Angel And The Badman’s Box Office Failure Changed The Way John Wayne Approached Acting

“Angel and the Badman”¬†is a sweet, syrupy film about a renegade gunslinger (Wayne) who is nursed back to health after a firefight by a delicate Quaker woman (Gail Russell). The gunman, Quirt Evans, is eventually influenced by the gentle nature and compassionate humanity of the Quaker family, and he undergoes a “conversion” of sorts, unlearning all his rough and tumble ways. “Badman” no more.

The film is the sole directorial effort of James Edward Grant, who was introduced to Wayne shortly before production began. Though Grant would go on to write many films for Wayne, “Angel and the Badman” was such a flop commercially and with critics that it effectively barred him from ever taking the helm again. Some attributed the film’s failure to launch to its initial runtime of almost two and a half hours (though it was quickly cut to a merciful 95). Some attributed it to Grant’s inexpertise with dialogue. The New York Post remarked that “the dialogue in this picture frequently sounds as if it had been written by someone who couldn’t think of what to say next.”

Wayne heaped the blame upon himself. Before Howard Hawks could seize upon Wayne’s chivalrous hero archetype and twist it into something malign, exposing all the rich layers underneath in “Red River,” Wayne was at a loss how to properly convey feeling. He was even more at sea acting in a fundamentally romantic story opposite a leading lady as reactive as Gail Russell. So the Duke surmised, as Maurice Zolotow’s “John Wayne:¬†Shooting Star” put it, that “he would try to eschew introspection and the subtleties of facial suggestion, all those qualities of symbolism which he connoted by the term ‘reaction.'”

As soon as Wayne dispensed with “the vagaries of subtle dialogue” and embraced enigmatic silence, his star began its truly majestic rise.

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