Written by / 3/14/2013 / No comments / , , , , , , , ,

JOHN WAYNE IS BIG JAKE

year: 1971 cast: John Wayne, Richard Boone, Christopher Mitchum, Maureen O'Hara rating: ***1/2
“It is I think going to be a very harsh and unpleasant kind of business, and will I think require an extremely harsh and unpleasant kind of man.”

These are words spoken by Maureen O’Hara’s Martha McCandles after her plush ranch was attacked, in a Sergio Leone style slaughter, by a group of ragged killers thanks to cutthroat John Fain played with a subtle villainy by veteran actor Richard Boone.

The man Martha spoke of makes a better revenge-wielding hired gun than husband. That speech was the perfect segue for our title character played by John Wayne, who, during his final decade of motion pictures, looked as tough as a weathered railroad spike that could still easily plunge through cold steel.

Jake’s got three sons, one severely injured in the attack, and most importantly his grandson – played by Ethan Wayne, the Duke’s real life boy – is kidnapped for a million dollar ransom. Thus begins a hunting party/journey with Jake and (among a dwindling posse) his two other grownup kids including Patrick Wayne and Robert Mitchum’s son, Christopher.

These siblings have one main thing in common: both are spiteful of their dad, whose philandering ways caused the divorce when they were growing up. But now they’re learning all about “true grit” i.e. how to shoot guns the right way while surviving a trek that leads to an inevitable showdown.
John Wayne and Christopher Mitchum
Christopher Mitchum’s energetic Michael rides one of those new fangled "motorized horses," adding a nice twist to most of Wayne’s Westerns: we’re in the turn of the century when machinery/progression was making ground. One scene where Michael zips his motorcycle behind enemy lines, wreaking havoc and leaping across mountaintops, provides a cool 70’s vibe to this otherwise old school cowboy flick. While Patrick Wayne’s James has the biggest chip on his shoulder about “daddy” and is the one who must eventually come around.

Despite a prologue with an unnecessary narrator spouting names and background information on people we’ll never keep tabs on, and a few scenes further in that drag with too much dialog, along with humor that doesn’t always fit the gritty milieu – especially when Jake sporadically turns into a clumsy stooge – the eclectic group (including Bruce Cabot as a resilient Native American) always winds up in interesting perilous situations with shootouts and, in one small town celebrating an oil strike, a creatively planned scheme to hide the million dollar box from a band of rogue bad guys.

The finale doesn’t live up to some of the other battles, and perhaps this is intentional. Richard Boone and John Wayne square off as two men equally tough and world-weary… Neither getting too passionate while playing a waiting game, with guns drawn, until the best man, or men, will be left standing.
BUY BIG JAKE AT AMAZON
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