Undefeated, The (1969): Andrew McLaglen’s Western, Starring John Wayne and Rock Hudson

The Undefeated, one of John Wayne’s least interesting films in the 1960s, was produced, written and directed by the same team that was responsible for the slightly better and more entertaining Bandolero!

Grade: C (*1/2* out of *****)

James Lee Barrett, who also wrote the preposterous Vietnam saga, The Green Berets, penned the script, based on Stanley L. Hough’s story.

Robert L. Jacks produced, and Andrew V. McLaglen directed.

Wayne plays John Henry Thomas, a Civil War Union Cavalry veteran who makes his living by rounding up wild horses, leading his men on a horse drive south of the border.

When a conference with Mexican bandits breaks down, Wayne shoots their leader without hesitation. “You went out there to talk. Why did you have to kill him” asks a war widow. “Guess the conversation just kinda…dried up, ma’am,” he replies in a characteristic manner.

As most of Wayne’s films of that era, the plot is two-generational: Rock Hudson plays James Langdon, a Southern leading his defeated men to a new future in Mexico.

Other than Hudson, the workmanlike helmer McLaglen surrounds the Duke with mediocre and amateurish cast, including Marion McCargo as his love interest.

Roman Gabriel plays his adopted son, a Cheyenne Indian, who recalls in role and acting the handsomer Jeffrey Hunter in John Ford’s “The Searchers.”

Not much of a director, McLaglen, who must have studied master John Ford’s films well, stages the scenes in an impersonal, haphazard way, including a Forth of July event that posits Northerners and Southerners.

His most overt tribute to Ford is evident in a scene in which Paul Fix, a familiar presence from the Duke’s previous films, accepts Wayne’s resignation from the Army.

Wayne is his usual pro, excelling in delivering cynical lines. Confronting greedy horse buyers, who are offended by him calling them thieves, Wayne says: “Why, yes, isn’t it an accurate description?”

Along with instructing his men, he also gives a useful lesson to his romantic interest, Anne Langdon (Marian McCargo), when she is about to use a rifle for the first time: “Remember two things, Windage and Elevation!”

Thematically, “The Undefeated” preaches for peace and reconciliation between North and South. But the film is full of cliches, taken from Wayne’s previous films.  The most obvious of which is him talking about a wife who didn’t like his hunting adventures and independent streak, and had thus left him to go East and teach piano in Philadelphia.

John Wayne Vs. Rock Hudson

The contrast between Wayne, the macho leader with no familial attachments, and Hudson’s Confederate Colonel James Langdon, as the civilian family man, is all too obvious. Hailing from Louisiana, Langdon, unwilling to accept life in a “conquered land,” leaves his plantation and departs for Mexico with several women, his wife Margaret (Lee Meriwether), his daughter Charlotte (Melissa Newman), and Anne Langdon, the widow of his brother, who had been killed in the war. At least half of his party that tries to evade interception by Union troops, as they cross the Rio Grande into Mexico, consists of older men, women and children.

In their scenes together, there is some tension between Wayne and Hudson, a combined result of their differing parts and respective acting styles.  Hudson again proves that he’s more suited and looks better and more convincing in melodrama of the Douglas Sirk kind (“All That Heaven Allows,” “Written on the Wind”) and romantic comedies with Doris Day (“Pillow Talk,” among others).

In 1969, Wayne made a better, more significant Western, True Grit, for which he finally won the Best Actor Oscar.

Last Sequence (Spoiler Alert)

The company of reunited Americans rides out of Durango to return to the U.S.A. Trying to decide what song to listen to as they ride, the group passes over “Dixie” and “Battle Hymn of the Republic” before settling on “Yankee Doodle.” Charlotte and Blue Boy are seen as couple, while both Thomas and Langdon laugh at how the Confederate Colonel’s daughter has cut Blue Boy’s hair.

The original script was by Stanley Hough and Casey Robinson, neither of whom are credited in the final film. Producer Robert Jacks bought it in December 1967, announcing James Lee Barrett would do the final script.

The stunt co-ordinator was Hal Needham, later a film director.

According to various reports, John Wayne started out picking on Hudson during filming, constantly suggesting what he should do on camera. When Hudson began to do the same to Wayne, Wayne pointed his finger at Hudson and said, ‘I like you.’ The suggestions stopped, and the two men became frequent partners in chess and bridge.

The shoot took place in Sierra de Órganos National Park in the town of Sombrerete, Mexico.

According to Fox records, the film required $12,425,000 in rentals to break even, but by December 11, 1970, the film had made only $8,775,000 ($4.5 in rentals), which resulted in loss for the studio.

John Wayne as Colonel John Henry Thomas
Rock Hudson as Colonel James Langdon
Tony Aguilar as General Rojas
Roman Gabriel as Blue Boy
Marian McCargo as Ann
Lee Meriwether as Margaret
Merlin Olsen as George ‘Little George’
Melissa Newman as Charlotte
Bruce Cabot as Confederate Sergeant Jeff Newby
Michael Vincent as Lieutenant Bubba Wilkes
Ben Johnson as ‘Short’ Grub
Edward Faulkner as Anderson
Harry Carey Jr. as Webster
Paul Fix as General Joe Masters
Royal Dano as Major Sanders
Richard Mulligan as Dan Morse
Carlos Rivas as Diaz
John Agar as Christian
Guy Raymond as Giles
Don Collier as Goodyear
Big John Hamilton as Mudlow
Dub Taylor as McCartney
Henry Beckman as Thad Benedict
Víctor Junco as Major Tapia
Robert Donner as Judd Mailer
Pedro Armendariz Jr. as Escalante
James Dobson as Jamison
Rudy Diaz as Sanchez
Richard Angarola as Petain
James McEachin as Jimmy Collins
Gregg Palmer as Parker
Juan García as Colonel Gomez
Kiel Martin as Union Runner
Bob Gravage as Joe Hicks