The Movie John Wayne Considered His Worst
Here’s why John Wayne was unhappy with his 1973 Western Cahill U.S. Marshall. Wayne’s career spanned from 1926 to 1976 and he is thought to have starred in over 80 Westerns during that time. He was uniquely suited to the genre, to the point where he would sometimes feel a little ill-suited to the more modern roles he attempted towards the end of his career. He famously passed on 1971’s Dirty Harry, but his attempts to ape their success with thrillers like McQ or Brannigan didn’t work.
Towards the end of Wayne’s career, his declining health and the waning in popularity of the Western also impacted his career. He received some career-best reviews for 1972’s The Cowboys, but the likes of Rio Lobo – a Western that later convinced Tarantino he must retire – or his only sequel Rooster Cogburn showed his popularity with audiences was on a downward slope. Wayne’s final movie would prove to be 1976’s The Shootist, which was both a critical and commercial success.
Cahill U.S. Marshal also arrived towards the end of Wayne’s career. This 1973 Western cast him as the title lawman, who is on the trail of some escaped bank robbers. What he doesn’t realize is that his two sons – who are somewhat neglected down to Cahill’s dedication to his job – helped rob the bank too. While the film has an intriguing setup, it was a financial disappointment and earned Wayne some of his worst reviews since the infamous 1956 “epic” The Conqueror, where he played Genghis Khan. Wayne himself didn’t mince words about Cahill U.S. Marshal either.
In Film Heritage in 1975, Wayne – who only made one horror movie – admitted Cahill U.S. Marshal “…wasn’t a well-done picture.” While he said the intended message was good, he felt it needed more care in its execution and that it “… needed better writing.” The movie does feature one of Wayne’s gentler turns and some solid supporting actors like the great George Kennedy, but much of Cahill U.S. Marshal falls flat. From the pacing to the characters there’s little to invest in, and the movie felt out of sync with the more cynical Westerns being produced during the time.
Some have suggested the anti-racism themes featured in Cahill U.S. Marshal were added following the response to Wayne’s 1971 Playboy interview. This interview later resurfaced in 2019 and led to renewed controversy, with the star’s views on race relations in America and homosexuality making for unpleasant reading. Wayne’s – who was nicknamed “Duke” – Cahill was a much more tolerant figure in the movie, though its attempts to make his half-Comanche friend Lightfoot a key character is undermined by the fact he’s played by American actor Neville Brand in make-up. Cahill U.S. Marshal is far from John Wayne’s worst film – an honor that might go to The Conqueror or 1957’s Jet Pilot – but despite meaning well it just doesn’t come together.