Hollywood had better keep their grubby, remaking mitts off of them!
While the trend to “re-imagine” or “re-envision” everything around them
has been going on for some time, these films have so far managed to
escape the fate of some of their less fortunate compatriots. I speak of
The 25 Movies They’d Better Never Remake.
considered OFF-LIMITS to those jerks at the studios. The films on this
list were special when they premiered and continue to be so today, and
we’re going to explain why they shouldn’t be remade – as well as why
they can’t be. So enough jabbering, on with the list!
THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES (1976)
WRITTEN BY: Phillip Kaufman
STARRING: Clint Eastwood, Chief Dan George, Sondra Locke, John Vernon, Bill McKinney
“They’ll be coming after you, Josey.”
“There’s nowhere you can go to get away from them.”
“I reckon that’s true.”
Beware of friends bringing such sweet surrender terms, though. Curious (and perhaps suspicious) Wales watches his comrades hand over their weapons and be gunned down for their trouble. He tries to intervene and takes out a fair number of Union soldiers, but manages to only save the baby-faced Jamie (Sam Bottoms). It’s fair to say Jamie saves him too, since he’s hellbent on going out behind a Gatling gun, and stops only when he sees that “dumb boy” has been wounded.
Fletcher reluctantly agrees to join the murderous Redleg Captain Terrill (Bill McKinney) and hunt down Josey, who is making for Indian Territory hoping to get Jamie patched up. He briefly becomes a father to the boy, only to watch him die of infection. With nothing else to really ride for and a massive bounty on his head, he goes west.
But Josey is the kind of man who attracts the lonely and helpless despite his sour protestations that he “don’t want no one” belonging to him. He stops in Indian Nation and winds up escorting Lone Watie (Chief Dan George), Little Moonlight (Geraldine Kearns), and a ragged old hounddog. He grimly intervenes to rescue Grandma Sarah and the eccentric Laura Lee (Sondra Locke) from Comancheros, and they too join his surrogate family. At any point, Wales could ride off and abandon these people to the frontier, but he doesn’t. Could the stubborn bastard be learning to love again?
The odd gang rides into Texas, with Wales gunning down every bounty hunter and Union soldier that wants to take a crack at him. The quirky family settles in a ranch house near Santa Rio, make friends with the drunk locals, and come to terms with the local Native chief Ten Bears. But Terrill, Fletcher, and their Redlegs soon show up in town. Wales finds himself backed by his “family”, and they barricade themselves in the ranch house to fight off Terrill.
“Now remember, when things look bad and it looks like you’re not gonna make it, then you gotta get mean. I mean plumb, mad-dog mean. ‘Cause if you lose your head and you give up then you neither live nor win. That’s just the way it is.”
Wales’ bunch is victorious, but he’s badly wounded, and rides into town to confront Fletcher. He finds his old friend enjoying a drink with two Texas Ranchers. The locals introduce Wales as “Mr. Wilson” and tell the Rangers that Josey Wales was gunned down and killed in Mexico. To Josey’s surprise, Fletcher doesn’t out him. The Rangers believe them and ride off, leaving the former comrades to warily circle one another. Neither draws a pistol. Instead, Fletcher makes a curious offer:
“I think I’ll go down to Mexico to try to find him.”
“He’s got the first move. I owe him that. I think I’ll try to tell him the war is over. What do you say, Mr. Wilson?“
“I reckon so. I guess we all died a little in that damn war.“
Wales rides off, blood dripping down his boots. To die? To live as a farmer again? Or has he gone to Mexico, determined to end the war once and for all?
Well, let’s start with the obvious — it’s Josey Wales himself. Popular legend now claims that Eastwood never stepped back and examined his legacy before Unforgiven. The Outlaw Josey Wales says otherwise. This is Eastwood mimicking his own persona long before he saddled up as William Munny, and while he’s not the strongest actor, this is a remarkably sensitive and subtle performance from him. Josey Wales is a genuinely good man who is
tired, but too wary to settle. He’s afraid
— afraid to love, to live, to lose, to fail, and even to die. (“When I get to likin’ someone, they ain’t around long.”) To mask
that fear and protect himself, he puts on the snarling persona of a
cold-blooded killer. Every snarl, grimace, and rude one-liner is calculated to scare his ragtag “family” off, but it’s an act even the fleabitten dog can see
through. As an audience, we look at it and say “This is Eastwood just playing the same damn character.” No, it’s Josey Wales playing at being a gunfighter simply to survive.
Don’t get me wrong — I’m not saying this character is a coward or isn’t as tough as nails. He is, and one hell of a shot to boot. But he’s a lost soul, unsure of what he wants or where he fits in the world. His bitter tone
indicates a constant death wish, but he never pulls the trigger on it. He spends a
lot of the film dodging and lurking, unwilling to surrender, but
reluctant to confront his enemies. There’s a sense that he will only go
out on his terms, and not at the hands of a Redleg, but it’s not very
clear what those terms would be. At any point, he can turn around and confront the enemy with his guns blazing. But he doesn’t. He just keeps going.
That’s what all Josey Wales is — a story about how one man keeps on riding and rediscovers his humanity. It’s wrongly sold as a badass revenge story (“An army of one!”), but in trying to summarize the plot, you realize there really isn’t one. It’s simply a series of laconic adventures that’s punctuated by gunfire and blood. It’s a story about broken people and a shattered landscape and how we cling to the faint hope that it’s better “out there.” If we go far enough, we’ll find peace and quiet. If we keep searching, we will find what we’re looking for. It’s somewhere. We’ll find it. And you have to just keep on riding until you do. Because if you give up, you neither live nor win, and that’s just the way it is.
As with the best Westerns, it’s not really about the West at all. It’s been called a antiwar story, and a commentary on Vietnam, and it definitely captures the aimlessness of the ’60s and ’70s. But I think it’s even more universal and timeless than that. It’s
about men and women who have known nothing but hurt and failure at the
hands of their fellow man, and yet instinctively seek out community for
comfort. It’s a melancholy story, but also a very hopeful one about rediscovering the good in people.
What’s also beautiful and holy about The Outlaw Josey Wales is the slow and episodic pace. It’s pure 1970s. It doesn’t rush. The film happily meanders, allowing the characters to ramble on and on about themselves while sitting
at a campsite. (Often to Josey pointedly snoring.) This film has a
lot of action, but much of it is secondary to Josey Wales’ outlaw status
and his feud with Fletcher and Terrill. He squabbles with a snakeoil
salesman, he rescues Little Moonlight, he goes out of his way to fight
Comancheros, and he pauses to parlay with Ten Bears. There are stretches where Fletcher and
Terrill disappear entirely from the plot, and yet the tension never slacks. You know they are out there, and Josey won’t be able to stop looking over his shoulder until they’re taken care of.
Did I mention how gorgeously it’s shot? I wish Eastwood would remember how well he used to use color and landscape. While a lot of this was shot by Kaufman and might be ascribed to him by detractors, it looks too much like High Plains Drifter, Pale Rider and Unforgiven to be completely free of Eastwood’s eye. The transition between the sunny farm and the icy misery of the battlefield may be heavy-handed, but you can’t deny how breathtaking it is when the fall colors seep back in after the credits. While screen-capping (or more accurate, failing to screencap) I noticed there’s a lot of mirror shots of Eastwood looking over his shoulder, as if he expects to find a gun there:
(And yes, I see The Searchers all over that doorway shot above. I didn’t say it was always original in its camera work.)
- The entire ferry sequence with Eastwood regular William O’Connell
- Lone Watie’s introduction. “I’m an Indian, all right; but here in the nation they call us the ‘civilized tribe’. They call us ‘civilized’ because we’re easy to sneak
up on. White men have been sneaking up on us for years.”
- Josey Wales innocently buying tobacco as he’s regaled with tales about his dreaded outlaw self — and then the quick-and-dirty gunfight that ensues.
- “Dying ain’t much of a living, boy.”
- “You gonna pull them pistols, or whistle Dixie?”
- The encounter with Ten Bears. “There is iron in your words of death for all Comanche to see, and so there is iron in your words of life. No signed paper can hold the iron. It must come from men. The words of Ten Bears carries the same iron of life and death. It is good that warriors such as we meet in the struggle of life or death. It shall be life.”
- Josey’s final stand — initial prepared for Ten Bears and used for the Redlegs instead — from his instructions to “slap iron” on gunshots to his “plumb mad-dog mean” speech, it’s sad, fatalistic, and exciting.
Because what makes Josey Wales wonderful — the loping and melancholy pace, the surfeit of characters — would be seen as fat to be trimmed for our hyperactive audiences. The film
wouldn’t allowed to just be and breathe. The soul searching would fall by the wayside and it would be reduced to a story about revenge.
Someone bent on “improving” it would notice that the original skips over what is arguably the most colorful
part of Wales’ life: The Civil War. This is where he cut his bloody Missouri reputation, and it’s reduced to a mere montage. There’s no way a remake of Josey Wales would allow that. We’d get the entire Missouri campaign because neither audiences or studios like back stories to be implied. They want to see them, especially if they’re violent and vicious. The idea that this is not important (that it’s what war has taken from Josey, not what he did during it) would be baffling.
There would be no side adventures; the secondary
characters would be weightless and mindlessly tacked on each time Josey
stopped to buy tobacco and whiskey. They’d probably whittle them down, too. We only need one Native American, thank you, and the pretty love interest can function just fine without a grandma. The Comancheros would probably be
reduced down to one ethnic caricature who threatened the pretty girl. There would be no Ten Bears, and no parties in Santa
Rio. Instead, it would be constant gunfights with Fletcher and Terrill
for fear the audience would forget who the bad guys really were. Entire towns would be leveled beneath their feud. Remember, this story is called The Outlaw Josey Wales, goddammit, not Josey Wales and His New Family. This movie is not going to stop spraying bullets, or pause in the chase until the screenwriters force a bloody confrontation. And there would be a confrontation where only Wales would be left standing. There would be
none of this “we’ll see what happens” ambiguity with Fletcher. Test audiences would
be too furious not having it all laid out bare for them, and for the betrayer to go unpunished.
Finally, it’s Clint Eastwood. I’m certain someone could play Josey Wales with more tenderness and complexity, but there’s a lot to be said for Eastwood’s sparse characterization. He’s a man of the 19th century, not given to introspection, and who leaves the past where it is. Today’s Josey would suffer from constant flashbacks and probably fling himself guiltily into the sagebrush every time Laura Lee laid a gentle hand on him.
There’s also the sheer look of our main man. He was never conventionally handsome, and by 1976, he was becoming grim and gray. He looked like he had been through hell and back, but he was still lean and
virile enough to be a believable hero. There are actors I could see in the part — Viggo Mortensen, Russell Crowe, Josh Brolin — but they all lack that gritty charisma that makes Eastwood who he is. There’s a whiff of complication about all of them, whereas he’s like a pair of battered jeans. He just fits this character.
Dunes company as a front. So naturally he’d be the logical choice to
spearhead any attempt at remaking this classic. How would it pan out,
- Kurt Wimmer would write the screenplay for F. Gary Gray would direct. Bay saw Law Abiding Citizen and feels they can rebottle its blend of revenge and redemption!
- Gerard Butler is briefly attached, but drops out. Colin Farrell signs on, then drops out. Timothy Olyphant signs on, then drops out. Channing Tatum snags the lead.
- Dust off that corset, Megan Fox! You’ll be Laura Lee, reimagined to be a spunky independent lass making her own way west.
- Taylor Lautner will be Lone Watie, a young child who lost everyone he loved on the Trail of Tears. That’s way more sad than an old man!
- As I said above, we get an entire Civil War sequence, and no expense is spared on the squibs. Wimmer thoughtfully includes a scene where one of Wales’ friends has his leg chopped off sans anesthetic.
- There is at least one fight through a frontier town. Lone Watie and Laura Lee will ride up with a stagecoach, which Josey will jump onto while shooting at a barrel of dynamite. Boom go the buildings, and they gallop ahead of a wall of flames.
- Wales uses a cannon to blow Terrill off a cliff.
- The fight between Fletcher and Wales occurs almost entirely on horseback. They dismount and wearily chase each other down a dark frontier town. “WALES! Where are you?!” screams Fletcher. “Didn’t you hear,” says a voice from the dark. Wales steps out with a Gatling gun. “I’ve gone to Texas.” Opens fire.
- At the end, Wales (disguised as Mr. Wilson, which means he wears a goatee) operates a saloon in the revitalized Santa Rio called “The Secret Outlaw.” Wales is standing on a porch, smiling and smoking a cigar. The piano player strikes up Rose of Alabama, and he goes melancholy for a moment. Laura Lee comes up behind him, dressed super sexy, and gives him a squeeze on the arm. “Earth to Mr. Wilson.” “I was just thinking.” “Of what?” “Of…you.” “Oh yeah? Show me, Missouri boy. Show me. ” And they go inside, arm in arm.
- What’s that over the credits? I think it’s Nickleback!
REBUTTAL: Troy Anderson: Josey Wales was rebooted in a way. Ang Lee tackled quite similar material with Ride with the Devil, but he got caught up in the human drama. Josey Wales’ story isn’t about discovering the emotion of being a guerilla fighter. It’s not about why Wales joined the Confederacy. It’s about a man who can’t escape his past.
The film has a complicated history, as Eastwood pulled a rather douche move on original director Philip Kaufman and replaced him. The DGA threw a union-rage shitfit and there are now a whole slew of rules to prevent that kind of crap from happening again.
Lone Watie is a rather bizarre creation, as Eastwood seems to have softened the character from the source novel and turned it into a Native American mascot for Wales. For those that have read the original book, a lot of the film feels odd and quite softened. Far more cynical Westerns fans pin that on the whole 1970s ethnic inclusion push for perceived old-man genres like the Western.
But, there’s something a little more unsettling to where Josey Wales is born and it’s missing from the Eastwood film. The author Forrest Carter was an avid segregationist who started his career as a journalist for The Southerner. It was a Klan front rag that enjoyed quite a run from the 1920s to the 1950s. Hell, he was a speechwriter for George Wallace. While his time was short with the former Governor, Carter helped to coin the phrase “Segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever”. When Wallace decided to play it closer to the center, Carter felt shunned and started to write novels. His first major work being The Rebel Josey Wales which became the film we’re talking about today.
This is where I have a problem with what Eastwood did, yet I respect the decision. Warner Brothers didn’t want a western from a Klansman about how only a white man could save the West. Eastwood came in and softened up to make it work for wider audiences.
If I had to remake it, I’d play it up for what was on the printed page. Do the anti-revisionist Western and show the source material for being foul literary backwash. The book was an angry tirade written by a man from the Deep South who was railing against a changing America. The film should reflect that bitter nature and show the Apocalypse of the Confederate Rebel.
Wales has no real family, no compatriots and no country left to call home. While he marches west to Texas, the audience needs to see what his life has brought him. He’s a bitter man driven by memories of pain and loss. Wales can’t understand why his side lost; all he knows is that he has to find a new fight. For comic book fans, the closest comparison I can dwell up would be Garth Ennis’s take on The Punisher. He’s an older man fighting a battle long after the younger guys died. He’s a relic in a land driven by what’s new and vibrant.
Taking a cross-section of Frontier minorities into Indian Territory isn’t what Carter’s character did. Embracing the intolerant racist fantasy of Wales would work well as a warped mirror to hold against the audience. Some will see the rebel who didn’t let an out-of-control government control him. Others will see a sad old man who wants to live in the past with no consequence.
If anything, there’s absolutely no reason not to remake the film. Our socio-political landscape is dotted with politicians and other individuals who barely keep their distaste for minorities in check. Remake this film. Bring attention to Forrest Asa Carter’s masterwork and hold it up to those that hang GONE TO TEXAS from their rear view mirrors. If anything, it’ll keep Platinum Dunes from trying to tackle An Education of Little Tree remake.