Today is my father's birthday. Happy Birthday, Daddio! I can't be there to make you a cake or give you a present, but I hope you'll think of these video clips and my words as big ol' birthday hugs and wishes from me.
My dad turned 40 four days before I was born, which means he is now 67 years young. I love him more than words can say. We have a special relationship that most people don't understand or appreciate. It's the kind of relationship that doesn't require a lot of communication or constant reassurance, just honest to goodness love and understanding. We might live nearly 6000 miles away from each other and only chat maybe once a week on Facebook, but I know he is always thinking of me and sending me good vibes. I'm doing the same for him. I don't miss him because it doesn't feel like we're really away from each other. We're always on the same wavelength. He is my biggest and best cheerleader and has always supported my dreams and ambitions. I'm a really lucky gal and I am incredibly proud of the personal progress he's made these last few years.
My daddio is also a true blue Pisces loner and a beautiful artist. He taught me to love nature and appreciate the world around me, especially the cinematic world. We used to rent five or six movies at a time and have a movie marathon every weekend. I can't begin to tell you how many times we watched The 13th Warrior together. My dad has seen virtually every movie released within the last 60 years, even the most obscure, tough to find, unimaginable flicks. I'll never forget the look on my husband, Jake's, face when my dad remembered he had watched The Temptation of Dr. Antonio when it was released. He can also recall and appreciate the most minor of actors and directors, which usually brings up a story or two of when he saw their movies and who he was with. I love those stories.
Out of all the actors in all the world, John Wayne is my dad's absolute favorite. I'm ashamed to say that I didn't start loving John Wayne until I became an adult, but now I can't imagine life without his movies. When I was thinking of writing this post, I revisited Molly Haskell's wonderful essay about Wayne, What Makes John Wayne Larger Than Life? Haskell was fortunate enough to spend time with him on the set of The Shootist and experienced a heck of a lot of emotions when she was with the Duke. She puts all of my mixed, jagged feelings about Wayne into such deceptively simple words:
If, in real life, our fathers were not just authority figures but adventurers in the world with whom we identified, so our loyalty to Wayne, as moviegoers, takes us back (some of us, anyway) to when we were tree-climbing adolescents, identifying with the hero rather than with the schoolteacher's girlfriend, or saloon girl “pal.” We rode the range instead of tending the hearth or the boudoir until the sexual highway forked and rites of adolescence planted us more firmly on the path to femininity.
Wayne represents to me those true conservative values – personal honor and integrity, individualism and responsibility – that have long ago been abandoned by the party that pretends to honor them. He represents the West as an imaginary land, a place of hope compromised by death but undiluted by vulgarity. Monument Valley is our inverted Olympus, a place from which sprang forth the gods and goddesses appropriate to our psychic landscape. His West, as carved out of the films of Ford and Hawks, gave us myths built out of contradictory urges – the urge to settle down and the urge to move on; the need to be alone and the need to save; the love of woman and the love of man; strength and vulnerability. And it is Wayne who stands on all borders, reconciling the warring ambiguities of which his political persona is a crude distortion.John Wayne was a complicated man. So is my father. I love them both and can't help but think of my Pa whenever I watch Rio Bravo or Hatari! I love our adventures, our aimless car rides through the Oregon countryside, but I know we'll have plenty of them down the line together.
Last night I asked my dad what his favorite John Wayne movies are. In honor of The Duke and my dad's birthday, I'm going to share some very special scenes from those films along with a couple of observations for some of the movies. He prefers Fordian Wayne to Hawksian Wayne, but I guess I'll let that slide because it's his birthday. I hope we can watch 'em all together in the near future.
Sands of Iwo Jima (1949, Allan Dwan)
This clip works as a really great self-contained short film. I chose this one because it displays Wayne's mastery of gesture - notice how he pats her on the arm after their discussion about war and repeats the same action with one of his buddies moments later. They're all in it together and Wayne knows it. This clip is also an early indicator of Wayne's complex relationship with women and sensitive understanding of children.
Also, you get to see Wayne run the emotional gamut from Thomas Dunson (Red River) to Spig Wead (Wings of Eagles). He's such a frighteningly believable asshole.
Donovan's Reef (1963, John Ford)
She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949, John Ford)
Red River (1948, Howard Hawks)
This movie features my favorite Wayne relationship apart from Rio Bravo. He and Patricia Neal are absolutely perfect for one another. Wayne was often paired with women much younger and prettier than himself, but Neal fits him to a T. She's not a sexy ingenue or a cutesy Hawks dame, she's a mature woman. She's sexually assured, he's sexually assured and it's just a beautiful thing.