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10 Manliest John Wayne Quotes

by James Joyner on 4 August 2009

John Wayne died 30 years ago this summer but he remains one of the iconic images of rugged manhood.  Here are some great quotes from his movies.

John Wayne Stagecoach

“I won’t be wronged, I won’t be insulted, and I won’t be laid a hand on. I don’t do these things to other people, and I require the same from them.”  – The Shootist (1976)

Wayne’s last film and one of his best.  Then again, most of my favorites were toward the tail end of his career, when his characters became a little more crotchety and sardonic.  These words are almost impossible to live by in our more politically correct age but it’s the right attitude.

“Well, there are some things a man just can’t run away from.” – Stagecoach (1939)

From, ironically, his first starring role in an “A” movie — nearly forty years earlier.

“All battles are fought by scared men who’d rather be some place else.” – In Harm’s Way (1965)

A fine corollary to the last.  Or perhaps vice-versa. It echoes George Patton’s line that “The courageous man is the man who forces himself, in spite of his fear, to carry on.”

“Out here a man settles his own problems.” – The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)

One of the Duke’s iconic films but one where, like “The Searchers,” he’s admirable only in a rather dark way.

“Don’t apologize—it’s a sign of weakness.” – She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949)

Said to a young lieutenant under his tutelage.  It’s one of Wayne’s most iconic lines, quoted constantly.  It’s one of Gibb’s Rules on NCIS.  And, strictly speaking, not one I believe to be true.  Admitting when you’re wrong is often a sign of strength. But what Captain Brittles was trying to get across is that mistakes are a part of learning and that what’s important is to actually learn from them and to think about the consequences of your actions beforehand to avoid unintended harm to others.

It is, however, a sign of weakness to apologize reflexively before doing something you have every intention of doing.  I love all the websites that, for example, require you to “prove you’re human” by deciphering some barely readable gibberish while simultaneously saying “Sorry.”

“Sorry don’t get it done, Dude.” – Rio Bravo (1959)

A corollary to the above, this one is usually true.  The “Dude” in question is his longtime friend, played by Dean Martin, a sheriff who’s drank himself into sorry incompetence after a failed romance.  Rather than allow him to wallow in self-pity, the Wayne character (John Chance) lets him know his actions are unacceptable and takes it upon himself to do his job until he gets himself clean and sober.  Which, naturally, he does.

I’m amazed at how often people think a perfunctory apology makes up for the consequences of their carelessness or failure to live up to their responsibilities.   Contrition is great.  Now, what are you going to do about it?

“Now you understand. Anything goes wrong, anything at all… your fault, my fault, nobody’s fault… it don’t matter…I’m gonna blow your head off. It’s as simple as that.” – Big Jake (1971)

This is from my favorite Wayne movie, which has so many great lines in it that I could write a whole post on it.  (And I just might!)  But it’s really a classic statement of manhood: Life has serious consequences and it doesn’t matter if they’re fair or not.  In this case, he’s talking to the villain who has kidnapped his grandson and thereby brought upon himself responsibility for anything bad that happened.  ( In fairness to said villain, he kidnapped the boy thinking Jake was dead.  A common mistake throughout the film.)

“That’ll be the day!” – The Searchers (1956)

Said in response to, “You wanna quit, Ethan?”  and later to “I hope you die.”   Simple, defiant, and matter-of-fact.

“I haven’t lost my temper in 40 years; but, Pilgrim, you caused a lot of trouble this morning; might have got somebody killed; and somebody oughta belt you in the mouth. But I won’t. I won’t. The hell I won’t!” – McLintock (1963)

Mostly here for its comic value. But, sometimes, people need a punch in the mouth.

“Well, son, since you haven’t learned to respect your elders, it’s time you learned to respect your betters.” – Big Jake (1971)

Another classic line setting up a well-earned punch to the mouth of someone who’d earned it.  In this case, his character’s son (played by his real life son, Michael).  Who, incidentally, learned both lessons by movie’s end.

What great Wayne movie lines have I missed?

About James Joyner

James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway and the managing editor of a DC think tank. He's a former Army officer, Desert Storm vet, and college professor. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama.


1 Russ 4 August 2009 at 18:01

“Fill your hands, you son of a bitch.” — as Rooster Cogburn in True Grit

2 Rusty Hoffpauir 4 August 2009 at 22:05

“We’re burnin daylight!”
…..The Cowboys

3 Argus 5 August 2009 at 09:05

Lifes tough, but its tougher when you’re stupid – Sands of Iwo Jima

4 Some Guy 5 August 2009 at 13:10

(After being asked by his prisoners if he, Chisum, was going to shoot them)
“I thought about it. Then I thought about something Henry Tunstall once said. He watched a man walk to the gallows… saw him hang. He said it was ghastly. Well, I’ve seen men hang, and that’s the word – ghastly. You two are going to hang.”

5 Shane 7 August 2009 at 23:30

“Broke my twice and then my hip once. Laid up in bed for a month. But on my worst day I could be the hell out of you.”
The Cowboys.

6 Bill 9 August 2009 at 23:51

Two Quotes:
The War Wagon – After gunning down two bad guys, Always trying to be better Kirk Douglas says “Mine hit the ground first.” The Duke’s response “Mine was taller.”

Rio Lobo – Confronting the Duke after being chased out of his own jail, Blue Tom says “I’ve should have taken you this morning.” The Duke replies “You should have tried.”


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