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Set during the aftermath of the American Civil War, The Outlaw Josey Wales follows a man whose whole family was killed, leading him to join a group of Confederate guerrillas to track down the killers. After eventually being sold out, however, he is on the run from bounty hunters and Yankee soldiers (including the group who killed his family). Along the way, while racking up a prodigious body count, Wales meets a group of people whom he reluctantly allows to join him. Hilarity Ensues. And by "hilarity," we mean "murder." This is a Clint Eastwood movie, after all.Based on the novelGone to Texas: The Rebel Outlaw Josey Wales, by Forrest Carter. The original printing of the book was less than one hundred copies, but one of those copies was sent to Eastwood...
The Outlaw Josey Wales provides examples of:
Action Film, Quiet Drama Scene: Two fantastic examples in Wales' confrontations with Ten Bears and Fletcher. (From the latter: "We all died a little in that damned war.")
American Civil War: Specifically the carnage in Missouri, where the guerrilla fighting was so vicious by both sides that it was practically a civil war within the Civil War itself.
Artistic License – History: The character of Lone Watie (implied to be a relative of Civil War general Stand Watie). He claims that the Cherokee declared war on the Union because of their sufferings on the Trail of Tears. The Cherokee Nation was actually split among Union/Confederate lines due to preexisting factional warfare; the Confederate-allied Watie faction was in favor of removal to Oklahoma, and many of them had voluntarily relocated there years before the forced removal of the rest.
Author Tract: The portrayal of the Union soldiers in the film make it quite apparent that this film and the book it was based on were written by a Southern apologist.
Interestingly, although the author of the original book (Asa Earl Carter, writing under the pseudonym Forrest Carter) was both an active segregationist and a member of an independent Klan group, he was actually fairly even-handed in the novel. The Union massacre of surrendering guerrillas, for instance, was an invention of the film. In the book, Carter wrote the Union soldiers as simply accepting the surrender as agreed. Also in the book, the Redlegs were also guerillas (but pro-Union) rather than Union regulars.
Blood Oath: Josey and Ten Bears take a blood oath to seal the "words of iron" peace treaty between the Comanches and Josey's friends at the Turner Ranch and Santo Rio. It is strongly implied, though unstated, that this also makes Josey and Ten Bears Blood Brothers.
Click Hello: This is done twice. First, when Clint Eastwood pulls a "click hello" on Chief Dan George; and later, when Dan George returns the favor, an Indian girl Eastwood freed pulls her own "click hello" on Chief Dan George (again):
Lone Watie (Chief Dan George): I'm gettin' better at sneaking up on you like this. Only an Indian can do something like this. Josey Wales (Eastwood): That's what I figured. Lone Watie: You figured? Wales: Only an Indian could do something like that. [Lone Watie hears a gun cock behind him; turns and sees Moonlight]
Due to the Dead: Defied by Josey when two bounty hunters nearly capture him. Josey says "to Hell with them," spits tobacco juice on one and leaves their corpses to be eaten by buzzards.
"You promised me those men would be decently treated."
"They were decently treated. They were decently fed, decently clothed, and then they were decently shot. Those men are common outlaws, nothing more." This from a US Senator allied to the Redlegs, themselves murderous (but pro-Union) guerrillas.
The Comancheros are first seen in the immediate aftermath of attacking the Kansas settlers, killing the men and attempting to rape the girl.
And of course, at the very beginning, the Senator's Union soldiers murder all the surrendering guerrillas. Oddly enough, this extra bit of villainy was not in the original novel, which was itself written by the man who came up with the "Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever" speech.
A more literal comical Running Gag version is Josey spitting on the "mangy hound."
Kick the Son of a Bitch: Most of the enemies that Josey kills get at least one kick in immediately before he shoots them.
Leitmotif: The Rose of Alabama keeps popping up after the kid sings a bit of it.
Pragmatic Villainy: The Comancheros' leader stops them gang raping a young woman since it would radically decrease the price they could trade her for. He suggests they rape the old woman instead, since she isn't worth much, but none of them seem to take him up on this.
Roaring Rampage of Revenge: why Josey signs up with Bloody Bill's troops at the start of the war when the Redlegs killed his wife and son. Subverted by Terill and a reluctant Fletcher who pursue the fleeing Josey Wales fearing the outlaw would continue his rampage after the war's end (when Wales seems more interested in just fleeing to Texas, and is more annoyed by the bounty hunters and soldiers he has to keep killing to survive).
Shoot the Rope: This is how Clint Eastwood sends his pursuers downriver.
It doesn't always scare away the ones he's spitting on.
Tonto Talk: Subverted. The Comanche chief Ten Bears does tend towards whimsical turns of phrase, and his English is a bit stilted, but he sounds like someone who has learned a second language as an adult and is trying to translate untranslatable concepts rather than a caricature. He even manages to get one over on Josey.
Josey: You be Ten Bears?
Ten Bears: I am Ten Bears.
Wag the Director: In a weird way, the Trope Maker. Early in filming, Clint Eastwood decided that he could do a better job than the original director, Philip Kaufman, was doing. He therefore arranged for Kaufman to be fired and took over the directorial duties himself. This disgusted the Director's Guild of America enough that they created a new rule stating that whenever a film's director is fired, their replacement has to be someone with no previous connections to the film. This is why, nowadays, actors are forced to Wag the Director rather than just outright firing them and directing themselves. More commonly they just hire someone willing to take orders.
The Western: While it's mostly an anti-war movie, it's based in the Western theater of the Civil War and contains many of the tropes - Indians, gunmen, settlers, cavalry - found in standard Wild West films. It might rightly be called a "Pre-Western".