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John Wayne’s War Films: Impact on Current Movies and Debate


Icons of American manhood
generally fall into two categories: the soldier (who fights with his fellows)
and the cowboy (who fights alone). John
Wayne is best known for his cowboys: loners, tough and terse. But in two of his best-known films, Wayne’s
talents are displayed in the role of the warrior.

The original trailer for the Longest Day – an apt title, the film clocks
in at three hours – compares the D-Day epic to Gone with the Wind, which is certainly valid with regard to the
production’s scale and ambition. In his
1999 DVD review, Christopher Null called the vast and stunning battle sequences
a direct influence on Steven Spielberg’s Saving
Private Ryan
(actually Null says Spielberg cribbed them verbatim). John Wayne beat out Charlton Heston for the
part of
Lieutenant Colonel Benjamin
, and he earned $250,000 for his work on the film – ten times the
pay of the other lead actors.

Wayne quadrupled that salary six
years later in The Green
, which he also co-directed.
We don’t often think of John Wayne as an activist filmmaker, but The Green Berets shows him to be well capable of partisan advocacy. This was Wayne’s nationalistic answer to the anti-Vietnam sentiment of
the day (the film was released in 1968, at the height of the conflict). It was not universally well-received: the New
York Times’ Renata Adler was scathing in her review, calling the film "
full of its own caricature of patriotism that it cannot even find the right
things to falsify."    But despite the critics the film did gross $11 million at the box office — a respectable showing in 1968.  Viewed through the lens of the present, the film has a
great deal of resonance and is likely to spark fresh discussion and debate.

Watch The Longest Day and The Green Berets this month on AMC.  Vote here for the best John Wayne
movie and here for the best John Wayne non-Western. And don’t forget to check out our photo gallery.

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