If At First You Don't Succeed...
Try 137 Times Again Like John Wayne
John Wayne appeared in 138 films before he won his first and only Oscar in 1970 for True Grit (1969). I know this because I was perusing the First Run Features website and saw that my co-worker Marc Sober correctly answered this trivia question and won a DVD for his encyclopedic film knowledge. Nice work Marc!
Duke's Oscar was what the Academy calls a make-up call for its past negligence. John Wayne was pretty ham-fisted actor who never really sought out challenging roles to strech his talents beyond his predictable play-by-rote roles as a two-fisted macho action man in cookie cutter Westerns and War movies, but he could act - make no mistake about it. If I was gonna give the man an Oscar, it would probably be for his outstanding performance as Ethan Edwards in John Ford's The Searchers (1956) or as homo-erotic cattle patriarch Thomas Dunson in Howard Hawks' Red River (1948). But his best ever performance may just have been as Capt. Dooley, the vulnerable, self-doubting pilot whose transport plane and crew get stranded in in frozen wilds of subartic Canada during WWII in William Wellman's neglected oscurity Island in the Sky (not to be confused with the 1960 Donald Duck cartoon of the same title!).
I recently saw the latter picture make its world premiere on Turner Classic Movies when it was a surprise pick by guest programmer David Mamet, the Oscar-winning playwrite and aviation movie fan (who knew?). Reading its description in my TCM "Now Playing" guide, I didn't give it another thought beyond, oh, just another John Wayne pilot movie. he's been in plenty of them, dating back to his Shadow of the Eagle serial days. But I found myself staying up, hooked by this existential tale that had John Wayne and a great supporting cast - including James Arness, Andy Devine, Lloyd Nolan and Hugh Carey, Jr. - battling Mother nature instead of Bad Guys.
Though long unavailable (having been withdrawn from circulation by Wayne's production company, Batjac), Island in the Sky recently surfaced on a Paramount DVD that's loaded with extras. So check it out; I highly recommend it.