Produced in 1976 by Warner Bros., The Outlaw Josey Wales, novel (Gone to Texas) by Forrest Carter, directed by and starring Clint Eastwood as a badass rebel on the run.


The movie begins with the brutal murder of Missourian Josey Wales' (Clint Eastwood) family by a group of Red legs, or the crack Union Soldiers bent on death and destruction. Besides that little snippet and the opening credits, the entire movie takes place just after the Civil War. JUST after the Civil War. General Lee's surrendering is still fresh news.

"All that a fella has to do, is ride into that Union Camp, raise his right hand and swear as such that you'll be loyal to the United States, and he can take up his horse again, and go home."

That line is when the movie really starts. With the betrayal of Josey's commander to his men. The commander, named Fletcher and wonderfully played by John Vernon is betrayed himself, as he gets to watch his men die via quick and easy death. Josey does not go into the Union camp at first. He has no wishes to reconcile with a government that slaughtered his family. He does, however, rush in a fool hearted attempt to save, well, no, seek revenge for his compadrés. Jaime (Sam Bottoms) informs Fletcher, who is sitting watching the gatling gun with the Union officers, "Run fer it Fletcher, it's a trap!" Jaime consequently gets shot for this, and informs Josey (who is shooting down Blue Bellies with their own gatling guns) that Fletcher was in on it, and the two ride off.

All Josey wanted, ever, was to live a quiet life. But now that he is fleeing Captain Terrill (Bill McKinney), the entire Union Army, and many mercenaries, he'll have anything but. Josey and Jaime make their way towards Indian Country, outsmarting Fletcher and Terrill all along the way. "Whooped 'em again, didn't we Josey?" is a phrase you hear all too often until Jaime's untimely death.

Yet Josey's always being chosen to help some one. A washed up old Cherokee Indian (Chief Dan George), and an Apache squaw (Geraldine Keams) join Josey in his search for a quiet life, still pursued by Union soldiers. They flee to Texas, picking up a stubborn widow (who had just turned into a widow when Josey rescues her and her daughter from comancheros), played by Paula Trueman, and her "odd" grand-daughter named Laura Lee (Sondra Locke). We are meant to believe that a spark of romance is igniting something between Laura and Josey, but I don't see how that happens since Laura only has about five intelligible lines (if that) in the entire movie.

They eventually make their way to a small town called Santa Rio, inhabited by a grand total of five people, and settle at a ranch belonging to the widow's son. The ranch, however, is located deep in Ten Bear's (Will Sampson) territory, and two final show downs ensue one right after another. In the end the four townsfolk convince some Federal Rangers that Josey was gunned down by five Indians. With Josey standing right there, the Rangers finish their report and head out. Fletcher, who is staring Josey straight in the eyes, knows better, but lets the story stand as is. In the end the rag tag bunch of misfits becomes what could be called a family. It becomes rather humorous to watch the Apache girl dance Indian style to Grannie's and Laura's Christian hymns...

The movie, in my opinion, is right up there with visual quality as other Eastwood western films like The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, although the soundtrack is defiantly nothing special. If I recall correctly, this film is Eastwood's fifth movie as director. And it becomes apparent that he's still fine tuning his own skills in that area. Sondra Locke's acting is inconsistent with her character and many of the minor characters have more spunk in their step than some of the more important ones. But, of all the Eastwood films I've seen, in this film, he delivers the most powerful and moving dialouge I've ever heard him deliver; in a debate of words with Ten Bears (WARNING: SPOILER AHEAD) -

Josey- You'll be Ten Bears?
Ten Bears- I am Ten Bears
J- I'm Josey Wales.
TB- I have heard. You're the Grey Rider. You would not make peace with the Blue Coats; You may go in peace.
J- I reckon not. 'have no where to go.
TB- Then you will die.
J- I came here to die with you... or to live with you. Dying ain't so hard for men like you an' me, it's livin' that's hard. When all you've ever cared about's been butchered and raped... Governments don't live together; people live together... Governments don't always give you a fair word or a fair fight. Well, I've come to give you either one. Or get either one from ya. I came here like this so you know my word of death is true; and my word of life is then true... The bear lives here, the wolf, the antelope, the Comanche, and so will we. We'll only hunt what we need to live on, same as the Comanche does. Now every Spring when the grass turns green and the Comanche moves north, we can rest here in peace. Butcher some of our cattle and jerk beef for the journey. The sign of the Comanche, that will be on our lodge. That's my word of life.
TB- And your word of death?
J- Here in my pistols, there in your rifles, I'm here for either one.
TB- These things you say we will have, we already have.
J- This is true. I ain't promisin' you nothin' extra. You're just givin' me life and I'm givin' you life. And I'm sayin' men can live together without butcherin' one another.
TB- It's sad that governments are cheaped by the double tongue. And there is iron in your word of death for all Comanche to see. And so there is iron in your words of life. No signed paper can hold the iron. It must come from men. The words of Ten Bears carries the same iron of life and death. It is good that two warriors such as we meet in the struggle of life... or death. It shall be life.

Despite the literally painful experience of watching Clint Eastwood try to romanticize with an "odd" girl where both are awkward and really BAD at subtly flirting. It looks like they dance out of obligation to everyone else rather than because they like each other. Even the kissing looks forced (and we all know damn well how well kissing fits into a Clint Eastwood western). DESPITE this mockery of Eastwood's reputation as a lone cowboy, it is a damn, damn good movie.

"I reckon so." - Clint.

"A man like Wales lives by the feud. After what you've done here today, I'm going to have to kill that man."

"He'll have to run now, and Hell is where he's headed."

"He'll be waiting there for us, Senator."

Josey Wales' journey from darkness into light.

The film opens with Josey Wales as a simple man, leading a simple life. We see him tending to his farm, which is little more than a small piece of rough land. He has a wife and a son, a life he seems to treasure for its simple pleasures. He is representative of the good man, who tends to his field, cares for his family and asks nothing more.

The American Civil War is underway and chaos reigns across the land. Irregular troops flying under the Union flag plunder and burn Josey's farm and kill his wife and son in the process. Seeking vengeance against them, Josey signs on with a band of men whose lives have taken similar turns thanks to the methods of the irregular "Redlegs."

The war rages and Josey's band, under Captain Fletcher does plenty of killing of their own. As the war ends, they are asked to turn in their weapons and surrender. The band begrudgingly agrees, with the exception of Josey Wales who refuses to surrender. He will fight his personal war until the death. He has nothing to go home to.

At this point Fletcher is thrown into the Judas role. In exchange for a bag of gold coins, he has convinced the men who were under his command to surrender. From the outset of the surrender sequence, you can see he is troubled, despite promises from the senator in charge that the men will be treated fairly and decently. Seeing that the hated Redlegs are present along with their leader, Captain Terrill, he knows something bad is going to happen. Fletcher rejects the money he has, in effect, sold out his own men for.

"They were decently treated.
They were decently fed and then they were decently shot."

Still wracked by the need for vengeance, especially after seeing the men he rode with all these years gunned down execution style after they surrendered in good faith, Josey takes to killing. He would gun down the entire United States Army if they were there, because, "I've got nothing better to do." He is convinced to give up on this mad quest by Jaime, the youngest member of Josey's old band and the only one who escaped being executed. Jaime is wounded, and Josey comes to a realization.

This is the point at which his journey changes. His mission of vengeance against the U.S. Army camp where his brothers in arms were murdered is a suicide mission. Josey has no reason to live, citing the loss of his family and home to himself in his fight until the death mindset. Now he has someone who needs him, someone he can help. If he stays and fights to the death, Jaime's life will be over as well, so Josey instead takes Jaime and they go on the run.

When they reach the ferry to take them across the river, they encounter two characters who are extremes of human nature. The ferry boat master, who will gladly take any side and sell them out in return for ten cents per person, is the kind of person who can obviously never be trusted.

"In my line of work, it pays to be able to sing Dixie and the Battle Hymn of the Republic with equal enthusiasm."

On the other side is Granny Hawkins, the shopkeeper who is true to her beliefs and is a visionary who sees the future in elements of the present. In the scenes with her, she sees through the bullshit, she knows the nature of anger, retribution and revenge. She knows the nature of the journey and she knows each man's place in the journey.

She knows Josey Wales on sight, she knows his past and she sees the journey he is now only beginning. After providing him with the supplies he needs for the journey, she tells him:

"You can pay me when you see me again, Josey Wales."

"I reckon so."

As she listens in on the debate between Fletcher and Terrill, who wants to continue hunting down "rebel scum" in Texas, we again see her true nature. After their exchange, she looks at Fletcher and laughs. He has sold his soul.

Fletcher: "We get Josey Wales and it ends."

Terrill: "Doin' right ain't got no end."

Wars of retribution have no end until someone steps forward and stops. Fletcher's perception that this is about hunting down Josey Wales is shattered. Terrill will never stop, Josey Wales won't stop, and if no one stops it will never end. Whether it is intentional or not, Fletcher's face becomes darker as the film progresses until it is seen in the light at the end.

Still filled with anger and rage, shown in the scene where the two lowly reward seekers come upon Josey and Jaime, we see that Josey's journey is far from complete. A lesson must be given. In the next scene, Jaime dies as a result from the wounds he suffered in his escape from execution. His companion and the reason for carrying on is lost. Jaime was not enough, and so Josey Wales encounters the Cherokee Lone Waite, who will bring him the wisdom needed to continue the journey. Confused and seemingly resigned, Lone Waite is more than just a bumbling old Indian.

"We dressed ourselves up like Abraham Lincoln... and they said we looked so civilized... and we met the Secretary of the Interior and told him how our lands had been stolen... and he said we should 'endeavor to persevere.' And the next day our picture was in the paper... and the headline said 'Indians Endeavor to Persevere.' And we thought about that and what it meant, and when we were done thinking about it we declared war on the Union..."

The encounter with Josey Wales causes Lone Waite to reconsider these things. They have the same inner battle and the same enemy, but they have faced it in different ways and now their journeys brings them together. Lone Waite's wife and two sons died on the Trail of Tears. He burns his top hat and his "civilized" clothes and goes back to being what he was before he became "civilized." He will join Josey in his journey.

Once they are joined, they begin to collect a following of other travelers in need of some kind of assistance. Although they seem to indicate they need the protection Josey can give them, riding with a marked man is not a very good way of seeking to stay out of trouble.

"You might as well ride along with us. Hell, everyone else is."
--Josey to the mangy red-boned hound whose head he likes to spit on

The squaw, Little Moonlight, is the next to join with them. Unfairly marked as an unclean woman who has "been with too many bucks," she is facing rape at the hands of two "pilgrims," as Josey later calls them. They are distracted from this by the opportunity to "get us the Josey Wales," a mistake that costs them their lives. She feels she now belongs to Josey for what he's done for her, but Josey wisely notes, "I don't want anyone belonging to me."

Coming into the town where they encounter Laura Lee and Grandma Sarah, there is an underrated scene where Josey and his flock see the results of the war. A carpetbagger hawking "Indian scalps" and a collection of crippled and beaten veterans. Josey's long, sorrowful look as they pass by tells us he is beginning to understand that all this killing and revenge comes at too high a price. Beyond that we also see that following a war supposedly fought to end slavery, human life has become very cheap and people can be bought, sold and traded.

The judgmental and self-righteous Grandma and the timid and awkward Laura Lee are out of their element. In this world Josey Wales often refers to as Hell, they are taking a journey to a ranch they believe to be a promised land. Believing in their rights and in a free and just country, they are waylaid by comancheros, traders who make money by trading with the Commanche. Those possessions worth nothing in a trade are destroyed, but the women may bring a price, especially the fresh young one, Laura Lee.

Josey does not want to get involved, but Stand Waite's fumbling on the hill overlooking the scene sets off a chain of events in which Josey must fall back on what he knows how to do best, kill men. Stand Waite is captured and Josey rides in, kills all the comancheros and find himself taking responsibility for Laura Lee and Grandma, whose experience has made her more bitter and angry with people she feels are not as good as she is.

The journey out of Hell and into Heaven now begins. As Grandma goes on about her son Tom's Crooked River Ranch, near Santa Rio, Josey does not believe it to be true. The place she describes cannot possibly exist where she believes it to be, but he cannot call her son a liar and agrees to lead them there, expecting them to be disappointed when they learn it is not the paradise they have anticipated.

Santa Rio is a ghost town, formerly a bustling silver mining community. There isn't even any whiskey or beer to be had in the local saloon. Josey provides, bringing in whiskey he acquired from the comancheros after his bloody defeat of them. This is a symbolic turning point. Soon after, as Grandma discusses her son Tom with the Santa Rio locals, Josey Wales discovers that he is helping the mother and daughter of a man who rode and died with the Redlegs, his most despised foes. The ranch in question was built and owned by a member of the Redlegs regiment. Tom was killed by, in Grandmother's words, "Missouri ruffians," the people she most despises. This is what Josey Wales is and it is quite possible, given the history, that Josey killed Tom during the war.

The encounter with the bounty hunter shows us Josey's continued journey and his realization of his own nature. He offers the bounty hunter life, telling him that he can walk out and live or stay and die. When the bounty hunter leaves and then returns, Josey is expecting him.

"I had to come back."

"I know."

The cycle of violence, vengeance and the cheapness of human life seems to have no end. The bounty hunter is killed, but his associate leaves. Josey knows they will be coming for him now. He has nowhere left to run and nowhere left to hide. This will be his last stand, for life or for death.

The excellence of the "Word of Life and Word of Death" exchange* between Josey Wales and Ten Bears cannot be understated. Within the speech is the answer to all conflicts, and so they choose Life. Josey Wales honors his promises and his vows, and the two men come to respect each other rather than butcher each other.

Josey returns to the Crooked River Ranch, which has become a true heaven, and brings Josey reminders of the life he once had. The life of a simple man tending to his simple farm, surrounded by the people he loves. He has a new family now, comprised of people who are by nature enemies. The grandmother and granddaughter from Kansas, the rebel outlaw from Missouri, the Cherokee Stand Waite and the Navajo Little Moonlight. The townspeople come to sing and dance with them here in the new paradise. What Josey Wales lost, what caused him so much anger and sorrow, has been given to him again. A romance is developing between Josey and Laura Lee. While she may seem a limp and lifeless character in many senses, it is her quiet, "odd" and peaceful way that offers Josey balance for the fight that still rages within himself.

Still, Josey Wales continues to be a hunted man with a high price on his head. He fears that if he stays he will put the people he loves, his new family, in danger. He still must face his demons before he can find peace.

The fight comes to the Crooked River Ranch, and this time it will be Josey's new family that rescues him. Preparing to depart, Josey is confronted with Captain Terrill and the Redlegs outside his front door. Once again, they will attack his home and what he loves. The battle will be won, ending with Josey's pursuit and face to face showdown with Terrill. The conflict ends not with bullets, but by Josey "helping" Terrill fall on his own sword.

All that remains now is Fletcher, the man sworn to hunt Josey down, the man Josey blames for betraying the men he rode with in the war. They will meet, and finally the confrontation will end with peace rather than bloodshed. Instead it ends with understanding and forgiveness and the acceptance that the war is over. Fletcher is about to undergo his own journey, and he understands that Josey has made his. Josey Wales is officially declared dead. He is, in essence, reborn into this new life, the second chance he earned on the journey that is The Outlaw Josey Wales.

* Since this is quoted in the writeup above, I will not add it here

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