Revenge is a major theme in the movies. To get even sometimes involves high stakes. When the object of wrath is a contingent of United States soldiers, the stakes ratchet even higher. There was a time, not so long ago, when films were not as well-studied and intellectually pawed over as they are today. Now, one can look films up on the internet and get as much of a synopsis as can be had, all for free, minus the price of stronger contact lenses or glasses. One can find out, for instance, that there was a directorial squabble during the filming of The Outlaw Josey Wales, as well as a romantic struggle, if it can be believed. I got into the scholastic end of this business in the Seventies. Stuff like Missouri Breaks was in the theaters then, and I guess this one, too, both from 1976.
This is a particularly good Western, in my opinion. If you want to see Westerns, you have to go back in time. You will find a few new ones at Wal-Mart, as well as seasons one, two, possibly three from a televised derivative. Something I personally like about The Outlaw is its tie-in with the Civil War. Wales (Eastwood) briefly rides with William T. Anderson, another guerrilla leader, like Quantril, as well as Confederate legend. Known as Bloody Bill, he plays only a cameo in the film, but by doing so provides a stimulus to delve further into 19th century American history. Missouri, too, like Kansas, was a highly conflicted, contested state. Although born in Kentucky, Anderson fought at the very least in Kansas and Missouri. He was known, according to that dubious source, Wikipedia, to have traded horses for the South as far west as New Mexico.
Wales refuses to surrender to "the Bluebellies". Having the Union Army on his trail adds to his troubles, but it is his grief at the loss of his family to the rapacious Kansas Redlegs that provides his chief motivation. Revenge, a highly motivated protagonist, lingering Civil War resentment, Comancheros, Comanche Chief Ten Bears, and a number of great character actors and subsidiary roles make for a great Western. When I look around in the West, I can only wonder what anyone would fight for in a place like this. Why were there so many vicious battles between the U.S. and Native Americans? I cannot see it. Where have all the people gone? Most Western land today, as far as I can tell, is uninhabited and inhospitable. Why not give some of it back? Sometimes, watching a Western, a needful reminder sets the record straight. Pioneers were searching for a better life that is probably only the domain of Beulah Land.
Josey Wales winds up in an abandoned silver mining town. The outlaw and friends hole up in a nice little house in the middle of nowhere. He is able to parley with the Indians, but the Northerners will not be dissuaded from a final shoot-out, very much to their own detriment. So, what is the moral of the story? I do not know that there is one. Don't confuse reality with movies might suffice, however. To ride a horse in the back country with loaded guns even for a lark in this day and age would only tempt fate. Far too much domestic violence involving firearms plagues the nation. Part of what makes Josey Wales so exciting is that it is also in addition to everything else, fantasy. It would be nice to blow one's enemies away with single shots, never missing, always fatal, and flawless. But that is as far as wishful thinking should ever go.