Monday, December 21, 2015

Movie review - "Big Jake" (1971) *** (warning: spoilers)

One of the best of the late period John Wayne Westerns, where he'd usually lug around in his toupe and beat up the younger generation and be surrounded by old character actors. This has the benefit of a strong story - indeed, Howard Hawks even praised it and wish he'd had something as good (though he probably would have turned it into a siege somehow): a little boy is kidnapped by a nasty bunch of crooks and they demand a million dollars in ransom. Grandma (Maureen O'Hara) asks for her ex husband (John Wayne) to come to the rescue.

The Duke is accompanied by his two sons, one a try-hard tough guy (Pat Wayne) he's always punching out and the other a technology guy (Chris Mitchum) - it's 1909 so there are cars. Also adding to the fun: all the characters who keep thinking Jake was dead (something John Carpenter used in Escape to New York), hearing Wayne say "that'll be the day" again (the story does kind of rip off The Searchers), a wacky opening credits sequence which sets the era.

It is more violent and bloody than usual Wayne westerns (hey, it was the 70s): Bruce Cabot is hacked to death, Wayne's dog is killed (not that he seems to care too much at the end). I feel gypped that there wasn't a scene between Wayne and O'Hara at the end.

There is some good action - the kidnapping sequence and final shoot out especially. Young Pat Wayne is wooden but Richard Boone is a super villain, the Duke is in great form. Bruce Cabot is fine, and I liked Chris Mitchum.

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