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Film / The Outlaw Josey Wales

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"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."
Josey Wales

A 1976 Western film directed by (and starring) Clint Eastwood.

Set during the aftermath of The American Civil War, the film follows its title character, 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 novel Gone 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.")
  • Adaptational Villainy: The Redlegs are a hell of a lot more blood-thirsty in the film than the original novel.
  • The 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.
  • Antihero: Wales himself is a Type 3.
  • 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.
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  • Badass Beard / Beard of Sorrow: Josey grows one during the war.
  • Badass Grandpa / Cool Old Guy: Lone Watie.
  • 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.
  • Bounty Hunter:
    "A man's got to do something for a living these days."
    "Dyin' ain't much of a living, boy."
  • Catchphrase: "I reckon so."
  • *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.
  • Exact Words
    "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 Film of the Book: Based on a little-known book by Forrest Carter...
    • Which was the pen-name for Asa Carter, infamous segregationist who wrote stuff like the "Segregation Forever" speech during The '60s...
      • And this film (and the novel its based on) still surprises people for its remarkably sympathetic portrayal of Native Americans.
        • Given the author's political sympathies, it is interesting to note that the book is far kinder to the Union than the film. For example, the bushwhacker massacre is an invention of the film, and in the book the Redlegs were pro-Union bushwhackers rather than Union regulars.
  • Final Battle: Josey and his band's showdown with the Redlegs.
  • Freudian Excuse: The death of Wales' family pretty much gives him a reason to go on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge.
  • Gatling Good: The US troops used a Gatling mounted on the back of a wagon to kill all the bushwhackers that had just surrendered to them and turned their own guns in
  • Guns Akimbo: Josey
  • The Gunslinger: Well, duh.
  • Hand Cannon: Josey's pair of Walker Colts.
  • Historical Villain Downgrade: The film glosses over the fact that the Confederate bushwhackers in Missouri (including Josey) committed plenty of war crimes themselves.
  • Hitchhiker Heroes: The film is a good example of the Antihero version.
  • I Surrender, Suckers: Happens twice, once with a couple of amateur bounty hunters (Josey gets help from a wounded buddy with a Hidden Weapon) and again with two particularly stupid mountain men (whom Josey defeats with a road agent's spin).
  • Karma Houdini: The outpost owner who scams Natives and beats Little Moonlight.
  • Kick the Dog:
    • When Abe and Lige find Josey and the kid, Lige kicks the wounded (and apparently fevered) kid to shut him up.
    • The two mountain men are interrupted while attempting to rape Little Moonlight.
    • 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.
  • Magnetic Hero: Josey, he even lampshades it:
    "I suppose that mangy hound's got no place else to go, either."
  • May–December Romance: Lone Watie and Little Moonlight.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: "Name's Anderson. Bloody Bill's what they call me."
  • One-Man Army: Josey at first. It's even the film's Tag Line.
  • Perma-Stubble: Josey Wales himself. Eastwood always has some of this in his Westerns but this movie has it at its thickest, straddling the line between Perma-Stubble and a Badass Beard. Its probably there to make his scar stand out more.
  • Pet the Dog: Josey is by no means a dog, but this trope appears in the final scene, when Josey's friends tell the two Texas Rangers he's dead. Wales shows up, his friends are clearly uncertain of what to do before one of them greets him as "Mr. Wilson" and swiftly explains what's going on in a manner that seems perfectly natural. It's implied by the demeanor of the two Rangers that they're not buying it, but they were sent to find Wales and they've got a signed statement by a witness swearing Wales is dead, so they see no reason to pursue the matter further. Upon leaving, one of them tells "Mr. Wilson" that it was "nice seein' you." and the other pointedly says they won't be coming back. They leave, Fletcher stays, and both Wales and Fletcher make peace with one another.
  • 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.
  • Pre Ass Kicking One Liner: "You gonna pull those pistols or whistle Dixie?"
  • Present Company Excluded: The old woman and Lone Watie do this back and forth at one another when preparing to be attacked by either indians or soldiers, edging into Vitriolic Best Buds.
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil
  • Rated M for Manly
    "I had to come back."
    "I know."
  • Reconstruction: The film is essentially an old-style "sagebrush" western incorporating the violence and moral ambiguity of "spaghetti westerns."
  • Retired Badass: Josey attempts to become one of these.
  • 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.
  • Snake Oil Salesman: One shows up as a Butt-Monkey.
  • Spiteful Spit: Clint Eastwood does this on anything that moves.
    • 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.
  • Too Dumb to Live: The two bounty hunters in the forest, particularly the first one, who ignores his friend's sensible advice that Josey probably has another gun on him. He does.
  • Truth in Television: The fighting in Missouri during The American Civil War really was as savage as the film implies, and in more than a few cases was used as an excuse to address old arguments and rivalries that may not have even had anything to do with the causes of the war itself. In fact some parts of the Missouri/Kansas border area still maintain bitter animosity over the war to this day.
  • Walking Armory: Josey never carries less than four pistols at any one time, two of which are Hand Cannons of their day.
  • War Is Hell
  • 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". And still something of a Deconstruction/Reconstruction of Westerns at that.


Example of: