The Outlaw Josey Wales

The Outlaw Josey Wales
The Outlaw Josey Wales

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Clint Eastwood
Produced by Robert Daley
Written by Forrest Carter
Screenplay by Philip Kaufman
Sonia Chernus
Starring Clint Eastwood
Chief Dan George
Sondra Locke
Music by Jerry Fielding
Cinematography Bruce Surtees
Editing by Ferris Webster
Studio The Malpaso Company
Warner Bros.
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release date(s) June 30, 1976 (1976-06-30)
Running time 135 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $3.7 million[1]
Box office $31.8 million

The Outlaw Josey Wales is a 1976 American revisionist Western film set during and after the end of the American Civil War. It was directed by and starred Clint Eastwood (as the eponymous Josey Wales), with Chief Dan George, Sondra Locke, Sam Bottoms, and Geraldine Keams.[2]

The film was adapted by Sonia Chernus and Philip Kaufman from the novel The Rebel Outlaw: Josey Wales (republished in 1975 as Gone to Texas) by Forrest Carter. In 1996, the film was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress.



Josey Wales, a peaceful Missouri farmer, is driven to revenge by the brutal murder of his wife and son by a band of pro-Union JayhawkersSenator James H. Lane's Redlegs from Kansas.

Wales joins a group of pro-Confederate Missouri guerrillas (bushwhackers or "border ruffians") led by William T. Anderson. At the conclusion of the war, Captain Fletcher persuades the guerrillas to surrender, saying they have been granted amnesty. Josey Wales, still holding a grudge, refuses to surrender. As a result, he survives the massacre of the men by Captain Terrill's Redlegs, who've now joined the Union Army.

Wales intervenes and guns down several Redlegs with a Gatling gun. Senator Lane puts up a $5,000 bounty on Wales. Wales begins a life on the run from Union militia and bounty hunters while still seeking vengeance and a chance for a new beginning in Texas. Along the way, he unwillingly accumulates a diverse group of traveling companions despite all indications that he would rather be left alone. His companions include a wily old Cherokee named Lone Watie, a young Navajo woman, and an elderly Yankee woman from Kansas and her granddaughter rescued from a band of Comancheros.

In the final showdown, Josey and his companions are cornered in a ranch house which is fortified to withstand Indian raids. The Redlegs attack but are systematically gunned down or sent running by the defenders. Wales eventually runs out of ammunition and pursues the fleeing Captain Terrill on horseback. When he catches up to him, Josey confronts Terrill and dry fires his pistols through all twenty–four empty chambers before stabbing the captain with his own cavalry sword.

At the bar in Santa Rio, Josey Wales, wounded from the fight with the soldiers, goes in to find Fletcher with two Texas Rangers and some of the locals tell them that Wales was gunned down by five pistoleros in Monterrey, Mexico. The Rangers accept this story and move on but Fletcher refuses to believe their story. Fletcher says that he will go to Mexico and look for Wales and says that he will give Wales the first move as he "owes him that." Wales rides off.



Pahreah site in Utah, filming location of the film.

The Outlaw Josey Wales was inspired by a 1972 novel by Forrest Carter, originally titled The Rebel Outlaw: Josey Wales and later retitled Gone to Texas. The script was worked on by Sonia Chernus and producer Bob Daley at Malpaso and Eastwood himself paid some of the money to obtain the screen rights.[3] Michael Cimino and Philip Kaufman later oversaw the writing of the script, aiding Chernus. Kaufman wanted the film to stay as close to the novel as possible and retained many of the mannerisms in Wales's character which Eastwood would display on screen, such as his distinctive lingo with words like "reckon", "hoss" (instead of "horse") and "ye" (instead of "you") and spitting tobacco juice on animals and victims.[3] The characters of Wales, the Cherokee chief, Navajo squaw and the old settler woman and her daughter all appeared in the novel.[4]

Cinematographer Bruce Surtees, James Fargo, and Fritz Manes scouted for locations and eventually found sites in Utah, Arizona, Wyoming, and Oroville, California even before they saw the final script.[4] Kaufman cast Chief Dan George, who had been nominated for an Academy Award for Supporting Actor in Little Big Man as the old Cherokee Lone Watie. Sondra Locke, also a previous Academy Award nominee was cast by Eastwood against Kaufman's wishes,[5] as the granddaughter of the old settler woman, Laura Lee. This marked the beginning of a close relationship between Eastwood and Locke that would last six films and the beginning of a romance that would last into the late 1980s. The film also featured his real-life seven-year old son Kyle Eastwood, with Ferris Webster hired as editor and Jerry Fielding as musical composer.

Principal photography began in mid-October 1975.[5] A rift between Eastwood and Kaufman developed during the filming. Kaufman insisted on filming with a meticulous attention to detail which caused disagreements with Eastwood, not to mention the attraction the two shared towards Locke and apparent jealousy on Kaufman's part in regards to their emerging relationship.[6] One evening Kaufman insisted on finding a beer can as a prop to be used in a scene but whilst he was absent, Eastwood ordered Surtees to quickly shoot the scene as light was fading and then drove away, leaving Kaufman before he had returned.[7] Soon after filming moved to Kanab, Utah on October 24, 1975, Kaufman was fired at Eastwood's command by producer Bob Daley.[8] The sacking caused an outrage amongst the Directors Guild of America and other important Hollywood executives, since the director had already worked hard on the film, including completing all of the pre-production.[8] Pressure mounted on Warner Brothers and Eastwood to back down, but their refusal to do so resulted in a fine, reported to be around $60,000 for the violation.[8] This resulted in the Director's Guild passing new legislation, known as 'the Clint Eastwood Rule' in which they reserved the right to impose a major fine on a producer for discharging a director and replacing that director with himself.[8] From then on the film was directed by Eastwood himself with Daley second in command, but with Kaufman's planning already in place, the team were able to finish making the film efficiently.


"Eastwood is such a taciturn and action-oriented performer that it's easy to overlook the fact that he directs many of his movies - and many of the best, most intelligent ones. Here, with the moody, gloomily beautiful, photography of Bruce Surtees, he creates a magnificent Western feeling"

Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times, January 1, 1976[9]

Upon release in August 1976, The Outlaw Josey Wales was widely acclaimed by critics. Many critics and viewers saw Eastwood's role as an iconic one, relating it with much of America's ancestral past and the destiny of the nation after the American Civil War.[10] The film was pre-screened at the Sun Valley Center for the Arts and Humanities in Idaho in a six-day conference entitled Western Movies: Myths and Images. Some two hundred esteemed film critics, academics and directors including critics Jay Cocks and Arthur Knight and directors such as King Vidor, William Wyler and Howard Hawks were invited to the screening.[10] The film would later appear in Time magazine's Top 10 films of the year.[11] Roger Ebert compared the nature and vulnerability of Eastwood's portrayal of Josey Wales with his "Man with No Name" character in the Dollars Trilogy and praised the atmosphere of the film. The film is seen by many as a Western masterpiece and has been awarded a 97% rating on the critical website Rotten Tomatoes.

The Outlaw Josey Wales was nominated for the Academy Award for Original Music Score. In 1996, this film was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in their National Film Registry. It was also one of the few Western films to receive critical and commercial success in the 1970s at a time when the Western was thought to be dying as a major genre in Hollywood.

Clint Eastwood says on the 1999 DVD release that the movie is "certainly one of the high points of my career... in the Western genre of filmmaking."


Eastwood has called The Outlaw Josey Wales an anti-war film.[12] In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, he said:

As for Josey Wales, I saw the parallels to the modern day at that time. Everybody gets tired of it, but it never ends. A war is a horrible thing, but it's also a unifier of countries. . . . Man becomes his most creative during war. Look at the amount of weaponry that was made in four short years of World War II—the amount of ships and guns and tanks and inventions and planes and P-38s and P-51s, and just the urgency and the camaraderie, and the unifying. But that's kind of a sad statement on mankind, if that's what it takes.[12]

Historical basis

Josey Wales' circumstances somewhat mirror those of a notorious bushwhacker named Bill Wilson, a folk hero in Phelps and Maries counties in Missouri. During the war, loyalties in Missouri were divided. Bill Wilson maintained a neutral stance until a confrontation with Union soldiers on his farm on Corn Creek near Edgar Springs, Missouri. Wilson became a wanted outlaw before leaving for Texas.[13]

The character Fletcher is loosely based on Capt. Dave Poole, one of Quantrill's Raiders. After the war, Poole assisted Federal authorities in convincing guerrillas to give up the fight and surrender.

This film is the first to confront the history of the Missourians who fell prey to Kansas-based Unionists who called themselves Redlegs (after their red-striped stockings and gaiters) and Jayhawkers.[14] It is a revisionist film in that it abandons the standard presentations of the Unionists that characterized Hollywood productions up to that time, along with the dark depictions of the Missouri riders.[15] The Outlaw Josey Wales reverses these stereotypes.


  1. ^ Munn, p. 156
  2. ^ Variety film review; June 30, 1976.
  3. ^ a b McGilligan (1999), p. 257
  4. ^ a b McGilligan (1999), p.258
  5. ^ a b McGilligan (1999), p.261
  6. ^ McGilligan (1999), p. 262
  7. ^ McGilligan (1999), p. 263
  8. ^ a b c d McGilligan (1999), p. 264
  9. ^ Ebert, Roger (January 1, 1976). "The Outlaw Josey Wales". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved January 29, 2010. 
  10. ^ a b McGilligan (1999), p.266
  11. ^ McGilligan (1999), p.267
  12. ^ a b Judge, Michael (2011-01-29) A Hollywood Icon Lays Down the Law, Wall Street Journal
  13. ^ Nichols, Bruce, "Bill Wilson of Phelps County in 1864," Historian's Missouri Civil War message board posting of sources
  14. ^ Shelby Foote, Civil War, 1986; Paul I. Wellman, et al. A Dynasty of Western Outlaws. University of Nebraska Press, 1986.
  15. ^ cf. Dark Command, with Walter Pidgeon as William Quantrill and John Wayne as the "white knight" Unionist from Texas working to protect that hotbed of Jayhawker activity, Lawrence, Kansas:


  • McGilligan, Patrick (1999). Clint: The Life and Legend. London: Harper Collins. ISBN 0006383548. 
  • Munn, Michael (1992). Clint Eastwood: Hollywood's Loner. London: Robson Books. ISBN 086051790x. 

External links

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