drifter. But the others are all "up there" too--there's really not a "bad western", is there? LOL

    I've got Outlaw too, so don't enter me in the drawing.


  10. The Outlaw Josey Wales ties with True Grit as being the most quoted among fellow Deputy US Marshals of my generation.
    Before nearly every search or arrest warrant I went on over the last few decades, someone (mostly me) would invariably whisper: "If anyone gets hit, sing out. Slap hot iron to it. Best way to stop the blood."

    So, so many good one liners:

    "She thinks I'm some kind of Cherokee Chief..."
    "I'm gonna whomp you with a knotted plow line.."
    "It's not for eatin'. It's just for lookin' through..."
    "I never surrendered, but they took my horse and made him surrender...."
    "You can't serve papers on a rat, baby sister..." oh, wait, that's True Grit.

    What a thing as a writer, to string together those magic words that enter popular culture to be quoted for generations... Like: "Dyin' and much of a livin', boy."

    Thanks for the post. Now I can't get all those one liners out of my head.

  11. "Endeavor to persevere..." My favorite.

  12. Great post, Matthew. As far as favorites, my votes go to "3:10 to Yuma" --the 1957 film. The updated one with Russell Crowe was a little too violent for my tastes. I thought Van Heflin and Glenn Ford combined for a psychologically compelling story based on each one's version of honor instead of relying so much on bullet-riddled bodies. I also liked "Last Train From Gun Hill," with Marshal Kirk Douglas committed to bring the son of his friend (Anthony Quinn) to justice for raping and killing his wife.

  13. Thanks, Keith. I like the Sergio Leone movies as well and I agree that Lee Van Cleef was great in the villain role.

    The Magnificent Seven is another great one, Renaissance. Thank you for the kind words regarding Outlaw.

    I agree, Cheryl. There's no such thing as a bad Western. Oh, I always endeavor to persevere. It's my motto.

    Thanks, Marc. The Outlaw Josey Wales probably has the best collection of one liners in any one film.

    Thank you, Tom. Those are some great movies you've listed.

  14. Maverick-cards guns whats not to love!

  15. Josey Wales is also high on my list. I saw it while returning from a year abroad and it felt like a perfect welcome-home to me. There is a conciliatory tone at the end of it that said something also about the healing of the country after the divisions caused by the war in Vietnam.

    I don't know that I have a favorite, Matt. I don't think anyone has mentioned THE WILD BUNCH yet. If you asked me what western I'd like to see again right now, I'd pick that one. [I also already have my copy of OUTLAW.]

  16. I agree there are many great western movies. I'm not sure which is my favorite...Maybe the new version of True Grit mostly because it's the most recent western I've watched.

    It's pretty obvious the movies I would like portray the Native Americans as humans and not savages. Great post!

  17. Ride The High Country -- None Better.
    Scott and McCrea, who could ask for more.

  18. The Wild Bunch is another great one, Ron. As a matter of fact, I think I'm going to watch it again soon.

    Paty, there are numerous great Westerns. I liked the new version of True Grit also.

    Another great one, Thom. Thanks for commenting.

  19. I'm including Kristy in the drawing because she left a comment that didn't show up on the blog for some reason, so I'm copy and pasting the email notification that I got here:

    Kristy McCaffrey has left a new comment on the post "Saturday Matinee: The Outlaw Josey Wales":

    "The Missing" with Cate Blanchett and Tommy Lee Jones was very good. And now I'll show my romance writer leanings--I also really liked "Bad Girls" with Madeleine Stowe.

    Would love a copy of your novella.


    kristymccaffrey at juno dot com

    Posted by Kristy McCaffrey to Western Fictioneers at February 23, 2013 at 2:35 PM

  20. Thank you for commenting, Kristy. I thought Bad Girls was worth watching. I particularly liked Drew Barrymore's character.

    I liked The Missing as well, but it's hard to see Tommy Lee Jones in a Western and not think of Lonesome Dove.

  21. The winner of the drawing for a free Kindle copy of Outlaw is Kristy McCaffrey. Congratulations and I hope you enjoy it.

  22. Great movie--thanks, Matt. I'll have to watch it again. And again...and again. :) I truly hope westerns come back as a viable movie genre.

  23. Sure, Jacquie. Thank you for commenting. I watch Josey Wales at least once a month. I hope they make a comeback as well.

  24. 'In The Outlaw Josey Wales, the Native American characters are depicted with more honor than some of their white counterparts such as Captain "Redlegs" Terrill and the Senator, something unheard of in Hollywood until that point.'

    The concept wasn't unheard of; there had been a few Westerns that offered a rightfully 'revisionist' treatment of Native Americans by that point, most notably director Arthur Penn's "Little Big Man" from 1970, starring Dustin Hoffman and featuring Chief Dan George, whom Eastwood would also cast in the leading Native American role for "The Outlaw Josey Wales."

    So "Josey Wales" wasn't the first of its kind in that regard, but it certainly helped to further a nuanced portrayal of Native Americans, treating them as human beings with a full range of emotions, characteristics, and legitimate perspectives, rather than as wolf-like savages.

  25. You watch "Josey Wales" once a month? My goodness, Matthew! But if a film is deserving of that kind of constant viewing, it might as well be "Josey Wales."

    I probably viewed the film about a half-dozen times (four times that I remember for sure) over the span of about a year and a half from the spring of 1997 to the fall of 1998, when I was sixteen-to-eighteen, ending high school and starting college. "Josey Wales" constituted the first Western and the first Clint Eastwood film (of any kind) that I ever viewed.

    Since then, I've seen it twice more, but not in the last eleven years and only once in the last thirteen years. I look forward to viewing "Wales" in its entirety again, though; the film's coda is perhaps the most moving and brilliantly orchestrated that I've ever seen.

  26. Westerns will never make a sustained comeback, but I do recommend this summer's "The Lone Ranger," which offers a treatment of Native Americans and Manifest Destiny somewhat similar to that of "The Outlaw Josey Wales."

    So if you haven't done so already, rush out to view "The Lone Ranger" while you still can. Indeed, I've viewed it twice and I'm planning on a third screening.

  27. I am a fan of this movie, the civil war and Native Americans, which is why I want to let ya'll know about America's TRUE Robin Hood - a Blue-eyed Indian Outlaw and Champion of the poor - that took on the KKK after the Civil War in N.C. and what a great story it is! Checkout THE LEGEND OF HENRY BERRY LOWRIE, by Warren R. Reichel - now on Kindle and