Four years before he played Jean Reanult on Twin Peaks, actor Michael Parks starred in and made his directorial debut with the obscure western, The Return of Josey Wales.
As is obvious from the title, The Return of Josey Wales is a sequel to the iconic Clint Eastwood western, The Outlaw Josey Wales. In fact, The Return of Josey Wales was based on a novel that author Forrest Carter wrote after the initial success of Eastwood’s film. Originally, Clint himself was going to direct and star in the sequel. However, Eastwood withdrew from the project and it would be years before The Return of Josey Wales would eventually be made with a miniscule budget and given a very limited theatrical release. By the time the film was released, it had long since been discovered that Forrest Carter, who had always portrayed himself as being a Cherokee shaman-turned-writer, was actually Asa Earl Carter, a former member of the Ku Klux Klan who had previously worked as a speech writer for arch segregationist, George Wallace.
Along with taking over from Eastwood as the film’s director, Michael Parks also took over the role of Josey Wales. Having faked his death, Josey is now living on a small farm in Texas and going out of his way not to draw attention to himself. One day, a man named Paco (Paco Vela) shows up and tells Josey that a corrupt Mexican policeman has killed one of Josey’s friends and locked another one up in prison. It’s time for Josey to say goodbye to his new wife, jump on a horse, and head down to Mexico.
The Return of Josey Wales never escapes the shadow of The Outlaw Josey Wales, even though the two films have little in common. As a director, Michael Parks is no Clint Eastwood and his reliance on stock footage reveals how little of a budget he had to work with. As an actor, Parks gives a totally different performance from Clint Eastwood’s. Clint’s Josey Wales was hardened and embittered by his experiences. Michael Parks plays Josey more as an underestimated hick who is not afraid to use a gun if he has to. There is a lot of Earl McGraw in this version of Josey Wales. That does not mean that Michael Parks gives a bad performance. In fact, his performance is the best thing in the film.
The Return of Josey Wales is for Western completists only.
(This review originally stated that Eastwood left the project after it was revealed that Forrest Carter was Asa Carter. According to Dan T. Carter’s comment below, Eastwood actually left the sequel long before Forrest Carter’s actual identity was revealed.)