“The Duke” (John Wayne) really was bigger than life. I loved this guy from the moment I went to one of my very first theatre films. The movie in question was The Cowboys in 1972. I apologize if this is a spoiler, 39 years later, but the climactic scene of Wayne being killed by Bruce Dern still gets to me.
There is a modestly priced triple-DVD set out now called John Wayne: Bigger Than Life. The press release calls it “A celebration of The Duke, America’s most iconic tough-guy hero.” Okie-dokie then, but it does not quite deliver. Clearly, the point was to present his 1963 film McLintock! In a framework that would entice shoppers.
To that end, the set works quite well. I have never been much of a fan of McLintock! though. In fact, I have always considered it one of Wayne’s (many) career mistakes. But with over 150 films under his belt, who can deny him a clinker now and then?
How about Stagecoach? Or The Searchers? Anyone up for the original True Grit? These are the movies that made the man a legend. So why none of them are discussed in depth in the documentary portions of the set is far beyond me.
Instead, we are offered “Rare John Wayne TV Appearances.” Yes, Wayne did show up on Art Linkletter’s People Are Funny, the Colgate Comedy Show, and even (not making this up), The Lucy Show.
Why do I need to see this? It seems that the only reason John Wayne bothered to show up at these gigs at all was in an effort to promote his latest flicks. It also feels as if his ever-present bottle of bourbon was just out of camera range.
Besides McLintock!, the only reason to get this set is the documentary, The American West Of John Ford (1971). Ford was a magnificent visual artist who stamped the look of “The Old West” into our minds forever with his use of Monument Valley in Arizona as his most common location.
The truth is, you should not buy this set unless you are expecting nothing more than The American West of John Ford and McLintock!
The rest is filler. Actually, I should take that back. If you are a member of the Tea Party, you might enjoy No Substitute For Victory (1970). Hard-righter Wayne takes on the hippies and peaceniks in this televised segment about the crisis of confidence over our involvement in Vietnam. He acts like a freaking jackass, to be honest.
In the end, John Wayne: Bigger Than Life is a curio. For some, (like myself) who cannot get enough of The Duke, it is worth a look. Otherwise, go to your favorite rental house and get The Searchers.