The New Look Duke


As part of my extraordinarily protracted birthday celebrations, we had my folks round for tea two days before the Big Event, and ended up watching THE SPOILERS, as you do, a loud Alaskan punch-up starring John Wayne, Marlene Dietrich and Randolph Scott (in an uncharacteristic oleaginous bad-guy role — he pulls it off nicely) which, while not as amiably daffy as SEVEN SINNERS, the other Wayne-Dietrich collision (essentially the same film, only with more gags and lugubrious White Russian campster Mischa Auer), is a pretty good time-waster.

But the sight of Wayne blacking up with burnt cork to steal his money back from the bank is a little uneasy… when he puts his white hat on, the camouflage idea is rather ruined, and when he subsequently flirts with Frau Dietrich’s maid, Marietta Canty (REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE) who knows Wayne well but is somehow fooled into thinking he’s a newly arrived “coloured man,” and when he refers to his “Alabama tan,” the mind somewhat boggles/flips/splutters.


The racial masquerade is somewhat redeemed by the Duke’s later appearance in drag, eating a hard-boiled egg. Something about this image diffuses any previous offense — to the extent that if we all carried it around mentally at the front of our minds, there would be no more war.

Try it and see!

23 Responses to “The New Look Duke”

  1. The Spoilers is on YouTube:

    I watched Penn’s very enjoyable The Missouri Breaks.

  2. John Wayne’s feminine qualities aren’t emphasized in the literature about him. The Duke can be quite a darling sometimes. Hawks made fun of this in RIO BRAVO in the scenes between him and Angie Dickinson. John Ford for instance kept making fun of Wayne’s walking stance and calling him all sorts of demeaning names(incidentally, Wayne modelled his walk on…John Ford himself).

    You can also see it in STAGECOACH and in THE LONG VOYAGE HOME(where he plays a Swede with an accent taught to him by Asta Nielsen).

  3. Apropos John Wayne’s feminine side, he was born Marion Robert Morrison. A boy named Sue and all that.

  4. Arthur S. Says:

    Wonder how different things were if the marquee on a theatre read MARION MORRISON in his greatest role as ETHAN EDWARDS in THE SEARCHERS. What’s in a name? Or the great Western hero Marion Morrison. Would things have been different?

  5. The Duke and Dino:

  6. Boas Become the Duke!

    But then, Boas make goodlooking actors even more gorgeous than they actually are…

    Eat your heart up, Mae West!

  7. Have you ever seen the remake, South Seas Sinner with Shelley Winters and Liberace?

    No, I am not making this up.

  8. SOUTH SEAS SINNER killed The Boy from Milwaukee’s big screen career faster than his own telecasts killed LA television rival Korla Pandit’s career. I just grabbed a 1914 motion picture edition copy of THE SPOILERS by Rex Beach to see if the blackface gag was from either the book or one of the Dustin Farnum versions of the Rex Beach novel. It was filmed 5 times as THE SPOILERS and why am I reading THE SPOILERS when I should be working?

  9. david wingrove Says:

    John Wayne seems to have been quite partial to dragging up at that stage in his career. He also dons feminine attire in LADY FROM LOUISIANA (directed by the amazingly mad Bernard Vorhaus) which was made a year earlier.

    Was there something he was trying to tell us?

  10. Just to clarify, South Sea Sinner is a remake of Seven Sinners? Sounds good, and if the original can have Mischa Auer then why can’t the remake have Liberace? Incidentally, just enjoyed Noel Coward’s rewrite of Let’s Do It, with topical and risque lyrics climaxing with “Even Liberace — we presume — does it,” which was quite a statement at a time when Lib was successfully suing anyone who impugned his staunch heterosexuality.

    I have a suspicion the blackface gag won’t appear in the other versions, but anything’s possible.

    Paul Schrader has commented on Wayne’s feminine side, and suggested that he walks as if he’s holding something in his ass. I just wrote something Wayne-related in which I briefly cover the development of his walk, which it took him some time to hone: his early roles show just a big, lumbering guy.

  11. Arthur S. Says:

    That’s Paul for you…he has the right phrase for everything doesn’t he?

  12. Tony Williams Says:

    Unless you have seen BOSS OF RAWHIDE (1943) directed by Elmer Clifton, starring Dave O’Brien with both singing cowboys and a minstrel show, you haven’t lived.

  13. Dave O’Brien at his best:

  14. Christopher Says:

    LOL..Alabama Tan
    The Duke made some pretty fun westerns in the 40s…Angel and the Badman and especially Tall in the Saddle with the Duke,maybe for the first time,doing a parody of himself,the way he’d do later in stuff like The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and Rio Lobo…and Ella Rains as one of the sexiest western bad girls of all..

  15. My elderly friend Lawrie used to say “Ah, I was always very interested in Ella Raines… because I had heard she was a lesbian… and of course… I had no idea what that meant.”

  16. It means you’ve got a hot date with Elisha Cook Jr.

  17. – “I have a suspicion the blackface gag won’t appear in the other versions, but anything’s possible.” –

    No problem releasing it intact in Australia then. Sensitivity and understanding in matters of race haven’t reached these shores yet.

  18. Christopher Says:

    keep an eye out for the Golliwogs!
    “Whos the head Ubangi here?”-W C Fields
    LOL..That Phntom Lady clip is a riot!!!

  19. Mike, I have an Australian correspondent who sometimes says the most extraordinary things. I ask him about it and he explains that he thought he was being sensitive and understanding. It’s quite odd. And years and years ago I met Tasmanian relatives who were slightly concerned because they had a black neighbour. “But what can you do? — He’s a nice chap.”

    They realized he was nice. They realized that took priority over his race. They still felt they ought to DO something about him, but also felt they couldn’t. It was strange to encounter such polite and considerate racism!

    I’m not saying that covers everyone down under. But perhaps every country has its own flavour of prejudice.

    The racial stuff in 30s movies can be pretty disturbing. Mississippi is far from my favourite Fields movie (it’s not the funniest either)…

  20. I wonder how that drum playing (and miss Raines, hum, rather ecstatic appreciation of it) passed the censor!

    (Joseph E. Breen must have been fishing at lake Tahoe that day)

  21. As my friend Duncan describes it, “Elisha Cook getting very excited with his drumming!” In the context of the story, Ella is actually faking it. You can tell — she’s trying too hard.

  22. Christopher Says:

    Cook looks like someone put too much strychnine in his Acid..

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