Western Roundup: John Wayne Favorites

Western Roundup: John Wayne Favorites – Leading Ladies

When film fans think of John Wayne Westerns, his classic films with John Ford and Howard Hawks are often the first which come to mind.

Similarly, when one thinks of Wayne’s leading ladies, the first actress many fans think of is doubtless his five-time costar Maureen O’Hara. The feisty women O’Hara portrayed were a perfect match for Wayne’s strong characters, giving as good as she got in films such as Rio Grande (1950), The Quiet Man (1952), and McLintock! (1962).

Looking beyond Wayne’s best-known films and leading lady, here are my three favorite Wayne Westerns made with directors other than Ford or Hawks. These films are particularly special because in each case there’s an outstanding role for the lead actress. Each of these female characters is unique, but they have in common the possession of an inner strength which makes them the right match for the Duke.


John Wayne and Ella Raines in Tall in the Saddle (1944)John Wayne & Ella Raines in Tall in the Saddle (1944).

Tall in the Saddle (Edwin L. Marin, 1944) costarring Ella Raines

Tall in the Saddle is a relatively unknown little gem of a Western. It takes a fairly ordinary story regarding a land dispute and pumps it up with a strong cast and a fast-paced script with some excellent, often funny dialogue, co-written by costar Paul Fix. (An example of a favorite exchange: A shocked woman gasps to Wayne “I saw you hit that man!” and he laconically replies, “Yes, ma’am, just as hard as I could!”) Wayne plays Rocklin, who arrives in a dusty Western town to take a job on a ranch but discovers his employer has recently died. He’s offered a new job by Arly Harolday (Raines) — simply because she’s mad at him and wants the pleasure of firing him later on! Or so she says. A complicated mystery ensues, with multiple people conspiring to cover up the rightful owner of some land…and frame Rocklin for murder.

Ella Raines as Arly Harolday in Tall in the Saddle (1944)Ella Raines as Arly Harolday in Tall in the Saddle (1944).

Raines’ character doesn’t show up until nearly a third of the way into the movie, but her entrance is memorable; she erroneously believes Rocklin robbed her brother (Russell Wade) in a card game and proceeds to shoot in Rocklin’s general direction several times. (That’s followed by another funny moment as Wayne’s baffled character then heads for the saloon bar to recover and gasps “Whiskey!”) After hiring Rocklin, Arly gradually becomes more sympathetic to him but still can’t quite decide if she wants to shoot him or kiss him, but she increasingly leans in the latter direction. At one point Arly comments that she always gets what she wants, and there’s no doubt she wants Rocklin and is going to have him, even though she may have competition from the sweet, more ladylike Clara (Audrey Long). The fiery Raines and laid-back Wayne have tremendous chemistry, and it’s rather a shame they didn’t make more films together.


John Wayne and Gail Russell Laying in the Grass in Angel and the Badman (1947)John Wayne & Gail Russell lay in the grass in Angel and the Badman (1947).

Angel and the Badman (James Edward Grant, 1947) costarring Gail Russell

Angel and the Badman is not simply a favorite Wayne film, it’s one of my all-time favorite movies, period. Wayne plays Quirt Evans, a gunslinger who is wounded and rescued by the Worths, a Quaker family. As Quirt gradually regains his strength while staying on the Worths’ farm, he and lovely Penny (Russell) fall in love. Will Quirt decide to put his violent past behind him…and will he be able to? Marshal Wistful McLintock (Harry Carey Sr.) may hold some of the answers.

John Wayne and Gail Russell in Angel and The Badman (1947).Look, Penny… I am not that kind of guy who does things suddenly. I gotta look before I leap. You can ask anybody, they will tell you.”

Wayne gives a splendid performance, much of it nonverbal, as he comes to terms with his feelings for Penny. Russell’s Penny may look delicate and fragile on the outside, but there’s no stopping this young woman when she makes up her mind, and she falls for Quirt from the moment she lays eyes on him. She doesn’t hesitate to be honest and direct with Quirt about her feelings, and in an amusing scene, she shows that despite her angelic demeanor, she’s also capable of a little jealousy. She helps Quirt envision a life without violence, although they both learn there are times when a gun will still be necessary; and when her man is in danger, she insists on going to his side, despite having recently been deathly ill. In short, she’s the kind of determined woman with whom a man like Quirt can and should build a future.


John Wayne and Geraldine Page in Hondo (1953)John Wayne and Geraldine Page in Hondo (1953).

Hondo (John Farrow, 1953) costarring Geraldine Page

Hondo, based on a wonderful novel by Louis L’Amour, was written for the screen by James Edward Grant, who also wrote and directed Angel and the Badman. Wayne plays a character not too dissimilar from his gunslinger in Angel and the Badman, though Hondo Lane, an Army dispatch rider, is older and has a past which includes a few settled years living with an Indian wife.

After losing his horse while on a dispatch mission, Hondo stumbles across an isolated desert ranch inhabited only by Angie Lowe (Geraldine Page) and her little boy Johnny (Lee Aaker). Hondo tries to convince them to leave with him, as there’s unrest among the Indians, but Angie refuses to abandon her lifelong home, insisting that her husband will return soon and that the family has always gotten along with Indians. But when Hondo arrives at the army outpost he discovers that Angie’s husband (Leo Gordon) is a no-good son of a gun; back at the ranch, while Indian chief Vittorio (Michael Pate) takes a liking to Johnny and prevents harm from coming to the Lowes, he insists that Angie must take an Indian husband if her husband doesn’t return soon. Fortunately, Hondo is reunited with Angie and Johnny, with Hondo and Angie having a second chance to consider their futures.

John Wayne and Geraldine Page in Hondo (1953)“When the Indians wind up their squaw-seeking ceremony, they only say one word. ‘Varlebena’ – It means forever.”

Page’s Angie may be the most courageous of the three women in these films, bringing up her son alone in an environment where there is a constant risk from nature, disease, or Indians. While it’s clear by the end of the film that she’s inwardly faced the reality of her bad marriage head-on, she keeps the truth from Johnny, believing he will grow up stronger if his ideas aren’t crushed, and indeed, she’s doing a wonderful job with him. Still, while she’s accomplished a great deal, there are some things a woman alone can’t do, like throw her six-year-old in the creek to teach him to swim, and Hondo soon fits in very well as both a father figure and potential husband.

I like that Page isn’t conventionally pretty, which Angie and Hondo acknowledge in a conversation, but Hondo can see past that and falls for her spunky character. Like Penny in Angel and the Badman, Angie has the courage to be direct in confessing her feelings for Hondo; having been through one disappointing marriage, she isn’t about to miss out on a good man when she sees one. And just as Angie had the courage to live in the middle of nowhere, she’s also got the gumption to abandon her home for a new start in California; I couldn’t help wondering what, if anything, she had time to grab from her old life before they hightailed it off of the ranch with the army! Angie Lowe is a fascinating character, and Wayne and Page make a slightly unusual yet wonderful couple in an outstanding Western.


– Laura Grieve for Classic Movie Hub

Laura can be found at her blog, Laura’s Miscellaneous Musings, where she’s been writing about movies since 2005, and on Twitter at @LaurasMiscMovie. A lifelong film fan, Laura loves the classics including Disney, Film Noir, Musicals, and Westerns.  She regularly covers Southern California classic film festivals.  Laura will scribe on all things western at the ‘Western RoundUp’ for CMH.

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17 Responses to Western Roundup: John Wayne Favorites

  1. Wonderful selection of movies. You have me planning a day around a triple bill.

  2. Laura says:

    That’s wonderful, I love hearing that! Some very happy viewing hours here, guaranteed. 🙂

    Best wishes,

  3. Jerry Entract says:

    Another most welcome review of some favourite westerns, thanks to Laura’s knowledge and insight to such fare.
    “TALL IN THE SADDLE” & “ANGEL AND THE BADMAN” were probably the two earliest Wayne films I ever saw, back when I was a child (eons ago), and they turned me into an instant Wayne fan. I still love those two films.
    The female leads in both are very striking and played superbly. I also have vivid memories of the knock-down, drag-out punch-up between Duke and Ward Bond in “TALL IN THE SADDLE”.
    I discovered “HONDO” much later and consider it one of my favourite westerns of all. Wayne is fantastic here and the female lead even more striking in this film. A wonderful performance showing both a woman’s vulnerability in a man’s world yet real strength and determination to raise her son in a hostile environment.
    I would also like to add another personal favourite among Wayne’s earlier westerns, namely Raoul Walsh’s “THE DARK COMMAND” (1940), rushed into production by Wayne’s studio, Republic, following his amazing surprise success in “STAGECOACH”.
    This time the leading lady is the formidable Claire Trevor, another great foil to Wayne’s strong personality.

    Really enjoyed your great choices once again, Laura!

  4. walter says:

    Laura, really good choices to write about, and a really good read. Ella Raines was very good in TALL IN THE SADDLE, which I watched again recently, along with THE WALKING HILLS(1949) with Randolph Scott and HAIL THE CONQUERING HERO(1944) with Eddie Bracken. Ella was really good in all three of these Classics.

    Along with you, ANGEL AND THE BADMAN is one of my all-time favorite movies, period. Gail Russell and John Wayne had a wonderful on screen chemistry. WAKE OF THE RED WITCH(1948) is another long time favorite, which is well worth watching, because of the performances of Russell and Wayne.

    Also, I agree with you that Geraldine Page and John Wayne make a slightly unusual yet wonderful couple in HONDO. James Edward Grant wrote a gem of a screenplay and I really like the dialogue in the scene where Angie tells Hondo that she doesn’t believe that he can smell her downwind. He says, “No, it isn’t impossible, Mrs. Lowe. You baked today. I can smell fresh bread on you. Sometime today, you cooked with salt pork. Smell that on you, too. You smell all over like soap: you took a bath. And, on top of that, you smell all over like a woman. I could find you in the dark, Mrs. Lowe, and I’m only part Indian.”

    I so very much look forward to your next WESTERN ROUNDUP.

  5. Linda says:

    I LOVE Angel and the Badman too. I have watched it a dozen times and always see something to admire. Gail Russell is wonderful (strong, honest and trying to figure out what love is) and you can see why Quirt Evans falls in love with her and changes his lifestyle to be worthy of her. They have real chemistry together and John Wayne is so good in his role as well as handsome. I think I may have to go watch it again.

  6. Laura says:

    Jerry, how great that TALL IN THE SADDLE and ANGEL AND THE BADMAN were your introductions to John Wayne. You couldn’t ask for better first films! Regarding that fight, TALL IN THE SADDLE is a great mixture of action and amusing dialogue, isn’t it? Your description of Geraldine Page’s character in HONDO is terrific — vulnerable yet strong.

    I remember seeing DARK COMMAND on my birthday at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art when I was pretty young. Haven’t seen it in a very long time! Perhaps I’ll get a chance on a big screen again one day. 🙂

    Thanks so much for reading and commenting!

    Best wishes,

  7. Laura says:

    Walter, thanks so much for your thoughtful comments. I’m glad to know you love these films also! Ella Raines was terrific — in addition to the films you mention I would recommend seeing her in the crime films PHANTOM LADY (1944), THE SUSPECT (1944), and IMPACT (1949).

    That’s a wonderful quote from HONDO!

    Already pondering the topic of my next post here, thanks very much!

    Best wishes,

  8. Laura says:

    Hi Linda! Always delighted to hear from another fan of ANGEL AND THE BADMAN. That’s a great description of Gail Russell’s character. Plus she was gorgeous! And you’re right, John Wayne was just about at his most handsome ever in this film.

    If you’ve not seen the other films mentioned here I hope you’ll enjoy checking them out!

    Thanks very much!

    Best wishes,

  9. Hamlette says:

    All three of these movies are simply marvelous. I love them for just what you highlighted here — none of the heroines are conventional, nor are the romances. All three female leads play the kinds of characters I like best, determined and sensible and kind. And the romances are the sort that seem like they’ll lead to lifelong happiness, not fizzle out as soon as the words “the end” fade from the screen.

  10. Laura says:

    Thank you so much for adding your thoughts on these three favorite films! They truly are unique and entertaining characters and romances. I like to think that you’re right, they all “lived happily ever after”!

    Best wishes,

  11. Really good selection of Wayne Western. I love all three of them. I don’t think I’ve seen Geraldine Page in anything else, but she was good here. Ella Raines is one of my all-time favorite 40s actresses.

    “Wayne gives a splendid performance, much of it nonverbal…” That’s exactly it. I hate it when people say Wayne was not a good actor. Well, maybe he could only play certain roles, but that goes for most other actors too.
    As an experiment, I watched a bit of Fort Apache with the sound off. It’s one of Wayne’s most understated roles. Nobody can watch him and say later he was a bad actor. Not possible.

  12. Sara Stewart says:

    I love John Wayne and my favourite is, The Quiet Man. he and Maureen O’Hara were such an iconic screen couple and their real-life friendship came through on the screen as well. I do love Angel and the Badman and will have to see if I can find Tall in the Saddle

  13. David Hollingsworth says:

    If you’re not a big fan of Westerns but finally want to get into them, these are some great ones to be introduced to, before watching the big ones.

  14. Laurie says:

    I haven’t seen “Tall in the Saddle” but it’s now on my list to look out for! Spot on reviews of “Hondo” and “Angel and the Badman”. Two movies I love. “)

  15. Laura says:

    Hi Margot! I’m so glad to know you like these Westerns as well. I hope the additional enthusiasm from you and others will encourage those who haven’t seen one or all of these films to check them out. (PS I love watching John Wayne!)

    Sara, I love THE QUIET MAN as well. I was fortunate to watch it with several members of John Wayne’s family present at USC a few years ago, celebrating the centennial of his birth. I hope you find TALL IN THE SADDLE as much fun as I do!

    David, I agree, these are great “starter Westerns” — just really enjoyable movies, everything an entertaining Western should be.

    Laurie, I’m glad to know you’re another fan of ANGEL AND THE BADMAN and HONDO! Really glad to know you have TALL IN THE SADDLE ahead of you to enjoy!

    Best wishes,

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