There are a couple kinds of Westerns, once you break it down enough. Ones where people go places, ones where people don’t. The Outlaw Josey Wales is a going places Western. It’s about a man on a trip and what the trip does to the man on the trip. I’ve seen Josey Wales before, probably twelve or fifteen years ago, maybe more–long before I could appreciate it. The Outlaw Josey Wales is a different kind of Eastwood directorial film. Stylistically–visually–it’s more in line with his early 1970s work. There’s also a lot of visible Don Siegel influence. Story-wise, The Outlaw Josey Wales is different from just about any other Eastwood film I’ve seen and can recollect, which leaves out maybe three contenders (but I’m doubtful of The Gauntlet’s artistic import).
Eastwood, the star, gives more in this film than he does for the entire 1980s, more than since he had to back in the 1960s. The film’s about Josey Wales and people–his effect on them and their effect on him, try as he might not to let it get to him–and Eastwood’s rarely alone. The relationships are all peculiar, with none of them having any earth-shattering importance to the character, though the romance with Sondra Locke comes the closest, but there’s more revealing character moments between Eastwood and Chief Dan George’s tag-a-long Indian friend. The Outlaw Josey Wales is so good I need a long sentence like the previous one, to show off my excitement at thinking about it. Other good performances (it’s Eastwood’s best acting job in the 1970s) include Sam Bottoms and John Vernon. I recently said Vernon’s only good in small doses and, while Josey Wales is a smallish dose, it’s more than I’d usually prefer. But I couldn’t care, since he’s fantastic. The rest of the cast is all excellent and many actors seem hand-picked from previous Eastwood films.
Since I’ve already had to acknowledge my misdiagnoses of Vernon, I have to now get on to Bruce Surtees, the cinematographer. In my response to Tightrope, I said Surtees didn’t know how to compensate for 1980s film stock. The Outlaw Josey Wales is from 1976, so I have no idea whether or not Surtees’s absolute brilliance in regards to this film proves my statement true or false. After just watching two color-drained Surtees-shot films, seeing Josey Wales was a revelation. The colors are sumptuous. It’s a stunning film to see–also to hear. Jerry Fielding’s score is fantastic. Production-wise, it’s uniformly great.
I’ll come across films I should have known were great–and Josey Wales is one of those physically-affecting good films–I had a physical reaction to experiencing it (kind of a soaring thing in the chest)–but this one kind of pisses me off. I mean, I should have thought to give it a look a long time ago….