The western TV series Rawhide was Clint Eastwood’s first big break. It led Sergio Leone to cast him in A Fistful of Dollars, which spawned the spaghetti westerns of the 1960s. His association with Leone and with Don Siegel, director of Dirty Harry, made Eastwood one of the biggest stars of the 70s, and he soon took to directing himself – here, after falling out with the original director (and screenwriter) Philip Kaufman. Despite that unhappy history, and the scandal when it emerged that the Cherokee novelist Forrest Carter, whose book this is based on, turned out to be an alias for a segregationist former Klan leader, this remains the outstanding western of its time, and for all its pro-Confederate political bent, it’s ultimately a humanist film.
Bent on revenge after first his family, and then his Confederate comrades are massacred, Josey (Clint Eastwood) is gradually rehabilitated as he reluctantly assumes responsibility for the odd group of pioneer stragglers who coalesce around him. With a fine idiomatic, picaresque script, and a lyric appreciation for the wilderness, this stands as a more honestly redemptive response to Vietnam than Taxi Driver, and Eastwood’s finest Western – bar none.
It’s also notable here in Vancouver for the role of Chief Dan George, a Tsleil-Waututh leader, born in what is now known as North Vancouver, July 24, 1899. He was educated in a Residential School from the age of 5, and worked in various jobs before becoming band chief in 1951. His first acting role came in CBC’s Cariboo Country in 1960, and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in Arthur Penn’s revisionist western, Little Big Man (1970). He was also an activist, musician and a poet. Chief Dan George died in 1980 in Lions Gate hospital.
A strange and daring Western… Chief Dan George has a humanity that’s just there, glowing. He’s as open with his personality as Josey Wales is closed; it’s a nice match.
A remarkable film which sets out as a revenge Western: Eastwood sees his family massacred and joins the Confederate guerillas; after the Civil War, he is hunted by Union soldiers while he pursues his family’s slayer and a friend apparently turned traitor. But slowly the film changes direction, until through a series of comic interludes it becomes the story of a man who (re)discovers his role as family man, as he befriends Indians and various strays and leads them to a paradise of sorts where they can forget their individual pasts.
Phil Hardy, Time Out
A truly great western, and probably director-star Clint Eastwood’s all-round best picture… it develops a surprising warm streak… a major turning point in the western genre as a whole.
Kim Newman, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die
August 12 only: Introduction from Rueben George, grandson of Chief Dan George
Phil Kaufman, Sonia Chernus
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