Title: The Outlaw Josey Wales
Directed by: Clint Eastwood
Written by: Forrest Carter (book) Philip Kauffman (screenplay)
Starring: Clint Eastwood as Josey Wales Chief Dan George as Lone Waite Sondra Locke as Laura Lee John Vernon as Fletcher
Tagline: …an army of one.
By: Efferdent Johnson
Growing up in a small town the options for entertainment were few and far between. Watching tractors endlessly at work back and forth through fields of potatoes, barley or wheat was a spectator sport for the residents of my backwater hometown. Blessed as we were with an abundance of amusements, the frosting on the potato chip had to be the local drive-in-theater. During the summer, family outings to the dusty “Movie Manor Drive-in-Theater” were frequent. Back in the days of double features most of my memories are of waking up while on the way home in the back of my father’s pickup truck.
Equipped with a mattress across the bed of the truck and enough pillows and blankets to bed down the family the “comfy factor” was high. In the great outdoors, it made it easier to get into the feel of the film. Jeremiah Johnson, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kidwere the best kinds of movies to see at the Movie Manor. I could look up at the screen and see a desert or sagebrush or mountains and look away from the screen and see the same things around me. Add a cool breeze and I was instantly carried into the story.
Of all the movies we went to see at the drive-in, the most memorable is still one of my favorites. The Outlaw Josey Wales…what a treat for a kid. It felt like I was one of the small caravan that glommed onto Clint as he moved west to a better life. Eastwood, in my young mind, was the toughest, coolest badass in history. Clint made the Marlboro Man look like a pussy. As a kid, all I understood was that Clint was always in the right, always justified. If Josey killed someone well that scumbag had it comin’. I wanted to be just like him.
What kid didn’t want to have a wise old American Indian as a sidekick? Not only was he wise but he was funny. “You’re not supposed to be able to sneak up on an Indian.” He was old, tough, clever and even gets laid. What a great sidekick. Josey though was the man, the myth, the spittin legend of all time in my young mind.
Josey would spit and wield two six shooters like they were natural extensions of his arms. He had a mean dog that always had his back and a horse that never got tired. The greatest thing about being at the drive-in – every time Josey would spit I would crane my head over the side of the truck and do the same thing. Josey, though, wasn’t admonished by his mom and so I had to be careful to pick my opportunities.
I do remember being a little confused through the movie. I had not seen a movie in which the Union Army were the bad guys. The boys in blue were always the good guys. I struggled, only briefly, with this odd turn. I guess in its way the movie taught me that good is good, bad is bad and some of both live in all of us.
On the surface, the movie was perfect for me as an 8-year-old kid – lots of action and a story easy enough for my pre-teen brain to grasp. Eastwood was great. Grunt, spit, shoot then turn and walk away. I wanted so much to do the same thing. “Jeff, take out the trash,” Mom would say. “Urrrr.. me hungry,” then spit on the house cat and a quick spitball right into my little brother’s ear. I’d pull my hat down a little tighter and walk off into sunset with trash bag in hand and a brother and mother in tow.
Listen to Efferdent’s return down that dusty below or download it here.
Swamp Thing is the first film I remember seeing in theatres. Now, I know that there were a few before then — the nightmare-building image of a killer earwig boring into Paul Windfield’s head didn’t spring from my imagination, I’m sure, but the first film I remember actually going to a theatre to see was Swamp Thing. It’s a testament to the indulgence of my mother that my elder brother and I were allowed to see the film at all – well, a combination of indulgence, unfamiliarity with the subject matter, and the lenience of the early-80s MPAA rating system, if I’m being brutally honest.
Yes, for me, Swamp Thing was my first ‘nightmare’ movie. The first time, but by no means the last, that my mother would be rewarded for giving in to her sons’ begging to see a movie by being forced to stay up to the wee hours of the morning assuring them that no, the creatures from the films were in no way real.
Ever since seeing the film, the monsters have held a particularly prominent place in my psyche. Not a detailed one, though. Just the fuzzy outlines of a werewolf and some kind of fanged monster. The film also featured my introduction to the world of special effects, as I recall being so traumatized by the sight of something being stabbed, and then oozing blood everywhere in an especially disgusting fashion. I was informed that it was simply a bag of blood being popped or squeezed that created the effect – I didn’t have the best understanding of the idea, but just being assured that a real monster hadn’t actually been killed was apparently enough for me at the time.
All of those are just the suface memories, the little scars that kept me up nights and haunted my dreams for years to come. No, the lasting effect of Swamp Thing on my life is that it’s the film that I credit with inspiring my lifelong love of the horror genre. Not because of the disturbing subject matter or unsettling imagery, but rather because in a horror film, more than any other genre, you can’t be absolutely certain of what’s going to happen next, or how the film’s going to end. Especially in mainstream cinema, films
follow such incredibly restrictive formulas that anyone who’s seen their share will be able to predict how a given film will end before all of the characters have been introduced. This isn’t true at all in horror – even in
the most mainstream horror film, the absolute basic rules that we expect fiction to follow – that the bad guy will lose, and the hero will survive – aren’t necessarily written in stone.
Sure, I was young at the time, but even then I understood the basic language of film and the rules that stories generally followed. So when, earliy in the film, Ray Wise was captured by gun-toting thugs, I had no doubt in my mind that something would come along to save him. And then it didn’t. Ray was blown up, his wife was killed, and he ran, screaming and burning, into the swamp. Had I possessed even the slightest familiarity with the character of Swamp Thing before going into the movie, it’s possible this scene
woulnd’t have been so shocking – although, as I remember it, the actual sight of a man on fire was pretty intense, so who knows – but the way killing off Ray Wise in the first act threw all of my preconceptions about films out the window was so much more powerful. I knew that all bets were off for the rest of the movie, which just made every fight more tense, every peril more dangerous from then on out. If you’re not sure the main character is going to live out a scene, let alone the film, you’re always on the edge
of your seat.
I quickly came to realize that very few of the films I watched were willing to take the risks that (in my memory) Swamp Thing took, but years later, when I rediscovered the horror genre (at a slightly more appropriate age), I found that there were films whose outcomes couldn’t be predicted from five minutes in, whose bad guys weren’t easily gotten rid of, and whose heroes weren’t unkillable. Swamp Thing made me appreciate unpredictability in storytelling, and even if that was due more to my youthful unfamiliarity
with a populat comic book character’s origin story than any acutal groundbreaking storytelling on the filmmakers’ part, I still credit it as one of the definitive filmgoing experiences of my life.
New Memories: As with most movies watched in early childhood, I didn’t have a great memory of the film’s plot, so other than the occasional memorable image or scene, it was like watching the film for the first time. And what a film!
The movie opens with Alice Cable (Adrienne Barbeau) flying into the restricted swamp laboratory of one Doctor Alec Holland, who’s doing some kind of top-secret research for the federal government along with his sister Linda. That’s the first surprise – it’s his sister who gets killed, as opposed to his wife – I guess my later-life familiarity with the comic book was filling in the blanks in my memory on that one. We’re quickly introduced to the stakes as we see Holland’s invention, a fertilizer that’s as exposive as it is super-effective. At the same time, there’s some of the requisite flirting between Holland (Ray Wise), and the only woman within a hundred miles who isn’t his sister. Througout this entire opening sequence, the film keeps cutting over to a group of paramilitary goons (with “autumn” camoflage-painted guns, for some reason) who are sneaking onto the lab grounds and quietly murdering sentries as they go. Finally the villain reveals himself to be Anton Arcane (Octopussy‘s Louis Jourdan!), a supervillain of maddeningly unclear origins and motives. Things go badly for everyone, the FBI agents save for Cable are killed, Linda is shot, and Alec
is blown up by his own serum, which leads to one of the greatest man-on-fire stunts I’ve ever seen, a two stage segment where the man first stumbles out of a set, then runs out of a building, across a dock, and dives into the water.
From there, the film takes a strange twist, and through the second act it plays a lot like a slasher/revenge film, in which the slasher is the hero. Finding that Alice survived the attack, the goons attempt to kill her and retrieve doctor Holland’s notebook. They’re prevented from achieving either of these goals by Holland, who’s been trandformed by his forumla into the Swamp Thing, a Frankensteinian monster possessing super-strength, invulnerability, and a really, really obvious rubber suit. The second act then moves pretty quickly, consisting of little else than goons trying to catch Alice, Swamp Thing stopping them, and Arcane luxuriating around his mansion, yacht, and limousine, acting wonderfully supervillain-y. This all
wraps up as Swamp thing is finally captured and his notebook secured by Arcane’s goons.
Which brings me to the third act, which is where the movie goes completely off the rails into complete nuttiness. While the rest of the film was relatively competant, the third act makes little to no sense – it starts out well enough, with an out-of-left-field party, but then quickly spirals into nonsense as the script feels the need to massively overexplain the Swamp Thing’s origin and reimagine the Holland formula as something distinctly other than a super plant-growth additive. Let’s just say that as Swamp Thing re-imaginings go, this one is significantly less successful than Alan Moore’s take on the subject. It’s actually much closer to what Corman’s Fantastic Four movie would do a decade later.
Given that the film has largely been forgotten, I was interseted to see how different it was from the standard superhero movie. It seems like, with the exception of Batman, every other mainstream (based on a comic book) movie the filmmakers were so focussed on following the formula of Superman that they ended up making every film an origin film, spending a full hour waiting to get the main character into his suit and the action started. Swamp Thing, in sharp contrast, gets right into the action. It’s only 90 minutes long, and Ray Wise gets transformed less than half an hour in. From there on it’s pretty much non-stop action the rest of the way, right up until the amazingly poorly-conceived and executed swordfight that caps off the film.
There’s no way the Swamp Thing was going to be the genre-defining experience I remembered it as; it wasn’t the complete distaste that its reputation suggests either. It’s an entirely competent movie with a few bright spots of inspiration, whose mostly-awful third act kind of ruins it.
Listen to the Count‘s return trip to the bayou of his brain here, or open the player below:
Pre-screening memories:In every future cinephile’s life there is that special someone — an older sibling, the neighborhood stoner, or maybe just an unwitting parent who left the porn cupboard unlocked.Whoever it may be, there is always that one person who introduces you to the good stuff.
Sometimes, that person just unintentionally left that copy of “Last House on the Left” sitting on the coffee table after watching it, or conveniently didn’t notice when the youngsters slipped into the room while it was playing.Maybe the person had a mean streak, and purposely switched the Barney tape with Return to Oz. Or wanted to rebel against mom and dad by making sure there were two Half Bakedfans in the family.But those of us who were really lucky had genuine pop culture mentors, someone older and more knowledgeable, usually both, who actively took us under the wing and made sure that we knew as much about Black Adder goes Forthas we did about All Quiet on the Western Front.
Mine was my cousin Rob.By the time I reached high school, I’d been introduced to Monty Python (well beyond Holy Grail), pre-Pulp Fiction Quentin Tarantino, and A Clockwork Orange. One of the films my cousin screened for me that has remained relatively little-known due to a horribly botched release by 20th Century Fox is the reference-comedy Freaked.
Even though I’ve been milking (no pun intended!) the scenester points my knowledge of this film has earned me for years, I remember very little about it. All I really remember is that there is a joke about macaroons at some point, and even though I don’t remember what that joke is, whenever I see macaroons I think of this film. The only other thing I really remember about it is that there was a lot of controversy over whether or not Keanu Reeves was the actor who played “Ortiz” in the film. The role was uncredited, but most suspected that Reeves took the role as a favor to his buddy, Alex Winter.As far as I (and IMDB) know, this rumor has been confirmed, but at the time, it was a fun detail to speculate about.
Post-screening memories:Even though this movie remains strikingly funny, I was thoroughly depressed when I turned off this flick.I was depressed because it felt dated.It is the first 90s film that has ever felt dated to me.My depression stemmed not from any feelings of getting old, but because I have always regarded the 90s as completely relevant to my contemporary self — the culture, the politics — every thing about the 90s continues to resonate with me. When I am teaching a class about subcultures (yes, I actually get to do this), I introduce goth or riotgrrrls as completely current examples.I honestly don’t even know what “emo” means, even though I have had it explained to me several times.
But this film felt less relevant to me now than any other product of its era.Michael Stoyanov brought his Blossom fashions to the film, and that aesthetic affected the entire atmosphere.The predominant colors of the picture were so bright, perhaps to evoke a carnival atmosphere, that I felt like Mayim Bialik had exploded on the screen.What was more disturbing to me was the dated feeling of one particular stock character/caricature–the activist chick who is both the object of desire and the object of ridicule. As soon as Megan Ward’s character Julie appeared on screen, a flood of 90s comedies came into my mind, most notably PCU.Suddenly I remembered this woman, the girl whose annoying do-gooder enthusiasm had to be either overcome or pushed to the side so that she could be a suitable match for the film’s anti-hero (this was the 90s, after all).This characters frequency in the 90s hit me like a ton of bricks because of her invisibility now.Where has this figure gone?Have American college students become so apathetic that this character no longer represents them, or even resonates with them?Has America moved so far away from the progressive politics that were a joke in the 90s that they’re not even funny in the 21st century?
Once I got over this initial shock, I was happy that the film’s jokes, referential as they are, hadn’t lost their relevance.The cameos alone make this a must see for pop culture fanatics–where else will you see Morgan Fairchild, Mr. T, and Larry Bud Melman in the same movie. And some jokes are just timeless; hopefully Paul Lynde and “I like Ike” signs will always be funny.Plus, there is a wonderful smattering of subtle, deadpan humor that is often surprising, and therefore effective, thanks primarily to Randy Quaid and William Sadler.
It is too bad that Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure is the movie that Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves will be best known for, because Freaked is definitely a winner.Hopefully the movie really was a joke though, since Winter’s career seems to have been lost somewhere in the South American jungle!
Was Shelly’s return trip and excellent adventure or a bogus journey? Find out here, or by listening below: