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John Carpenter wrote a dark western called Blood River for John Wayne in the 1970s, which would have been his last film had it been produced.
John Carpenter once wrote a western for John Wayne called Blood River, but here’s why it didn’t happen. Carpenter grew up being a big fan of westerns, Rio Bravo being his favorite; Assault On Precinct 13 was his take on the same concept. By the time he got into acting, westerns were pretty much dead in Hollywood. Instead, he focused on horror and later helmed genre favorites like Halloween, The Thing and In The Mouth Of Madness. However, he never quite realized his Western dreams, with 1998’s Vampires being about as close as it came.
Early in his career, Carpenter wrote a western titled Blood River. It was about a young gunslinger fleeing from the vengeful father of a man he had killed and aided by an old trapper. In the early ’70s, John Wayne’s production company – which considered Jet Pilot his worst film – settled on the script, with Carpenter commissioned to create it for the star. Carpenter remembers having a great time developing the project and being treated well by Wayne and his family. However, the project was scrapped, with Wayne’s poor health in his later years being cited as the main reason. In fact, part of Blood River’s rewrite involved cutting out the most intense action sequences for his character.
Blood River would have been Wayne’s last western
It appears that Wayne didn’t completely give up on Blood River, as Ron Howard later recalled the actor mentioning the project as a potential star vehicle for the two of them. Howard co-starred with Wayne in what turned out to be the latter’s last film, The Shootist, and mentioned that Blood River contained two big roles for them. Wayne’s health would continue to deteriorate after The Shootist, and this period even saw Wayne reject Spielberg’s offer to appear in the 1941 wartime comedy. Howard later lamented not working with Wayne again , who died of stomach cancer in 1979.
Blood River became a 1991 TV movie starring Wilford Brimley
Carpenter originally envisioned a director like Howard Hawks directing Blood River. Carpenter also knew he would never get the job, as he was too inexperienced at the time. Wayne’s passing seemed to mark the end of Blood River, although it was eventually produced as a CBS TV movie in 1991. This cast Ricky Schroder as the gunman, while Wilford Brimley played the character reserved for Wayne. Carpenter’s ex-wife Adrienne Barbeau also played a role, but despite a talented cast, Blood River debuted to mixed reviews and is now largely forgotten.
Outside of Blood River, Carpenter developed an epic western dubbed El Diablo for himself. It would have been a combination of Wayne’s The Searchers – which has an iconic ending – and Journey To The Center Of The Earth, where a mild-mannered teacher teams up with a veteran gunman to rescue the former’s kidnapped sister. The film’s potential budget spooked studios, while Carpenter moved on to other projects. Like Blood River, it was eventually made in the ’90s as a TV movie, starring Anthony Edwards and Louis Gossett Jr.
The Western John Carpenter wrote for John Wayne (and why it didn’t happen) | Pretty Reel