John Wayne’s Only Horror Movie Role
John Wayne had dozens of Westerns to his name, but largely avoided the horror genre throughout his career; here’s his only real horror role explained.
John Wayne made dozens of Westerns throughout his career, but Haunted Gold is his only horror movie. Wayne kicked off his movie career with an appearance in 1926’s Brown Of Harvard, but it wasn’t really until Stagecoach that he became a star. Wayne made over 160 films over the course of 50 years, but while he has some acclaimed dramas, war movies and even romantic comedies to his name, his most enduring image is being a big-screen cowboy.
Westerns were once cinema’s most dominant genre, and Wayne made 80 of them in his lifetime. The likes of Rio Bravo, The Searchers and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (which has a great twist) – are considered some of the genre’s best, and even Wayne’s final movie The Shootist was a Western. One kind of movie Wayne avoided completely is horror, perhaps due to a dislike of the genre itself, or that horror was considered something of a disreputable movie to make during his heyday.
The closest he ever came was 1932’s Haunted Gold, a Western/horror hybrid. The movie cast a young Wayne as John Mason, who arrives at a ghost town looking for an abandoned mine that’s said to contain hidden gold. He teams up with Sheila Terry’s Janet to look for it, but they are hunted by outlaws on the trail of the gold – while some kind of Phantom seems to be haunting the town. While not out-and-out horror film, it is strange to see Wayne – who only made one sequel – in settings like a haunted house or spooky graveyards.
Haunted Gold has more in common with a Scooby-Doo episode than the gothic horror movies Universal was producing during this era. The film – which only has a runtime of an hour – is unlikely to indulge chills in modern audiences, but it does stage some effective scenes of suspense while the mystery is being established. One element of Haunted Gold that’s aged fairly horrifically is the character of Clarence (Blue Washington), the Black sidekick of Wayne’s Mason. Clarence is an example of the racial stereotyping that was rife in cinema during this period, with the character made to act like a bug-eyed buffoon, who is also on the receiving end of some racial slurs.
One of the most bizarre credits of Haunted Gold is that of Duke, Wayne’s – who cameoed on Gunsmoke’s first episode – horse who is second-billed for his role. Duke was a white house that the actor rode in many of his films throughout the ’30s, ending with The Man from Monterey. Haunted Gold isn’t very highly ranked on lists of John Wayne Westerns, though the sheer uniqueness of seeing the actor in a horror setting makes it a curio from his filmography.
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