On paper, there are many similarities between John Wayne and Clint Eastwood. Each became a Hollywood icon because of their legendary Western films, and each cultivated an accordingly fearsome reputation thanks to their tough and taciturn characters.
While these two made names for themselves dueling with bad guys on the silver screen, they had an offscreen feud that was longer, fiercer, and uglier than any high noon showdown. Now, we know how that feud began. John Wayne hated Clint Eastwood’s sophomore directorial effort High Plains Drifter, because it wasn’t an accurate account of those who had pioneered the West.
John Wayne Hated High Plains Drifter
This information originally came from the Scott Eyman book John Wayne: The Life and Legend. That book contains an interview with Clint Eastwood in which the director says Wayne wrote him a letter about how he didn’t like High Plains Drifter because “it wasn’t really about the people who pioneered the West.” As for Eastwood, he didn’t take the criticism too personally because he rationalized “that there’s two different generations” and that Wayne “wouldn’t understand what I was doing.”
Clint Eastwood Feels John Wayne Misunderstood The Film
In that same book, Clint Eastwood points out that for all his strengths as an actor, it seemed that John Wayne fundamentally misunderstood what the director wanted to do with High Plains Drifter. Eastwood believes Wayne wanted a movie more focused on “settling the West,” complete with “the hours of pioneering drudgery” such an endeavor involved. As for Eastwood, he saw his film as more of a fable, and that meant the movie would never be what John Wayne wanted it to be.
Resembling The Film That Made Eastwood Famous
We certainly don’t want to speak ill of the dead, but looking back, it’s hard to disagree with the idea that John Wayne misunderstood what Clint Eastwood was going for in High Plains Drifter. As the GenreVision podcast points out, the film begins much like Eastwood’s breakout film A Fistful of Dollars.Eastwood once again plays a mysterious stranger without a name who arrives in a small town and must protect them from dangerous outlaws. Considering that Eastwood recently finished filming his Dollars trilogy of movies directed by Sergio Leone, it’s not that surprising that Eastwood’s second directorial effort greatly resembles the films that made him famous.
Never Meant To Be An Accurate Depiction
With that in mind, you can see why John Wayne was wrong regarding Clint Eastwood’s High Plains Drifter. As Eastwood says, this is a fable about a legendary gunslinger, meaning that it’s no more an accurate account of Western pioneers than A Fistful of Dollars was.
It’s not surprising that John Wayne would prefer movies with a bit more historicity because some of his best films were rooted in historical events (including The Searchers and especially How the West Was Won). Of course, the very white John Wayne once played Genghis Khan in The Conqueror, so you might think he could forgive Clint Eastwood for his film being less-than-accurate.
John Wayne Had It All Wrong
Even though it wasn’t John Wayne’s bag, we’ve always found High Plains Drifter to be a great film in its own right as well as a showcase for Clint Eastwood’s skills as both actor and director. The fact that it follows a tried and true Western formula isn’t necessarily a bad thing because putting this film on feels about as warm and cozy as wearing The Man With No Name’s poncho. Now if anybody needs us, we’re going to be practicing our dramatic exit into the sunset.