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The Outlaw Josey Wales
A man, two guns, held high by his face.
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Clint Eastwood
Produced by Robert Daley
Screenplay by Philip Kaufman
Sonia Chernus
Based on Gone to Texas
1973 novel 
by Forrest Carter
Music by Jerry Fielding
Cinematography Bruce Surtees
Edited by Ferris Webster
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release dates
  • June 30, 1976 (1976-06-30)
Running time
135 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $3.7 million[1]
Box office $31,800,000[2]

The Outlaw Josey Wales is a 1976 American revisionist Western DeLuxe Color and Panavision film set during and after 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.[3] The film tells the story of Josey Wales, a Missouri farmer whose family is murdered by Union militants during the Civil War. Driven to revenge, Wales joins a Confederate guerrilla band and fights in the Civil War. After the war, all the fighters in Wales' group except for Wales surrender to Union officers, but they end up being massacred. Wales becomes an outlaw and is pursued by bounty hunters and Union soldiers.

The film was adapted by Sonia Chernus and Philip Kaufman from author Forrest Carter's 1973 novel The Rebel Outlaw: Josey Wales (republished, as shown in the movie's opening credits, as Gone to Texas). Forrest Carter was an alias assumed by Asa Carter: a former Ku Klux Klan leader, a speechwriter for George Wallace, and later an opponent of Wallace for Governor of Alabama on a white supremacist platform.[4] In 1996, the film was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress. The film was a commercial success, earning $31.8 M against a $3.7 M budget.


Josey Wales (Clint Eastwood), a Missouri farmer, is driven to revenge by the murder of his wife and young son by a band of pro-Union Jayhawker militants. The Union murderers were from Senator James H. Lane's Kansas Brigade, which included Captain Terrill.

After grieving and burying his wife and son, Wales joins a group of pro-Confederate Missouri Bushwhackers led by William T. Anderson and fights in the Civil War. At the conclusion of the war, Captain Fletcher (John Vernon) persuades the guerrillas to surrender, saying they have been granted amnesty. Wales refuses to surrender. As a result, he and one young man are the only survivors when Captain Terrill's (Bill McKinney) Redlegs massacre the surrendering men. Wales intervenes and guns down several Redlegs with a Gatling gun.

Senator Lane (Frank Schofield) puts a $5,000 bounty on Wales, who is now on the run from Union militia and bounty hunters. Along the way, despite wishing to be left alone, he accumulates a diverse group of companions. They include an old Cherokee named Lone Watie (Chief Dan George), a young Navajo woman (Geraldine Keams), and an elderly woman (Paula Trueman) from Kansas and her adult granddaughter Laura Lee (Sondra Locke) whom Wales rescued from Comancheros. Wales and Laura Lee become attracted to each other.

In Texas, Wales and his companions are cornered in a ranch house which is fortified to withstand Indian raids. The Redlegs attack but are gunned down by the defenders. Wales, despite being out of ammunition, pursues the fleeing Captain Terrill on horseback. When he catches him, Wales dry fires his four pistols through all twenty–four empty chambers while reliving the events surrounding his family´s death, and remembering Terrill's involvement in his family´s murder, before stabbing him with his own cavalry sword.

At the bar in Santa Rio, a wounded Wales finds Fletcher with two Texas Rangers. The locals at the bar, who refer to Wales as "Mr. Wilson," tell the Rangers that Wales was killed in a shoot-out in Monterrey, Mexico. The Rangers accept this story and move on. Fletcher pretends he does not recognize Wales, and says that he will go to Mexico and look for Wales himself, try to convince Wales that the war is over. Seeing the blood dripping on Wales's boot, Fletcher says that he will give Wales the first move, because he "owes him that." Wales agrees, saying that they all died a little in the war. Wales then rides off to his new home.



Pahreah site in Utah, filming location of the film.

The Outlaw Josey Wales was inspired by a 1972 novel by Forrest Carter, and was originally titled The Rebel Outlaw: Josey Wales and later retitled Gone to Texas. "Forrest Carter" was an alias assumed by Asa Carter, a former Ku Klux Klan leader, a speechwriter for George Wallace, and later an opponent of Wallace for Governor of Alabama on a white supremacist platform.[4] 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.[5] 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 in style 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.[5] The characters of Wales, the Cherokee chief, Navajo squaw and the old settler woman and her daughter all appeared in the novel.[6] Contrariwise, Kaufman was less happy with the novel's political stance; he felt that it had been “written by a crude fascist” and that “the man's hatred of government was insane”.[4] He also felt that that element of the script needed to be severely toned down, but, he later said, “Clint didn't, and it was his film”.[4] Kaufman was later fired by Eastwood, who took over the film's direction himself.

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.[6] 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,[7] 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.[7] 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.[8] One evening Kaufman insisted on finding a beer can as a prop to be used in a scene, but while he was absent, Eastwood ordered Surtees to quickly shoot the scene as light was fading and then drove away, leaving before Kaufman had returned.[9] Soon after filming moved to Kanab, Utah. On October 24, 1975, Kaufman was fired at Eastwood's command by producer Bob Daley.[10] 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.[10] 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.[10] 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.[10] 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[11]

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.[12] 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. Academics such as Bruce Jackson, critics such as Jay Cocks and Arthur Knight and directors such as King Vidor, Henry King, William Wyler and Howard Hawks were invited to the screening.[12] The film would later appear in Time magazine's Top 10 films of the year.[13] 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. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes retrospectively gave the film a 94% rating based on reviews from 36 critics.[14]


The Outlaw Josey Wales was nominated for the Academy Award for Original Music Score. In 1996, it was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the 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."[citation needed]


Eastwood has called The Outlaw Josey Wales an anti-war film.[15] 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.[15]


  1. ^ Munn, p. 156
  2. ^ "The Outlaw Josey Wales". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved January 23, 2012. 
  3. ^ Variety film review; June 30, 1976.
  4. ^ a b c d Barra, Allen. "The Education of Little Fraud", Salon.com, December 20, 2001.
  5. ^ a b McGilligan (1999), p. 257
  6. ^ a b McGilligan (1999), p.258
  7. ^ a b McGilligan (1999), p.261
  8. ^ McGilligan (1999), p. 262
  9. ^ McGilligan (1999), p. 263
  10. ^ a b c d McGilligan (1999), p. 264
  11. ^ Ebert, Roger (January 1, 1976). "The Outlaw Josey Wales". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved January 29, 2010. 
  12. ^ a b McGilligan (1999), p.266
  13. ^ McGilligan (1999), p.267
  14. ^ http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/outlaw_josey_wales/
  15. ^ a b Judge, Michael (2011-01-29). "A Hollywood Icon Lays Down the Law". Wall Street Journal. 


External links[edit]

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