No Sunset For Cowboys

Some time ago I blogged about how our society sorely misses the values we find in old John Wayne movies.  But it’s more than just the values that keep bringing us back to The Duke and westerns in general.  Just the other day I ran across the following Wayne quote that shed new insight on his view of westerns.

“Don’t ever for a minute make the mistake of looking down your nose at westerns. They’re art–the good ones, I mean.  They deal in life and sudden death and primitive struggle, and with the basic emotions–love, hate, and anger–thrown in.  We’ll have western films as long as the cameras keep turning. The fascination that the Old West has will never die.”

“And as long as people want to pay money to see me act, I’ll keep on making westerns until the day I die.”

And that’s exactly what Wayne did, releasing his final film “The Shootist” in 1975, some 45 years after his first leading role in “The Big Trail.”  The Duke was with us another four years, but his battle with stomach cancer kept him from any further screen roles.

But the world, and especially Hollywood, has changed pretty dramatically since the days of John Wayne.  Big budget, computer enhanced, explosion riddled productions overwhelm our senses at the box office.  I like an intense “Die Hard 14″ sequel like many people, but my taste drifts more told the old movies and a clear passion for westerns.  And when it comes to westerns, there are few who did more for the genre than the big man himself.  John Wayne, like Ethan Edwards pictured above, stood in the doorway of our history. A history rich in adventure, freedom, danger and romanticism.

We watched The Duke settle the west and make it safe for homesteaders in movies like “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon,” “Fort Apache,” and “The Comancheros.”   As the open range fell victim to that westward colonization, he showed us how the transition took place in “McLintock” and “The Shootist,” the latter being the only movie I recall where a motorized vehicle other than a train appears.  His movies were a cinematic look at important stages of our nation’s history.

His movies also provided important elements that we relate to, not just in westerns but in any movie.  They showed us the importance of family, integrity, honesty and hard work.  The poignant moment at the grave of his late wife in “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon” shows a softer side of Wayne’s hard characters to which everyone can relate.  His dedication to family is never more evident in “The Searchers” as he conducts a years-long search for young Debbie.  And in “Cahill” Wayne uses a bad situation to teach his sons the importance of honesty, integrity and obeying the law while he works to save innocent men from the hangman’s noose.

Westerns take us back.  They allow us to relive what we never experienced.  They rekindle the romance for our country and frontier and our hearts that we will never truly experience.  And they are as much alive today as when The Duke was swaggering across the screen.  We’ve been blessed with films like “Unforgiven,” “Open Range,” “Tombstone,” the “True Grit” remake and the string of great TV westerns made by Tom Selleck after he traded in the Ferrari for a horse.   Even Brad Pitt got in the action with his retelling of the Jesse James saga a few years ago.  These are all proof to Wayne’s statement above.

“We’ll have westerns films as long as the cameras keep turning.  The fascination that the Old West has will never die.”

Let’s hope so – even if they won’t be John Wayne films!



  1. Don Sommerville says:

    You missed Big Jake for motorized vehicles. They played a much bigger part, but in the end the Horse wone out.

  2. Justin Irwin says:

    The saddest part about this is how many of my generation (millennials) have never seen a John Wayne film. They think these new movies like Avatar (that’s the newest movie I can think of, I do not like new films) are some of the greatest made, yet if you try to get them to watch movies like The Searchers, or El Dorado they fall asleep. John Wayne was a true actor, an American icon. So many of these actors today only pretend to be actors, that’s why they need all of these digital effects to cover up for their poor performance ability. But John Wayne also did some great non-Westerns as well, like the Flying Leathernecks, and the Quiet Man.

  3. Mark says:

    Like you, I have been a lifelong fan of the Duke. But I do have to correct you on one thing. There was another western, made before the Shootist that motor cars appeared in. Big Jake, which was set in 1909. Anyway, minor error and I very much enjoy your blog. Thanks for all of the insights and interesting information you post.

  4. Beth says:

    There were motorized cars in Big Jake also…

  5. AppalachianFreedom says:

    “Big Jake” was the only appearance of a semi-auto pistol in one of the Duke’s Westerns!

  6. Chuck Hughes says:

    I won’t jump on the “Big Jake” bandwagon, but I believe that, as good as some of them have been, there will never be another John Wayne. The man (and I’m not sure that’s the right description) was a true original and will not ever be duplicated.

  7. Martin Williams says:

    There are several movies that Wayne did with cars, busses even planes in his early movies.

  8. Outlaw says:

    John Wayne set the pace for westerns. His work lead to many other great works about the ‘old west’, an era of hard times and hard men. Lonsome Dove, Open Range, Dances With Wolves, and The Outlaw Josey Wales.
    The workin’ cowboy did more to advance the soul of this country than all tinhorns and highbinders combined. That fact alone sill make me proud to be among their ranks, sill a workin’ cowboy, still dealin’ with lop eared cattle, still feedin’ the nation, and thankful for all my friends and family that do the same.

  9. champ says:

    If you have never seen the war wagon you need to see it. 2 great stars with John Wayne and Kirk Douglas together. You won’t find a Tom Cruise and a Brad Pitt together in a movie, too much ego.

  10. Ed says:

    This is what sci-fic tried to replace as the new frontier and why I won’t watch sci-fic. John Wayne/Lenord Nemoy.. don’t belong in the same category

  11. DANNY BARBER says:


  12. An Older Gal says:

    Well as a little girl, I was a John Wayne movie lover. But around that time, Star Trek began to show too. It set the imagination on fire. Societies have to grow.

    But remembering the times of life in the past, its importance and what it can teach us, will never be done away with. I will always love westerns too. I think John would agree that you can’t and should never stop the imagination from growing as our societies learn, develop and grow from such as this.

    Westerns are here to stay as long as there is an audience to crave it. And I love seeing them. But I am one who integrated sci-fi into my thinking along with my love of the old and familiar. And thats what is needed. Integration, and growing. And to love life. That was probably John’s biggest reason for all the things he wanted to impart.

  13. juan olivarez says:

    Just to add my two cents worth. In Big Jake there are automobiles too.

  14. John A. Wilson says:

    You mentioned the Die Hard series. In the first one John McClain talked about Roy Rogers and said “Yippe Ti yi ya! He talked about the western hero to the police officer he befriended. In “Die Hard 2, Die Harder” That same officer said ,”Go get em! Roy!”, when John was on to something.

  15. Tom Trott says:

    CHISM and COWBOYS! These were the STANDARDS I was brought up and raised with……..need I say more?

  16. Susan says:

    There were both cars and a mortorcycle in Big Jake

  17. Mitch says:

    I always loved this scene from The Searchers. With a simple arm grab and a longing look as The Duke turns walks away from the homecoming celebration portrays more angst than any recent “stars” could possibly deliver without blubbering.

    Its too bad movies like these will probably never be made again in the PC society we live in. Imagine the outrage if some said “Injuns” in a movie today.

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