The Angry Letter John Wayne Wrote About A Classic Clint Eastwood Movie


When we think of western movies, two names spring to mind: Clint Eastwood and John Wayne. Both actors were leading figures in the genre, with the former often collaborating with Sergio Leone and the latter favouring John Ford.

A complex genre, westerns often championed American ideals and patriotism, with many being retrospectively criticised for their negative portrayal of Native characters. Wayne was known for being outwardly racist, as well as holding bigoted values towards anyone who didn’t identify as a straight, white, American man. He once told Playboy, “I believe in white supremacy until the blacks are educated to a point of responsibility. I don’t believe in giving authority and positions of leadership and judgment to irresponsible people.”

Wayne wanted to uphold traditional American values and depict white people as the ‘superior race’ through his on-screen presence. Thus, he was rather unhappy when Eastwood directed and starred in a movie which Wayne believed painted the American West and the typical western hero in a negative light.

High Plains Drifter, released in 1973, is one of the bleakest westerns out there, with Eastwood’s unnamed character, simply The Stranger, ruthlessly murdering people and raping a woman. He is hardly the heroic leading man that Wayne was fond of, leaving audiences to question the true nature of evil and the meaning of justice.

It is interesting that Wayne was so annoyed at Eastwood, a man who has often been considered the ultimate American hero and a figure of idealistic masculinity. Yet, High Plains Drifter felt like a betrayal to the western genre, according to Wayne, who sent Eastwood a letter communicating his disapproval.


The actor told Kenneth Turan, “John Wayne once wrote me a letter saying he didn’t like High Plains Drifter. He said it wasn’t really about the people who pioneered the West.”

However, Eastwood highlighted the fact that he and Wayne were born in different times – Wayne in 1907 and Eastwood in 1930 – which is perhaps why his fellow actor saw things differently. He added, “I realized that there’s two different generations, and he wouldn’t understand what I was doing. High Plains Drifter was meant to be a fable: it wasn’t meant to show the hours of pioneering drudgery. It wasn’t supposed to be anything about settling the West.”

High Plains Drifter, which also starred Verna Bloom, Billy Curtis and Mariana Hill, was criticised by several reviewers for being derivative of other filmmakers, most notably Leone, who directed Eastwood in a series of movies, including The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

Still, it was rather popular overall, praised for its subversion of typical western values and its entertaining nature. Watch the trailer below.