Typecasting is a terrible fate to befall an actor. Many of them have suffered from it over the years, accepting role after role in similar films with similar plots and similar characters simply because they have no real alternative. However, in spite of the risks involved there are also those who subvert this association; those who have elevated themselves to near legendary status within their chosen genre. Their performances define it and are woven inextricably into its rich tapestry. Two such actors are pictured above and are the subject of this article - one, a silent and anonymous loner with no time for small talk and very direct methods of dealing with his adversaries, the other a straight talking, no - nonsense peacekeeper with a trademark southern drawl. Both are perhaps best known for their westerns, although they also directed, produced and starred in a variety of other films too including military epics and unorthodox police procedurals. The aim of this article is this: although they never starred in a movie together, how do Clint Eastwood and John Waynes films compare and contrast with one another? Which one has starred in the best westerns, military and detective movies? Which one has made a greater contribution to cinema behind the camera? Which one has won the most awards? Which one is ultimately, dare I say it, better? Can they even be compared at all? WhatCulture! has decided to find out, pitting the two against each other in a number of categories. I must stress that Im no authority on these two actors; I havent seen all of their films and I havent read all of their biographies. Im just a guy whos interested in settling a long raging argument with his friends and seeing what the rest of the internet has to contribute to the debate. Undoubtedly many of you reading this will have your own favourite and your own opinions, so please leave a comment below and tell us which one youre backing and, more importantly, why!
Round One: The Western Genre
The western genre has undoubtedly fallen from favour in Hollywood during the last few decades. Perhaps this is due to the sheer number made in the previous century exhausting the formula, or perhaps its because audiences have progressed in their expectations to wanting more action than the setting can ever realistically provide. This has led to the most recent outings covering all of cinemas latest fads; the comic book elements in Jonah Hex (2010); the remake in True Grit (2010); the supernatural in Cowboys and Aliens (2011); and the animated in Rango (2011). Amongst the explosions, special effects and thumping soundtracks the original suspense, peril, humour and camaraderie has been somewhat lost. Still, at least we can enjoy the classics provided by our two contenders on DVD... Clint Eastwood began his acting career in the fashion of many budding stars, with an uncredited role as a lab technician in the sci fi flick Revenge of the Creature (1955). His big break came just four years later, when after various appearances on television shows including Highway Patrol and Maverick and a mixture of credited and uncredited roles in films including the western Ambush at Cimarron Pass (1956) he was cast as Rowdy Yates on the hit TV series Rawhide. It was towards the end of his time on the show that he was offered a role in the film which was to secure his popularity forever; Sergio Leones classic spaghetti western A Fistful of Dollars (1964) was quickly followed up by For A Few Dollars More (1965) and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966). It was here that Eastwood began to carve his niche as the man with no name, an unknown gunslinger with few words for those he liked and a lot of bullets for those he didnt. Ever alert, with one hand resting on his revolver, he could eliminate an entire town and leave nothing behind but bodies and bottles of whiskey. This isnt to say that he couldnt play a named character, however; outings as Marshall Jed Cooper on Hang Em High (1968) and as Pardner in Paint Your Wagon (1969) go a long way to answering those concerns.
The man with no name returned in High Plains Drifter (1973), a film which subtly blurred the line between reality and the supernatural without taking it to the extreme. It was an important film for Eastwood as it was after this outing that he placed his cowboy characters on the backburner for a while - no doubt to pursue new avenues (including a certain detective franchise which will be explored later). When he did at last return to the genre in the early 90s, his tale of a retired gunslinger was as poignant as it was compelling. He both directed and starred in Unforgiven (1992), using the film as a medium to highlight the effects of violence in addition to signalling a move towards full time directing. The film was an outstanding success, proving once and for all that there are very few men who could play the role of cowboy quite like he could. Still, that isnt to say that he had no competition...
When plotting the cinematic progression of John Waynes career it is very difficult to pick a definitive point at which he found stardom. Unlike Clint Eastwood, Wayne did not necessarily hit on a particular role that instantly defined him within the genre. In fact, much of his early work was not as a cowboy at all; instead he took on uncredited roles as football players in the films Brown of Harvard (1926) and Glitter (1927). His first western was The Great K&A Train Robbery (1926), a silent film about highwaymen of the old West. His role was small, playing an extra, and he was once again uncredited. It was four years later, after eighteen relatively small cinema appearances, when Wayne gained his first leading role as Breck Coleman in The Big Trail (1930) coincidentally the year Clint Eastwood was born. So began a lifetime for Wayne of playing the gunslinger; The Big Stampede (1932), He Wore A Star (1934), Stagecoach (1939), Fort Apache (1949) and She Wore A Yellow Ribbon (1949) making his name, before he went on to star in even bigger releases throughout the latter half of his career including The Searchers (1956), The Comancheros (1961), The Man Who Shot liberty Valance (1962) and the now legendary True Grit (1969).
In a similar way to Eastwood, Wayne defined himself through his cowboy roles, with him too ending his career in westerns with a final poignant goodbye. For Wayne it was to be all the more so as he passed away the following year, making this not only his final western but his final contribution to cinema as well. Starring in The Shootist (1976), he played J. B. Brooks, an aging and terminally ill gunslinger attempting to live out his final days in peace. However, when events force him out of retirement he realises what he has to do. Directed by Don Siegel, who also directed Dirty Harry (1971), and with a similar underlying plot line to that of Gran Torino (2008), The Shootist was a fitting end to an incredible career in the industry for one of its all time greats. Verdict Within this genre, Eastwood and Wayne are clearly at opposite ends of the spectrum; the former famed for playing a secretive loner in slow paced and gritty films which blur the lines between good and evil, right and wrong; the second finding fame through roles as a trailblazer, fighting predominantly for good with quick quips and an even quicker draw. Its also clear that they didnt always agree on one anothers styles in one interview Wayne panned High Plains Drifter, stating that it isn't what the West was all about. That isn't the American people who settled this country. So, in light of this competition, which one of our contenders wins? On this occasion it has to be a dead heat both actors films are enjoyed and cherished as cinema greats and should both be acknowledged as such.
Round Two: The Military Genre
World War I; World War II; Korea; Vietnam; the Gulf; Afghanistan; Iraq. Over the years cinema has embraced all of these conflicts in varying degrees, producing films about triumph, failure, intrigue, drama, humour, reflection and remembrance. During the era when Eastwood and Wayne were making their movies, World War II was the predominant influence. In a macabre fashion it provided filmmakers with everything they needed; a vast array of backdrops, a central villain and the opportunities for action, adventure, romance and betrayal around every corner. This later developed further when America became involved in operations throughout Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, as the events which followed provided the film industry with yet another fundamental mainstay of their business; public opinion. Supporters of the war would flock to see films about the conflict, while those who stood against it would protest (and therefore publicise) the movie further still. So what contribution did the old hands of the old West make to this genre?
Eastwood began his acting within the military genre through a big screen adaptation of Alistair McLeans thriller Where Eagles Dare (1968) in which he played Lieutenant Schaffer, the only American in a British unit tasked with rescuing a U.S. General from a remote castle in the mountains of Bavaria. To make the task all the more difficult, this castle was the home to some of Hitlers best SS troops, with the complications increased further still when it becomes clear to Schaffer that not everyone on the Allied side is who they seem... What follows is a gripping story interspersed with some great action sequences well worth a place on any film fans shelf. Leading on from this success, Eastwood then starred in the role of Private Kelly in Kellys Heroes (1970) alongside such cinema greats as Telly Savalas and Donald Sutherland. This time on the search for Nazi treasure, the action and adventure was still present in spades, delivering yet another cinema success and all time fan favourite.
Over fifteen years later Eastwood yet again donned a uniform, this time as a Gunnery Sergeant from the U.S. Marine Corps in Heartbreak Ridge (1986). In keeping with his age and subsequent moves towards mentor roles he played Sergeant Thomas Highway, a man who saw action in both Korea and Vietnam and who doesnt care what he says or who is on the receiving end of it. Consequently he finds himself at odds with his superiors, who eventually give him the task of training a Reconnaissance Platoon. A shift from the usual adventure of his other war titles, this film retained the trademark character traits of his previous work and as a result the film grossed incredibly well at the box office. What this film has in common with its predecessors, despite a change of war and character, is that they, like many of Eastwoods movies throughout his career, all feature characters with a strong sense of duty and a desire to complete their work whatever it takes. These films also span the gap between the real and the fantastic at times, making them all unique and worthy of their place in his back catalogue.
John Waynes involvement with war is, in a word, complex. He never fought during World War II, although he was capable and eligible to do so; instead, his studio constantly intervened and had his conscription deferred until 1945, by which time the war was over. In this sense, Wayne never illegally avoided conscription; however he never took active steps to enlist either. His widow has since argued that this was the reason for his seemingly hypocritical pro-war stance she claimed that his patriotism and militarism came from the guilt which he felt more than anything else. Hmm. He was staunchly anti Communist, supporting the McCarthy trials of the 1950s, and was also a supporter of the war in Vietnam, stating in one interview:
Sure I wave the American flag. Do you know a better flag to wave? Sure I love my country with all her faults. I'm not ashamed of that, never have been, never will be. I was proud when President Nixon ordered the mining of Haiphong Harbor, which we should have done long ago, because I think we're helping a brave little country defend herself against Communist invasion. That's what I tried to show in The Green Berets (1968) and I took plenty of abuse from the critics. Did you ever see reviews like that? Reviews with hatred and nastiness."
This sheds some light onto the bigger picture and the man himself, although this article is concerned far more with his films than his personal life. Still, perhaps this helps to better analyse his film making decisions, especially those he made later on. One of his earliest roles threw him into the military genre long before he was ever considered to be pro or anti anything; he made an uncredited appearance in John Fords World War I tale Four Sons (1928), a tale of four brothers from Bavaria who are conscripted to fight. By 1939, when World War II began, Wayne was a star and for the reasons discussed above was available to take the leading roles in several military films including Flying Tigers (1942), Reunion in France (1942), The Flying Seabees (1943), Back to Bataan (1945), They Were Expendable (1945) and, once the war had concluded, the acclaimed Sands of Iwo Jima (1949). All of these films can be considered important if only for the effects they had on morale; keeping spirits high and optimism soaring for those fighting for real and their families waiting at home.
When The Longest Day (1962) was released over ten years later, starring big names including Richard Burton, Sean Connery, Henry Fonda, Gert Fröbe and Robert Mitchum, Wayne took the role of American Lt. Col. Benjamin Vandervoort. The film has repeatedly been honoured over the years for its realistic sense of perspective; the Germans speak German with subtitles, the French speak French with subtitles and so on. As such it is a credit to Wayne that he starred in such a raw and gripping portrayal of the war itself. After completing this film Wayne moved away from the military genre, returning only due to his passionate views on Vietnam. He played the role of Col. Mike Kirby in The Green Berets (1968), a film peculiar in its positive portrayal of the war and a result of its stars aforementioned pro-war stance. This was most definitely a case of art imitating life, a factor which may have been on reason for its somewhat rocky reception; although it sold plenty of tickets and grossed a lot of money at the box office, the critics and political activists leapt on it and immediately began denouncing the messages which it contained. Wayne never made any more war films after this, possibly due to the hostility surrounding it, thereafter keeping him to other genres and out of the controversial limelight. Verdict Yet again we find Eastwood and Wayne, in spite of their similarities, at opposite ends of a vast spectrum. Eastwood starred predominantly in war adventure films, with an element of the comic and the fantastic, while Wayne starred in politically motivated war films at times when morale desperately needed boosting or when public opinion swayed between inaction and intervention. So which one wins? Waynes films were riddled with controversy and political undertones, while Eastwoods are much easier watching for those who want to sit back and enjoy a good yarn well told. In addition, Eastwood seems to fit the role of a soldier far better due to his younger age hes a more believable soldier in films which are all the better for that type of grounding. For those reasons, Eastwood clinches this round and puts himself one point up.
Round Three: The Detective Genre
The detective genre is one which has gained more and more influence over the years, predominantly due to the way in which it transcends any sense of political correctness; audiences who are frustrated with the red tape of the modern justice system can settle down in front of their television and watch somebody whos prepared to do much more than just talk. Both of our contenders are familiar with this role of modern day marshall, patrolling the streets and eliminating those responsible for heinous crimes, but which of them has made the greater contribution to the genre?
Clint Eastwood has starred in plenty of detective movies over the years; Coogans Bluff (1968) saw him play a tough Arizona cop in New York City; City Heat (1984) sent him back to the thirties as Lieutenant Speer, a detective working alongside his ex partner played by Burt Reynolds; and The Rookie (1990) allowed him to develop further in the role of mentor, this time to Charlie Sheen (prior to the latters rants about tiger blood etc). Still, above all of these films stands a franchise far more popular and revered amongst fans. Spawning several imitations over the years and giving rise to the oft-repeated lines including A lot of sugar, A mans got to know his limitations, Go ahead, make my day and, the most legendary of all, Are you feeling lucky, punk?, these films are just as famous dare I say it more so than Eastwoods western appearances. If you havent guessed it by now, heres another clue
If you needed a San Francisco detective in 1968 youd call Frank Bullitt - Steve McQueens portrayal of a Mustang driving, sweater wearing, rule bending badass. If you needed one in 1971, however, there was only one man to call: Harry Callahan, badge number 2211. Both films have features in common; both are set in the city by the bay, both feature a plot which twists and turns throughout; and both utilise a gritty soundtrack provided by composer Lalo Schifrin. There is a radical difference between the two though, which emerges from their opposing styles; Bullitt (1968) positions itself as a police procedural drama, realistically portraying the life of a detective (other than during the car chase, perhaps) while Dirty Harry (1971) makes no apologies for being an action movie as Callahan shoots, brawls and intimidates his way through the running time, showing no regard for the orders of his superiors or the carnage which he leaves in the wake of his Smith & Wesson - assisted antics. Some may argue that these films became a little stale and formulaic as the series continued, which is true in some respects, although the first instalment and its immediate sequel Magnum Force (1973) in particular are still absolutely amazing films well worthy of a watch if you havent seen them already.
The story for John Wayne, as in his military films, was far less straightforward. One rumour has it that Wayne was offered the role of Dirty Harry but turned it down believing it not to be his style (many people would undoubtedly agree with him). Another stated that Wayne wanted the role but was turned down by the studio, who believed him to be too old at 63 to be a believable San Francisco cop. Regardless, Wayne did make a few films within this genre, one of which was the first John Wayne film I ever saw. McQ (1974) told the story of a detective investigating the murder of his partner, uncovering police corruption and betrayal along the way. Two scenes in particular remain prominent in my mind - the poignant opening, featuring a man brutally murdered by an assailant wearing a police badge, and the laundry van chase scene which shows Wayne acquiring a Pontiac Trans Am and pursuing the bad guys who are escaping in, you guessed it, a laundry van. The film itself isnt a patch on Dirty Harry in terms of characters or plot, but this short car chase beats any four wheeled antics Don Siegel attempted on behalf of Eastwood.
The next detective film for Wayne came the following year with his role in Brannigan (1975), the story of an American cop who goes to London to retrieve a mobster. Forced to contend with all manner of setbacks including the British police force, Brannigan settles the situation as they do stateside; with a lot of property destruction and shooting. Another attempt by Wayne to gain recognition in this type of film, Brannigan again featured a brilliant car chase scene, although it didnt even have the impact of McQ in terms of story and it was definitely no contender for Callahans title as the meanest cop on the screen. In The Enforcer (1976) Callahan even listens to a radio message mentioning a Lieutenant Brannigan, seemingly as an acknowledgement (or perhaps a mockery?) of Waynes predominantly unsuccessful attempts at some more modern day police work. Verdict It seems slightly pointless to write a conclusion to this round Eastwood clearly takes it, with one of his most memorable characters pitted against films which are not nearly as well known and which did not gross nearly as well on their release. Films like Coogans Bluff taken in isolation may have proved a fairer match up, but given the fact that Callahan to this day is one of the meanest cops in cinema history, theres nothing else to say. Wayne makes a good cowboy and a charismatic soldier, but a detective? Not so much.
Round Four: Other Genres
And so we arrive at our final round. As has already been explored, both Eastwood and Wayne have carved their own niches within the western, military and detective genres. However, although these were responsible for some of their best known roles, they were not the only ones which they starred in. Both of these actors have a remarkably varied back catalogue of movies, surprising only because of their notoriety within their more prominent fields. So, to bring this comparison to a close, and to see if John Wayne can salvage at least one point from a two point deficit, attention must now turn to their less stereotypical - and more original - acting outings.
Eastwoods first main departure from the western genre which brought him initial recognition was in the stalker drama Play Misty for Me (1971) in which he played a disc jockey on the receiving end of listener Evelyns (Jessica Walter) insatiable and disturbing advances. This film also marked Eastwoods debut as a director, a position which he would uphold for several more of his movies (especially those made as he got older). His next out of the box offering came the bank robbing movie Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, with Eastwood working in partnership with the awesome Jeff Bridges, and The Eiger Sanction (1975) in which he played the slightly eclectic mix of art professor and hired gun. His next film became an instant classic and is perhaps still regarded today as his greatest work outside of his traditional genres; the comic adventure Every Which Way But Loose (1978) and its sequel Any Which Way You Can (1980) partnered Eastwoods bare knuckle fighter Philo Bedoe with an orang-utan named Clyde. The rest, as they say, is history: great films guaranteed to bring a smile to your face, Bedoe attempts to find love in the form of country singer Lynn (Sondra Locke) while both he and his primate friend take on a motorcycle gang out for revenge.
As his career progressed, Eastwood continued to branch out and brave new challenges, taking roles in the bizarre Firefox (1982), the sentimental Honkytonk Man (1982) and the romantic The Bridges of Madison County (1995) in which he starred alongside Meryl Streep and once again took the credit as director. On the subject of this genre in particular Eastwood is quoted as saying When I was doing The Bridges of Madison County I said to myself this romantic stuff is really tough. I cant wait to get back to shooting and killing!, perhaps explaining to some extent why he didnt pursue this avenue any further. His career then continued to progress with roles in several box office successes including Space Cowboys (2000), Mystic River (2003), Million Dollar Baby (2004) and Gran Torino (2008), the latter three of which he also directed. With these the Man with No Name proved his worth as an actor and a director, creating films outside of the poncho, the camouflage or the .44 Magnum that still managed to retain the commercial appeal of his more popular and oft - repeated outings. Whether or not he is more talented behind or in front of the camera is a debate for another time, although he certainly directed more films, and achieved more rewards for direction, than Wayne ever did (in fact, many of the films which Wayne directed leave him uncredited).
Perhaps contrary to popular belief, John Wayne also made more than westerns and the occasional war or detective movie. Granted, these were his more famous roles, but he wasnt afraid to take a few risks along the way either. To list just a few of the several departures from his comfort zone, he played the part of a boxer in the early talkie Lady and Gent (1932), a pilot saving three foreign legion members in the misleadingly - titled The Three Musketeers (1933), a steel industry tycoon in Pittsburgh (1942), an Irish - American boxer in The Quiet Man (1952), a treasure hunter in Legend of the Lost (1957), an animal seller trading in African predators in Hatari (1962) and a fire fighter in the mould of Red Adair in Hellfighters (1968).
These movies proved that Wayne could step away from the role of Marshall and pursue other avenues, with his appearances encompassing different time periods, genres, styles and characters. From tough men to businessmen, he played them all, with some of these films turning a relatively respectful profit at the box office. However, none of these films have gained the recognition or fan following of his western outings, or even his military or detective ones, which are not only his real legacy but also the reason he is regarded by audiences the world over as The Duke. Verdict Were John Waynes films more varied than Eastwoods? Wayne has starred in action movies and adventure movies; movies set in America, movies set in Africa and movies set in England; movies with a sentimental plot and movies with a violent streak. Eastwood has starred in action movies, adventure movies and romance movies; movies set in America and movies set in space; movies with a sentimental plot and movies with a very violent streak. Both have played a diverse range of characters within a diverse range of genres, although both are simultaneously guilty of bringing much of their own personas and attitudes to every role which they have played. Therefore, in terms of variety at least, this round has to be a tie. Still, there is another question to consider; were Waynes films as successful as Eastwoods? The answer to this is far easier to answer no they were not. So what result does this leave us with? Weve seen how both actors can operate outside of their traditional comfort zones, creating films which are enjoyable and more original than some of their better known contributions. However, because his films are far more popular, have a larger cult following and have grossed far more money, Eastwood wins yet again and takes himself to a three point lead.
After analysing the works of both of these cinema greats we now reach the difficult task of concluding which, if either, is better. After reviewing some of their best works, analysing the contribution which they have made to cinema and considering the recognition which they have received for doing so, it appears that they are actually very difficult to compare at all. Sure, on paper Eastwood has beaten Wayne on most of the categories discussed. Still, many of these victories have been by a very fine margin and are only my personal judgement. Many of you Wayne fans out there may have far different views on the films discussed; if so I hope you will put your opinions forward in the comments section below. Similarly, those Eastwood fans who feel that their favourite has been unjustly reviewed or not given enough recognition can do the same. This article has been written not only to answer a question which my friends and I have argued for quite some time but also to spark debate and discussion amongst you, the readers of WhatCulture! This may well be an emotive subject for many readers, so I encourage you to criticise, discuss, debate and reason - providing you can give evidence to support your conclusions of course!
My own opinion, although I have not seen every movie and read every piece of trivia, is this: Wayne was a pioneer within his most notable genre, working alongside director John Ford to become one of the first people to bring western films to the screen in a way which gave them longevity and popularity. The story of a good guy chasing outlaws through the old West, upholding the law and enforcing justice is perhaps best attributed to The Duke despite others following this basic premise decades before. He is a legend in this field, his films still widely enjoyed to this day. His experiments with other genres, although successful to a degree did not have the same impact, leaving his legacy very one dimensional in the eyes of many cinema goers. Still, respect to him for sticking to what he knew and for creating dynamic and fleshed out characters in a time without the technology and processes which became available after his death. Are his films outside of the western good? Yes they are, with his acting remaining at the quality it has always been. Have any of them been received as well as his greats The Searchers or True Grit? Not from what I have seen, no. Eastwood, conversely, is a legend in several genres. Some have stated that he is a successor to Wayne when it comes to westerns, taking the basic premise and inverting it; the good guy and bad guy meet in a moral no-mans-land, with every man fighting for himself and his own personal interests. His films are radically different in style to Waynes; grittier, with more attitude, heavier plots, a slower pace and more room for ambiguous interpretation. His other films also gained both commercial and critical success, using similarly moulded characters to create new scenarios; Harry Callahan is very much like an old western marshall, with a distinct brand of justice and a willingness to pull the trigger, while Walt Kowalski has been described by some as Dirty Harry 6: In Retirement. Some may argue that this shows a one dimensional quality to Eastwood too, although I believe that he has done something very much like Wayne; mixed up his genre choices while remaining true to a central character with core mannerisms and ideals. The difference between them lies in the fact that Eastwood gained far more recognition for his additional works, winning Oscars, Golden Globes and countless other awards for films not only within the western genre but outside of it too. He is as famous for his work on Million Dollar Baby as he is on A Fistful of Dollars, marking his achievements as the more varied and longer lasting of the two. In addition, he has as many directing credits and awards as he has for acting, marking him as a true multi-talented performer throughout his career and remaining so even in his eighty first year. Wayne may have passed away, but we can only hope that Eastwood continues to offer his personal approach to film making for many years to come.