John Wayne vs. Clint Eastwood: One of the Most Noticeable Differences in Their Movie Style

by Alex Falls
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When you think of Western movies, there are two names that immediately come to mind. John Wayne helped usher in the genre as one of Hollywood’s most iconic styles, and Clint Eastwood in many ways served as a spiritual successor to Wayne’s trademark macho-laden western films.

Both stars are known for their iconic western characters and their deep ties to the cinematic art form. However, the styles of each star have a few stark differences. Wayne is best remembered for his near countless acting roles in many classic western films. Eastwood on the other hand is a celebrated actor in his own right, but he set himself apart with his work behind the camera.

Eastwood still makes hit films even in his 90s. His most recent film, Cry Macho, landed in 2021 and saw the star work as a grizzled former rodeo star. He also directed the film with his trademark economical style. He’s known to work fast and at the same time, he requires authenticity from his fellow actors. He wants his characters to feel real to ensure the scene comes off like real life.

Eastwood prefers a minimalistic style of filmmaking. Which is inspired mostly by the movies and classic TV shows he grew up watching. During his nearly 70-year career, Eastwood has made a reputation for not following the paths set before him by his influences, including John Wayne. But there’s one thing in particular about Eastwood’s style that sets him apart from The Duke.

Eastwood’s Signature Style

An important but often overlooked aspect of filmmaking is lighting. The way a scene is illuminated makes a major impression on how the audience views a scene. When it’s done correctly, it’s something you likely never notice.

Eastwood loves to cast his characters in a shadowy contrast to explore the themes of darkness within. He learned the technique from Bruce Surtees who helped film Eastwood in 11 different films between 1971 and 1985. One of Hollywood’s great examples of this technique comes in the classic film, The Godfather.

The actor-turned-director now specializes in crafting antihero stories. A shadowy contrast of grey colors perfectly paints the picture of the dark and complex characters of his films. However, if you watch western films from Wayne’s era, the actors are walking around rooms brightly lit. Even when the film takes place in the 1850s when electricity was not widely available in desert areas. Eastwood’s shadowy scenes look remarkably different from Wayne’s brightly lit details.

Realism wasn’t much of a factor in the days of Wayne and fellow western auteur John Ford. When they were crafting their visions, their primary concern in the early days of the western was providing clarity to viewers. As such, rooms were fully lit regardless of the time period the film was set in.

As time went on, Ford learned to use lighting to create amazing contrasts such as the train station sequence in Sergeant Rutledge. But once Eastwood became the foremost name in western filmmaking, he used lighting to his advantage and painted a more accurate portrait of the time periods in his films.

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