The 50 greatest westerns
We count down the greatest westerns of all time
The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976)
Dir Clint Eastwood (Eastwood, Chief Dan George, Sandra Locke)
What’s so civil about war, anyway? (© Axl Rose Holdings)
In much the same way that Josey wants to put the violence and horror of the Civil War behind him, so, in 1976, America was emerging from a war in Vietnam that had split the country in various ways. The search for harmony that’s at the core of ‘Josey Wales’ undeniably mirrors this trauma. The spite, darkness and Nixonian self-destruction of 1973’s ‘High Plains Drifter’ are replaced by the calm resolve, humanity and Southern gentility of the oncoming Carter administration for a film that puts peace pipe before pistol every time.
All of which makes it sound like some high-handed sermon, rather than the rollicking road movie it is – a ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ for the Smith & Wesson set. On the run from bounty hunters and Union Redlegs, Josey becomes a legend in his own time, but he wants nothing more than to find somewhere to settle down and get back to the land. Things are complicated by the fact that his reputation is such that everyone he comes across wants a piece of him – from soldiers and opportunists desperate to be the one who gunned down ‘Mr Chain-Blue Lightnin’ himself’ to the hippie-tastic band of waifs and strays he picks up along the way. The salty script is spot on, Bruce Surtees’s photography is magnificent and, last but not least, the lithe, liquid way in which Clint pulls on those two long-barrel Walker Colts is sheer poetry. ALD