The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976)

Film review: The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976), directed by Clint Eastwood

Normally, you wouldn’t catch me watching a Western. However, after a year of playing the roleplaying game Deadlands, I’m warming up to the idea. As we recently finished the campaign and in the process, I wrote two obituaries for the characters … and as it happened, ended up using two pictures from this film to illustrate the two characters … and then saw the film was on TV, I had to watch it.

Josey Wales (Clint Eastwood) is a peaceful farmer in Missouri, but that comes to a brutal end when his wife and son are murdered by a gang of pro-Unionists. Out for revenge, and with nothing left to lose, he joins a gang of pro-Confederate rebels, and when the war has ended, their captain, Fletcher (John Vernon), decides to surrender, as they have been promised amnesty if they give themselves up. Most men, tired of fighting and wanting to go home, go with him, but Josey stays behind, refusing to surrender to the men who slaughtered his family.

Which is just as well, because the people who murdered Mrs. Wales and the boy, led by a man called Terrill (Bill McKinney) are now in the Union army, and they basically massacre the former rebels. After getting involved in this, using a Gatling gun, a bounty is put on Josey’s head, and he thus becomes an outlaw, trying to find a new life in Texas, all the while running from the law, and plotting his revenge.

Even though Eastwood is the strong, silent type who’d rather remain alone, he picks up a number of companions on the way, such as the old Cherokee man Lone Watie (Chief Dan George), a young Navajo woman (Geraldine Keams) rescued from a trading post, a kick-ass granny (Paula Trueman) and her wide-eyed granddaughter Laura Lee (Sondra Locke, whose idea of period hair style is very 1970s) rescued from some Comancheros.

I do like a good rebel story, and The Outlaw Josey Wales does not disappoint. The sound of gunfire and extreme close-ups of people’s eyes I’m less keen on, but you can’t have everything, I suppose. And, after all, it is a Western. What I did like was that the Native Americans weren’t portrayed as bad guys, and that at least one was given a big part. I also really liked the character of Lone Watie, who was both wise but at the same time, tongue-in-cheek and deadpan.

With regards to the roleplaying connection, I don’t think Josey Wales and Gunney had a lot in common, but the snakeoil salesman Carpetbagger (Woodrow Parfrey) had me in hysterics. Even though Carpetbagger says he doesn’t make the potions he sells, he’s just selling them, he does peddle his goods in a way that would have made Slick proud. “Oh that looks like a nasty injury you’ve got there – I have something for that!” Shame he wasn’t in it for very long.

The humour, plenty of it, was a nice touch, and lightened the otherwise heavy subject. Another thing I really liked was the music, which is something I might not normally pay attention to, or indeed actually remember the next week. A bit of folk music in there, very nice.

The romance between Locke and Eastwood seemed very constructed, as in, you can tell she’s just there to provide a body for the main character to bed because that’s what people want. Strange, really, because I thought he was meant to be avenging his darling wife and son who were brutally murdered, but apparently, that doesn’t stop you from having your carnal needs satisfied.

So, all in all, and especially taken into account that it’s a Western and I’m not keen on the genre, I still quite enjoyed The Outlaw Josey Wales, and Clint Eastwood certainly knows what he’s doing with Westerns, both as an actor as well as a director. 3.5 out of 5 Redlegs.

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