Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Big Jake (1971)

Big JakeThis film is one of the better later-day John Wayne films, though strangely violent for a Wayne film. The Duke stars Jacob MacCandles (maybe a reflection of his real life family situation) as a tough man, estranged from his wife and grown sons. Bobby Vinton gives a quickie performance as Wayne's eldest son, shot when (the great) Richard Boone and his band of cutthroats nearly slaughter all on Jacob's ranch in the kidnapping of his grandson (played by Wayne youngest son Ethan). Patrick Wayne, his real son, plays second eldest son and youngest son, Michael, is played by Christopher Mitchum (Robert Mitchum's son!).

In tow are Wayne regulars, Harry Carey (disgusting tobacco chewing baddie), Bruce Cabot as the Indian tracker showing age with Jacob, Glen Corbett as breed the fast gun that faces off against Patrick Wayne in a gun fight, the most natural actor to ever grace the screen, the late Richard Boone, and a lovely appearance by the eternally beautiful Maureen O'Hara, once again playing John's long suffering wife whot loves him, but cannot live with him.

It is super to watch Wayne with Cabot, Carey, Boone and O'Hara, and Jim Davis (later rose to fame once more as Jock Ewing of Dallas) and though the film is intensely violent, I don't see it was gratuitous. The violence came from the end of a very violent era, times were changing, but not fast enough. The violence of the kidnappers had to be there to show Wayne's to-the-wall rescue of his small grandson was called for. Wayne's character was a violent man when the times called for it, but it was just as willing to let things go if ONLY the other person walked away.

He worked well with his sons and Mitchum, and the interaction between Jacob and his two sons provides the Wayne brand humour in the film.

The times were changing for the code of the old west, and in the same way, times were changing for John Wayne....

I give Wayne credit for not pulling punches in a film that does him credit.

"Big Jake" is one of my favorite John Wayne movies, which is not to claim that it is a classic film. This film is directed by George Sherman, who first began doing Westerns back in the late 1930s, although Wayne is known to have directed some scenes as well. In retrospect I would argue that this 1971 film is the first of a trio of film that Wayne made at the end of his career reflecting the passing of the Western. The other two would be Wayne's next film, "The Cowboys," and obviously his final film, "The Shootist." Of that trio "Big Jake" is clearly the most fun and my biggest complaint about this film is that when it is shown on television they almost always have the first commercial break at the absolute worst moment.

The film begins with a raid on the McCandles Ranch where Little Jake McCandles (Ethan Wayne, the Duke's youngest son, named for the character he played in "The Searchers") is kidnapped by a gang of cutthroats led by John Fain (Richard Boone). Fain demands a ransom to be delivered across the border in Mexico. The Texas Rangers are willing to do it, but Martha McCandles (Maureen O'Hara), the boy's grandmother, announces that this is a disagreeable task and needs to be done by a disagreeable man. At this point we cut to an extreme close up of John Wayne peering down the barrel of a rifle. It is a great introduction to Wayne's character in the film and a fitting counterpart to the moment in "Stagecoach" when we first see the Ringo Kid and his Winchester. But television stations keep putting commercials before the cut because the film's opening sequence, in which narrator George Fenneman, who went from being Groucho Marx's announcer and straight man on "You Bet Your Life" to doing the narration for Jack Webb's "Dragnet," introduces us to all of the members of the Fain gang runs on a bit before we have the raid and the decision of what to do next. So Act I runs out for a bit and if there is a good reason to have this movie on DVD or VHS it is because that way you miss this horrendous commercial placement.

"Big Jake" is basically a chase story as the title character goes after his grandson, heading out with the ransom with only his trusted Native American friend Sam Sharpnose (Bruce Cabot) and a dog named "Dog." But there are several others things going on to make the proceedings more interesting. Big Jake did not even know that he had a grandson, and while the boy's father Jeff (Bobby Vinton, the singer) is wounded, his two brothers James (Patrick Wayne, another of the Duke's son) and Michael (Christopher Mitchum, son of Robert Mitchum who co-starred with the Duke in "El Dorado"). Clearly Big Jake has been separated from his family for a while and there are issues, particularly with James, who makes the mistake of calling his father "Daddy."

There is also a whole sub-text about relying on modern technology. While Big Jake heads off with horses the Texas Rangers take off in new fangled motorcars. Of course this is a mistake, but there is a recurring theme of the old ways being best. Michael has a motorcycle and James has a new fangled pistol, but they are able to overcome their reliance on modern technology. If the Old West is disappearing it is not disappearing until the Duke has his last fight.

Then there is the running gag that everybody seems to think Big Jake is dead. When we are treated to that great close up our hero is watching a group of cattlemen get ready to string up a sheep farmer. Big Jake does not want to get involved, not wanting to make a mistake of his youth that almost cost him his life. But then the leader of the lynch mob (Jim Davis) makes the mistake of kicking a boy ("Aw," says Big Jake, "why'd he want to go and do that for?"). There could be trouble but then it is discovered that the big man on the horse is Jacob McCandles, who apparently is not dead. This happens so often that Big Jake swears he will kill the next man who says that and, of course, he does.

Finally, this film has some great dialogue by Harry Julian Fink and Rita M. Fink. This was their first film together (he did "Major Dundee" and "Ice Station Zebra") and after this they created "Dirty Harry" for Clint Eastwood (no wonder the choice lines in this movie are so choice). When James calls Big Jake "Daddy," the Duke knocks his son on his can and announces: "You can call Dad, you can call me Father, you can call me Jacob and you can call me Jake. You can call me a dirty old son-of-a-b***h, but if you EVER call me Daddy again, I'll finish this fight." But my favorite is when Fain first encounters Big Jake (not knowing who he is, of course) and gives a very serious warning. At the climax of the film Big Jake repeats the warning word for word with a grim earnestness that is quite impressive. That is why this is not a great film, but a great movie.

Buy Big Jake (1971) Now

John Wayne rides high in the saddle once again in "Big Jake", which proves to be one of his better films from the 1970's.

Wayne plays Jacob McCandles, an aging rancher who goes after the group of men who attacked his ranch, killed some of his workers, and kidnapped his grandson. However, "Big Jake" doesn't plan on letting these no-goods get away lightly. He teams up with his sons James and Michael (played by Patrick Wayne and Chris Mitchum, respectively) and an old Indian friend named Sam Sharpnose (Bruce Cabot) to distribute some rugged Western justice. It has been many years since Jake has even seen his family; he doesn't even know about his grandson until his estranged wife (Maureen O'Hara) sends for him. A man also out of his time, Jake is surprised with inventions such as the motor-car that has made horse-riding obsolete, and the automatic pistol Michael carries for protection. Although it is 1909, he still prefers to use a horse and six-shooter, just like the old days. Whether they use "advanced" technology or not, Jake and his pals have a lot of trouble on their hands as they try to catch up with the men who have his grandson while fighting off local robbers who know about the alleged 1,000,000 dollars Jake possesses for his grandson's ransom.

The action scenes are surprising violent (compared to some of Wayne's older films), but they're not extreme to the point of earning "Big Jake" an R-rating. The dialogue, especially between Jake and his sons, is enjoyable and simple. A cast of familiar Western actors only adds to the fun, as familiar faces appear throughout the film. Some of the actors include Harry Carey Jr., John Agar, Jim Davis, and plenty more.

"Big Jake" is a film that John Wayne fans and action fans alike won't want to miss. Unfortunately, there are no special features on the DVD edition.

Read Best Reviews of Big Jake (1971) Here

This is one of the last traditional John Wayne Westerns. He's a little older but he's still tall in the saddle and commands the screen. Estranged legendary patriarch, Big Jake (John Wayne) reunites with his family to recover his grandson, Little Jake. Richard Boone, the leader of the kidnappers turns in a good performance as the personable but menacing villain. Boone and Wayne exchange some of the best cliched dialogue ever put on film. It's pure good old-fashioned Saturday matinee stuff. The film is also highlighted by Elmer Bernstein's best score for a Wayne Western since his "The Comancheros" and "The Sons of Katie Elder." This film also features Maureen O'Hara, Patrick Wayne, Chris Mitchum, Bruce Cabot and Bobby Vinton. This was director George Sherman's last film. There are some great scenes in this film. This is one of my favorite John Wayne Westerns.

Want Big Jake (1971) Discount?

One of John Wayne's better late-career vehicles, "Big Jake" (1971) is an enjoyable turn-of-the-century Western that mixes humor and gunplay in equal measure. The cinematic icon remains tall in the saddle as Texas rancher Jacob McCandles taking on villainous Richard Boone and anyone else responsible for the kidnapping of his grandson. Veteran director George Sherman keeps the action moving at a relaxed pace. However, the climactic shootout is bloodier than expected for a Wayne Western. In a disappointingly small role, Maureen O'Hara appears with the Duke for the last time as McCandles' estranged wife.

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