Release Year: 1971
Directors: George Sherman, John Wayne (uncredited)
Writers: Harry Julian Fink (story & screenplay), Rita M. Fink (story and screenplay)
Starring: John Wayne, Richard Boone, Maureen O’Hara, Patrick Wayne, Christopher Mitchum, Bobby Vinton, Bruce Cabot, Glenn Corbett, Harry Carey, Jr., John Doucette, Jim Davis, John Agar, Gregg Palmer
Moviegeek Sunday Classic #180, week 48 2017
In 1909, John Fain’s (Richard Boone) gang kidnap the grandson of Jacob McCandles (John Wayne) and holds him for ransom. Mccandles’s estranged wife (Maureen O’Hara) calls him back to rescue the grandson he has never seen with the help of his sons, who are none too happy to see him again.
This hard-nosed western written by the writers of Dirty Harry (1971) is one of the highlights of the great John Wayne’s final decade. It has more graphic violence than is usual for a Wayne western and yet some lighter scenes as well as touching moments. John Wayne (El Dorado, 1967) plays the outsider: an aging rancher estranged from his family, as well as the man of yesteryear who doesn’t understand the new ways embraced by his sons. Luckily for him, he gets to ride in on his horse and fix things his way, outsmarting everyone else along the way. Opposite him is Richard Boone (The Shootist, 1976) as the worst sort of villain, one who does not mind snatching and potential killing a child for money. Sparks fly when these two western greats share a scene. Wayne’s friend and treasured co-worker Maureen O’Hara (Miracle on 34th Street, 1947) appears all too shortly as Wayne’s estranged wife who has run things in his absence. It is perhaps the film’s biggest drawback that more is not made of such a great star who has always had great chemistry with Wayne than a few scenes. Wayne has plenty of charm as usual and a good story, a great opening scene, and great one-liners to work with; his take down of junior when he dares to call him “daddy” is priceless. I feel that at least four things are essential to westerns: a good hero, a good villain, magnificent landscapes, and good gunfights. Big Jake has all four and is both fun and entertaining as well. A must-see for fans of the classic Hollywood western and highly recommended to mere mortals.
NB: the trailer contains spoilers
The films stars two of Wayne’s sons, Patrick Wayne, his tenth Wayne film out of ten, and Wayne’s youngest son, Ethan, who plays his grandson in the movie.
In her autobiography ‘Tis Herself, Maureen O’Hara noted that she wasn’t pleased with such a marginal part but agreed to do it because she loved working with Wayne who was a close personal friend. However, she was annoyed when several of their scenes together were cut due to the film’s length.
This was the last film John Wayne and Christopher Mitchum, son of Wayne collaborator Robert Mitchum, did together. They had adverse political views and had a falling out after Mitchum disagreed with Wayne’s right-wing views during a TV interview. They never spoke again after that.
Picture Copyright: UIP