John Wayne: Bad Movies

John Wayne’s Clunkers

To his credit, John Wayne had never denied making bad pictures, “I’ve done a lot of things I’m not proud of and I’ve seen a lot of pictures I wouldn’t be proud to be in.” He refused to name his worst pictures because “there’s about 50 of them that are tied.” “I can’t remember the names of some of the leading ladies in those pictures,” he added, “let alone the name of the pictures.”

Wayne had his share of bad pictures in every decade of his lengthy career. But in the late l950s, more than in other decades, he struck “bad luck” and his career reached its lowest ebb.

Between 1956 and 1958, Wayne had made his worst movies since the 1930s: William Powell’s The Conqueror, Josef Von Sternberg’s Jet Pilot, Henry Hathaway’s Legend of the Lost, John Huston’s The Barbarian and the Geisha.

These failures had an impact on his box-office popularity and 1958 was the only year between 1949 and 1974 in which he was not among the top ten money-making stars.

Wayne’s worst picture in the 1960s was Henry Hathaway’s Circus World, and the two 1970s clinkers, McQ and Brannigan, accounted for his disappearance from the ten most popular stars in the United States. Fortunately, he improved his record with his last two pictures, Rooster Cogburn, which was a popular though not artistic success, perhaps due to the co-starring of Katharine Hepburn, and the critically acclaimed The Shootist, his swan song.

What distinguished Wayne’s career as an actor was not only its amazing durability and productivity, but also the fact that it had many sudden upheavals. Wayne probably made more bad pictures than other stars, but there seemed to be a recurrent pattern: a succession of bad movies was followed by an excellent performance so that the bad pictures were soon forgotten. Wayne always emerged undamaged from his disastrous movies.