That movie in question was “High Plains Drifter,” which released in 1973. In addition to starring in the film, Eastwood also directed the now-classic western. But Wayne absolutely hated the film, and he made his feelings known in a carefully worded letter he sent Eastwood.
The “Dirty Harry” star revealed the exchange in the book “Ride, Boldly Ride: The Evolution of the American Western.”
“John Wayne once wrote me a letter saying he didn’t like ‘High Plains Drifter,'” Eastwood said. “He said it wasn’t really about the people who pioneered the West. I realized that there’s two different generations, and he wouldn’t understand what I was doing. ‘High Plains Drifter’ was meant to be a fable: it wasn’t meant to show the hours of pioneering drudgery. It wasn’t supposed to be anything about settling the West.”
John Wayne Hated Clint Eastwood’s ‘High Plains Drifter’
“High Plains Drifter” was unlike the westerns that Wayne made a career on. For one, it was more violent and darker in theme than the Hollywood fare Wayne was used to. The film explored a drifter, who may or may not be a vengeful spirit, coming to town to give a reckoning that’s long overdue. It featured many of the trademarks that separate Eastwoods’ western catalog from Wayne’s.
Wayne’s characters always felt realistic in many aspects. Over the course of the film, they acted with the toughness and grit that made them relatable to audiences. He often didn’t need guns to strike fear into people’s hearts, not that he didn’t know his way around a six-shooter.
Meanwhile, Eastwood’s characters were often mysterious, creatures of little words. They would stroll into the towns where Wayne’s characters usually made a living, and afterward, they would be gone once again. Eastwood’s characters often spoke through violence and bullets.
Eastwood was much more interested in deconstructing the western genre, particularly in his latest films. Until that point, cowboys had been portrayed as fairly heroic characters. Meanwhile, Eastwood’s characters were often selfish and violent while adhering to their own moral codes.
It’s little wonder why Wayne didn’t enjoy Eastwood’s films, which can be seen as a response to the films that Wayne made. Afterward, Eastwood said he never responded to Wayne’s letter, refusing to comment on the criticism.