(Credits: Far Out / MUBI)
A true visionary of the realms of horror and fantasy, Guillermo del Toro’s narratives go far beyond what movie fans usually expect of the parameters of genre, and he delivers tales of striking impact from a profoundly human level. The Mexican filmmaker’s influences spread far and wide, from myths and folkloric fairy tales to the surprising inclusion of John Wayne and the American West.
Del Toro’s 2001 film The Devil’s Backbone might not be the first work of cinema that many relate to Wayne, but according to its director, there is something of a crossover. The movie tells of a young boy left in a Republican loyalist-ran orphanage during the Spanish Civil War, and he starts to be haunted by the ghost of another young child.
During an interview with DGA, del Toro explained how The Devil’s Backbone was indeed inspired by his favourite John Wayne movie. A sense of folklore and mythology certainly influences del Toro’s work, and while most immediately think of fantasy and fairytales with the Mexican director, it’s fair to say that the western movie world of John Wayne also possesses its own unique sense of mythology.
Del Toro admitted to loving westerns and them certainly finding their way into his filmography, particularly his 2001 gothic horror. He noted: “The final shot on Devil’s Backbone might be my favourite shot I’ve ever done. I was very much influenced by Westerns – my favourite is The Searchers. The shot of John Wayne’s silhouette against the frame of the door is so epic.”
Wayne’s effort in John Ford’s legendary western The Searchers is nothing short of a masterclass on how to act in such a movie. Exploring the cruel and unforgiving ways of the old west, Wayne’s character, Ethan Edwards, embarks on a crucial and dangerous mission to rescue his recently kidnapped niece.
Typical of Wayne, he delivers a performance of unbridled masculinity through which Edwards harbours an obscured inner pain. The Searchers also typifies the work of John Ford, capturing beautifully the endless vistas of Monument Valley, which stand as the backdrop for a film of true psychological intensity.
With that in mind, it’s easier to see why del Toro admires the film so much. His films – and certainly The Devil’s Backbone – explore the darker side of human psychology, while his cinematography is equally impressive as that by Winton C. Hoch in the 1956 classic western. John Wayne might not be the first influence on Guillermo del Toro, but The Duke’s inspiration clearly reaches far and wide.