John Wayne’s Wildest Non-Western Movie Sees Him Fight A Sea Monster (He Almost Turned It Down)


Despite being a huge critical and commercial success, John Wayne’s only sea monster movie is far from one of his best-known films. Although famous primarily for headlining Westerns and war films, the Hollywood action legend wasn’t associated exclusively with those two genres. At numerous points in his long career in Hollywood, Wayne broke away from his standard formula.

In addition to a multitude of Westerns and war classics, Wayne also held lead roles in romantic comedies, adventure films, modern-day dramas, and more. One of these periods was in the early 1940s, even though he had recently made his first massive Western hit, Stagecoach, in 1939. John Wayne took time to star in a number of non-Westerns, including The Shepherd of the Hills, A Man Betrayed, and more. After starring opposite Joan Blondell in 1942’s Lady for a Night, Wayne appeared in Reap the Wild Wind, which would go on to become a unique entry in his filmography.

Reap The Wild Wind Bucks 2 Massive John Wayne Movie Trends

Reap the Wild Wind was an unusual movie for Wayne for more than one reason. Taking place in the 19th century, the 1942 adventure epic featured an ending in which the main characters battled a monster-sized giant squid. Wayne played the role of Jack Stuart, a ship captain who winds up in a love triangle with the other two leads, Ray Milland’s Steven Tolliver and Paullette Goddard’s Loxi Claiborne. A dispute over what caused a mysterious shipwreck – which Jack was taking the blame for – resulted in Jack and Steve teaming up to fight the 45-foot-long squid in the ocean in Reap the Wild Wind’s ending.

As if John Wayne fighting a sea monster rather than a Western outlaw isn’t surprising enough on its own, it’s only part of what makes Reap the Wild Wind such a strange movie for the actor. True to his “tough guy” image, John Wayne characters regularly get involved in gunfights and brawls, and provided that the fight is fair, there’s always an expectation for them to come out on top. However, that’s not what happens in Reap the Wild Wind, which pits Jack against Steve. Despite initially painting Jack as ‘the hero’ of the story, it’s actually Steve who wins their fist fight – and the one who ends up with the two men’s love interest at the end of the film.

Why John Wayne Almost Turned Down His Reap The Wild Wind Role

Interestingly, Reap the Wild Wind taking such an unexpected direction with a John Wayne movie almost resulted in the actor passing up the role. According to Empire of Dreams: The Epic Life of Cecil B. DeMille by Scott Eymann, getting Wayne to accept the part of Jack took some convincing, partially because of the fight his character was to lose to Steve. The book claims that after the director said that the role wouldn’t lead to any loss of dignity, Wayne told DeMille that being beaten up by Ray Milland would “lose anybody their dignity.”

It’s important to keep in mind that although Wayne was not necessarily Hollywood’s biggest star in 1942 and many of his biggest films were still years away, Wayne was still considered a leading actor by this point. Wayne had already made Stagecoach and was accustomed to getting top billing. In Shooting Star: A Biography Of John Wayne, Maurice Zolotow revealed that Wayne expressed his concerns to DeMille about playing what he felt was a supporting part. But as the book says, DeMille managed to sway Wayne through his persistence, telling the actor, “I want you very much. I give you my word of honor that I will do you justice.”

How Reap The Wild Wind Helped John Wayne’s Career

Reap the Wild Wind isn’t usually mentioned in the same breath as the likes of Red River, Sands of Iwo Jiwa, Rio Bravo, or Stagecoach, but even so, it remains an important milestone in the Hollywood icon’s career. It received critical acclaim at the time, including three Academy Award nominations. The positive buzz it had earned at the time, combined with the prestige that comes with starring a Cecil DeMille film, helped improve Wayne’s reputation and garnered him additional interest from other studios.

Zolotow wrote in Shooting Star that John Wayne had said of his career after Reap the Wild Wind, “I had no trouble holding up my head in Hollywood.” Based on his comments, putting aside his reservations about the Jack Stuart role was the right move for the actor. After all, it obviously didn’t harm his image, as his litany of “tough guy” roles only piled up as the years passed.