InsidePulse DVD Reviews: John Wayne: An American Icon

John Wayne: an American Icon
John Wayne is a classic American actor, best known for his Westerns (such as Chisum and True Grit) and his war movies (like the Green Berets). This set contains five of Wayne’s movies that may be lesser known, but for the most part, are still very enjoyable.

Seven Sinners
In this film, Marlene Dietrich is Bijou Blanche, a cabaret singer in the South Pacific who has a problem with being deported from island to island due to riots she inadvertently causes. Micha Auer and Broderick Crawford travel with her. Auer’s Sasha is a traveling magician and pickpocket, while Crawford (Little Ned Finnegan) is a Navy deserter who serves as a sort of bodyguard for Bijou.

Wayne himself plays Lt. Dan Brent, a Navy officer stationed on the island as well as Antro’s (Oskar Homolka) Seven Sinners café, where Bijou winds up as a singer. Needless to say, Brent falls for Bijou (like almost every other man she encounters) and is willing to even sacrifice his career in the Navy to be with her. However, Antro also has designs on Bijou, and is willing to kill to have her.

This movie’s inclusion in this set was a surprise to me because the film’s star is definitely Dietrich and not Wayne. However, Wayne presents a good performance and there is definite screen chemistry between him and Dietrich. The film seems to straddle genres as it includes the romance between Brent and Bijou, action as Brent struggles against Antro and his men, and comedy (mostly involving Sasha’s pickpocketing and Crawford’s fierce protection of Bijou). After viewing the film, I was glad to see it included, as it was extremely entertaining.

The Shepherd of the Hills

In Shepherd of the Hills, Wayne portrays Matt Masters – a member of a family of moonshiners in the Ozark Mountains. Betty Field plays Sammy Lane, Masters’s unspoken love interest, and Harry Carey (not the baseball announcer) is Daniel Howitt, a newcomer to the area from the city.

As the film unwinds, we discover that the community hates the Masters family due to the effects the moonshine has on their small band of people. Howitt begins trying to help the community draw together, much to the hatred of Masters clan matriarch Aunt Molly (Beulah Bondi). We also discover that Molly has implanted a deep hatred in Matt for his father, a man she claims left his mother to die.

This film was another well-acted performance, yet again a surprise, as Wayne does not feel like the main character. True, the story centers a great deal around Masters and Howitt, yet Howitt has more screen time and, as the title’s Shepherd of the Hills, seemed to me to be the main character. Beulah Bondi (perhaps best known for her role as Ma Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life) puts on a great performance as the nasty Aunt Molly as well.

The only negative to this film is the dialogue. The dialogue was written with back-hills speaking patterns in mind, and some of it has not aged well (a scene with a ritual Sammy performs before entering an area called “Moaning Meadow” is a prime example of this).
Pittsburgh

Wayne is the title character in this film as Charles “Pittsburgh” Markham. Markham and his friend John “Cash” Evans (Randolph Scott) are coal miners with big dreams. The mining company’s doctor, J.M. Powers (Frank Craven) is eagerly experimenting to discover new ways that coal and its byproducts can be used to help humanity. When Josie “Hunky” Winters (the returning Marlene Dietrich) enters their lives, Pittsburgh and Cash decide that there are bigger things in store for them.

Markham and Evans quickly strike a deal with Prentiss Steel to provide coal to his plant at a cheaper price, and their personal business is born. As time goes by, we see the changes the two men go through. Evans is in love with Winters, who has eyes only for Markham. Markham, however, falls prey to the vices that money brings, even going so far as to marry Prentiss’s daughter and then take over his company. However, what will happen to Markham when his money is gone?

This film was released in December of 1942, and is definitely a wartime production. The film is book ended by “present-day” events, the majority of the story is told through flashbacks showing Markham and Evans’s rise. The bookend chapters contain a strong wartime message, with the conversion of Evans’s plants to begin producing tanks, bombs, and bullets emphasized. Also, keep your eyes open for a great cameo appearance by Shemp Howard of the Three Stooges.

Still, the film is enjoyable, as the three stars click very well together.

The Conqueror

In this film, Wayne portrays Temujin, a Mongol warrior. Temujin is advised by his best friend and blood brother Temuga (Pedro Armendariz) and his mother Hunlun (Bewitched’s Endora – Agnes Moorehead). However, he ignores their advice when he falls in love with a girl from a rival tribe – Bortai (Susan Hayward). Their love is further complicated by the fact that Bortai’s father killed Temujin’s father.

The film follows Temujin as he battles for Bortai and eventually unites the Mongol tribes as Genghis Khan.

This movie was very hard for me to watch, partially due to knowing what we now know about the conditions it was filmed in. The film was shot in the Nevada desert, near an A-bomb test site. Watching the dust fly around horses and knowing the actors were breathing it in is difficult to see, especially considering that by 1981, over 90 of the 220 actors in the film had developed some sort of cancer (statistically, it should have been around 30). Wayne, Hayward, Moorehead, and director Dick Powell all died of various forms of cancer, and Armendariz committed suicide after discovering his own cancer was terminal.

Another reason the film was so hard to view was due to Wayne’s casting as Temujin. Wayne is in full “Duke” mode here, playing the part as if it was a Western, yet the dialogue doesn’t fit with his accent. The film was originally rumored to be starring Marlon Brando, until Wayne fell in love with the idea of playing Khan and was given the part. Although the cinematography is striking, Wayne’s miscasting is a fatal blow that the film never recovers from.

Jet Pilot

In Jet Pilot, Wayne is US Air Force Colonel Jim Shannon. Shannon is stationed in Alaska when a Soviet jet plane suddenly appears on radar and is escorted to Shannon’s base. Once down, the pilot removes their helmet to reveal a woman named Lt. Anna Marladovna (Janet Leigh). Shannon falls for Marladovna, and is devastated when she is ordered to be deported. Shannon rushes to Yuma with Anna and marries her to prevent her deportation, but is stunned to discover that she is actually a Soviet spy named Olga Orlief. Would Shannon choose his love for a woman or his love for his country? Or would there be a third option?

This film was the second Howard Hughes production in the set (The Conqueror being the first) and Hughes’s love of flying is in full display here as there are a great many shots of jets flying through the air.

A big flaw in this movie is the fact that the spark that was present between Wayne and Dietrich is absent here which is a strong flaw, given that you cannot tell if Olga truly loves Shannon or is simply performing her duty as a Soviet officer. Also, the end of the film involving Shannon’s escape from the Soviet Union is fairly far-fetched. However, if you’re willing to suspend your disbelief for an hour and a half, the film does feature some beautiful aerial photography which still holds up nearly five decades later.

Overall, I would give the films themselves a 7. If The Conqueror were not included, the rating would be higher, and it would be still higher if Jet Pilot were not on the set. Still, I found most of the films enjoyable, and can definitely see myself watching some of them again.

Score: 7/10

Replay Score: 5/10

The Video

The video is fantastically clear. The Technicolor effect (especially notable in Jet Pilot) causes the colors to almost burst forth from your screen. There is an occasional spot or fleck, but these are almost unnoticeable.

Score: 9.9/10

The Audio

The sound also benefits from the remaster of these movies and comes through as clear as if it was recorded yesterday. Again, a wonderful restoration job.

Score: 10/10

Special Features

This is the area of the set that is most lacking. All that are included are trailers for the first four movies. These are most interesting because there was no restoration done on the trailers, so you can compare them to the films themselves and see the difference.

Also, the menus are simple affairs with no animation – just a picture of Wayne for each film and the choices for the film. Still, it somehow seems appropriate with a set of older films like this to have the simpler menus.

Score: 1/10

InsidePulse’s Ratings for John Wayne: An American Icon
CATEGORY
RATING
(OUT OF 10)
THE MOVIES

7
THE VIDEO

9.9
THE AUDIO

10
THE EXTRAS

1
REPLAY VALUE

5
OVERALL
9
(NOT AN AVERAGE)

The Inside Pulse
Overall, this set of films gives an interesting look at some of the lesser-known films from Wayne’s career. While some of the included films are arguably better than others, most of them are still worth a view. In my opinion, while these films may not have been Oscar-winners, I still enjoyed them. And for the price (around 20 dollars), it’s worth picking them up to take a look.