John Wayne was arguably the ultimate master of the Western. The name John Wayne has appeared on the marquee for many of the best Westerns ever made, with The Searchers, True Grit, and El Dorado among his best movies.
However, Wayne pushed himself right to the limit while making a movie you’ve probably never seen – 1969’s The Undefeated. In fairness, you’d be forgiven for forgetting a Wayne movie that came out in the same year as True Grit.
The Undefeated is one of Wayne’s best war movies. He and Rock Hudson play colonels from opposite sides of the American Civil War who are brought together by chance as they lead groups of men to Mexico for very different reasons in the aftermath of the Union Army’s victory.
According to a post on Wayne’s official Facebook page, the actor broke three ribs on the set of The Undefeated when he fell from a horse. To top it off, he also tore a shoulder ligament and was left unable to move one of his arms.
That’s a pretty tough scenario when you’ve got horses to ride and guns to shoot. This is Hollywood, though, and one of the best actors of his era was very keen for the show to go on.
Wayne took just a few weeks off from work and, when he returned to set, director Andrew V. McLaglen shot him from carefully chosen angles in order to conceal his injury.
Unfortunately, The Undefeated didn’t make much of an impression. It earned just $8m at the box office and represented a loss for the studio, being completely overshadowed by the success of True Grit. The latter movie won Wayne his first and only Oscar for Best Actor.
For more on The Duke, we’ve explained how John Wayne was actually in Star Wars and why John Wayne was wrong to turn down this Clint Eastwood movie. And get your cowboy hat on as we delve into how the Western has always been a genre for women too.