Most critics agreed that John Wayne was really miscast in the movie The Barbarian and the Geisha.
If you’re a fan of Wayne’s, you might not even remember seeing it. The movie was considered one of his worst. And maybe that’s why Wayne was so frustrated, enough so that he knocked out the movie’s director, John Huston.
First, some background on the movie. Wayne usually played a cowboy or a lawman, maybe a soldier. There was a distinct John Wayne type. The actor was big and burly and was a perfect fit for America’s idea of a cowboy, a soldier or a sheriff.
But in the 1958 movie the Barbarian and the Geisha, Wayne was cast as Townsend Harris, the first Consul General to Japan. In other words, Harris was a diplomat. The movie was based on a true story, which happened about a century before the movie was filmed.
And during the time period of the movie, Japan truly was an isolationist country. It was a huge deal to have Americans there. The two countries signed a treaty in 1854. Two years later, Harris and his translator moved there to open the American consulate.
In Movie, Japanese Government Wouldn’t Recognize John Wayne Character
But the Japanese governor refuses to accept the credentials of John Wayne/Harris. The governor allows him to stay, but only as a private citizen. John Wayne must stay in an abandoned home near a cemetery.
John Wayne, as Harris, helps out in a cholera epidemic. He eventually meets with the governor. And, the Shogunate, which runs Japan, finally opens the country.
John Huston cast John Wayne because he was such a stereotypical American. Visually, his presence on screen would easily amplify the differences in the country’s cultures.
Huston also was an imposing figure. There was his incredible talent. And, physically, he was intimidating. Plus, he was a former boxer. The two men butted heads over the direction of the movie. And the two men fought it out. Wayne reportedly knocked out Huston in one such battle.
Huston disowned the movie. And with Wayne’s encouragement, the studio redid a lot of the film. Despite the presence of box office star John Wayne and the heft of director John Huston, the movie was a bust.
And the two never worked together again.