Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A Different John Wayne from Summer Under the Stars

Above: A WPA image of the Dust Bowl in the 1930s

This week I was impressed with a small scale movie that featured an engaging story and cast, led by a relatively young John Wayne, as he made his way out of low budget features just as America and the world faced another World War. As a variety of divisive issues plagued the family of man, the actor took a turn at playing a rather put upon Moses, still looking for the promised land in The Duke vs. The Dust Bowl, which begins below:

A certain influential Mr. Turner--no--not the estimable Ted, but Frederick Jackson Turner the American historian, once pointed out that "the forging of the unique and rugged American identity had to occur precisely at the juncture between the civilization of settlement and the savagery of wilderness. The dynamic of these oppositional conditions engendered a process by which citizens were made, citizens with the power to tame the wild and upon whom the wild had conferred strength and individuality." That was at the end of the 19th century, just as the American Western frontier was closing, but the impact of that view of America still has resonance today.

Watching the distinctly different Three Faces West (1940-Bernard Vorhaus) as part of the John Wayne Day for Summer Under the Stars celebration on TCM, the scholarly Turner's sometimes controversial ideas came back to me out of the blur of my increasingly distant undergraduate days (or is it daze?). This Republic studios movie is among the least known of Wayne's movies, but one of the more interesting--since it came at a time when he was just beginning his ascent to a plane somewhere between a movie star and a force of nature. It incorporates ideas old and new, some of them still contentious, in the course of a brief 79 minute story that effectively portrays the savagery of that wilderness as it affected the lives of Midwesterners in the Depression era...more


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