The Inside Scoop, Half a Century in the Making

With 50 years’ worth of viewing time, you might think you’d know everything there is to know about these legendary Westerns. From behind-the-scenes insights to drama off set, we’ve got the lowdown on these unforgettable films.



Starring John Wayne, Roscoe Lee Browne, Bruce Dern, and Colleen Dewhurst

Rancher Wil Andersen finds himself on the verge of financial ruin when his cattle drivers quit right before his herd is due to market. Left with no other choice, he hires a group of inexperienced boys to accompany him on the dangerous journey.



  • Although political opposites, Roscoe Lee Browne and John Wayne found common ground with poetry. During takes, they would recite their favorite verses to one another.
  • After the release of the film, Bruce Dern’s career dried up for a period of time. The reason for the loss of interest in the actor: killing the beloved John Wayne in a film.
  • The source material for The Cowboys came from the William Dale Jennings’ 1934 novel of the same name.
  • The cast of boys was a mix of junior rodeo champions, who had perfected riding and roping long before they stepped on set, and the other half, eager actors who wanted to learn cowboy skills in hopes of opening doors to major Western roles.
  • While director, Mark Rydell originally had George C. Scott in mind to play Wil Andersen, John Wayne pursued the role, and eventually convinced Mark to hire him for the job.



Starring: Rock Hudson, Dean Martin, and Susan Clark

When a girl comes between childhood best friends, one follows a noble path and becomes sheriff, while the other turns to a life of crime. When their paths cross again, they find themselves in an epic showdown where only one will make it out alive.



  • A big criticism that the movie received was regarding the ages of the two leading men. Critics and audiences agreed that Rock Hudson and Dean Martin were a bit too old for their roles.
  • After the film wrapped, director George Seaton would never sit in the director’s chair again, as the Western was his last film behind the lens.
  • Coincidentally, not only did Showdown become the final Western that Rock Hudson and Dean Martin saddled up for, but they also ended their decades-long careers the same year—1985.
  • A very meta moment happened when Rock Hudson filmed Showdown simultaneously with the series, McMillan & Wife. As Commissioner McMillan, Hudson visits the movie set to interview George Seaton for a season two episode.


John Wayne in Cahill, U.S. MarshalCAHILL U.S. MARSHAL

Starring John Wayne, George Kennedy, Gary Grimes, and Clay O’Brien

When the sons of J.D. Cahill, a highly respected U.S. marshal, get tangled up with a dangerous gang and a bank robbery, they quickly find themselves in over their heads. Now, to get themselves out of the mess they’ve made, they turn to the toughest guy they know—their father.



  • John Wayne wasn’t happy with the outcome of the film. While he thought the overall theme of the film was good, but he wasn’t satisfied with the writing or quality of the production.
  • Neville Brand felt that he was unfit for the role of Comanche scout Lightfoot, but with no other roles coming his way, he ultimately accepted it.
  • The opening scene of the film wasn’t real. It was created with fragments of matte paintings, which they filmed on the Warner Bros. sound stage.
  • In 1964 John Wayne lost a lung to cancer. During filming, he had to use a stepladder to get on and off his horse. Emphysema in his remaining lung left the monumental star weak and in pain.


High Plains Drifter


Starring Clint Eastwood, Verna Bloom, Marianna Hill, and Mitchell Ryan

A small settlement community hires a gunslinging stranger to teach them how to hold their own against a group of outlaws, who are on their way to cause trouble.



  • Conceptualized by director and star of the film, Clint Eastwood, it took 18 days and a crew of 10 laborers and 46 technicians to build the entire town of Lago, located about one hundred miles outside Los Angeles. The entire set—which included 14 houses, a church, and two-story hotel—burned down after production.
  • Clint Eastwood wanted to cast John Wayne in the film. But the Duke did not receive his request warmly. Appalled by the violent nature of the film, John Wayne viewed it as un-American and made it known that he’d never star in an Eastwood vehicle.
  • Dee Barton composed the film’s music. Throughout his career, he wrote scores for over 50 Hollywood films. A favorite of Eastwood, he collaborated with the star multiple times, creating music for four of his films and contributing as a writer on five more.
  • The backdrop of the film was Mono Lake, a saline soda lake which causes eerie formations of limestone, called tufas. If this memorable location looks familiar to you beyond this film, you may have seen it on the inside sleeve of Pink Floyd’s 1975 album, Wish You Were Here.



Starring John Wayne, Ann-Margret, Rod Taylor, and Ricardo Montalbán

A widow hires a gunhand and his crew for help returning gold that her late husband stole and clearing the family name for her son. But the road to redemption and a fresh start has danger lurking around every corner.



  • Heading onto set with two fractured ribs, they scaled down the action quite a bit for star, John Wayne, as his condition hindered what he physically could do. Despite the pain, the Duke didn’t want to delay the shoot and powered through it.
  • After losing out on a role in Rio Bravo, walking away from Circus World and losing out on The War Wagon, actor Rod Taylor finally got to work with John Wayne.
  • Audiences and critics responded well to the film, as it achieved a blend of suspense, comedy, and heart with stellar execution.
  • Ann-Margret had to overcame her fear of horses for the role, turning to renowned stuntman, Chuck Hayward for formal training, and John Wayne for emotional support.