BIG JAKE (director: George Sherman; screenwriter: Harry Julian Fink/Rita M. Fink; cinematographer: William H. Clothier; editor: Harry Gerstad; music: Elmer Bernstein; cast: John Wayne (Jacob McCandles), Patrick Wayne (James McCandles), Richard Boone (John Fain), Christopher Mitchum (Michael McCandles), Bruce Cabot (Sam Sharpnose), Bobby Vinton (Jeff McCandles), Maureen O’Hara (Martha McCandles), Ethan Wayne (Little Jake), Robert Warner (Will Fain), Jerry Gatlin (Stubby), John Agar (Bert Ryan), John Doucette (Buck Dugan); Runtime: 110; MPAA Rating: GP; producer: Michael Wayne; Paramount Home Video; 1971)
“Wayne gets little help from anyone else but Boone and can’t pull off such a slight story line by his lonesome.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A routine John Wayne Western that’s directed by George Sherman (“Against All Flags”), who re-unites with the Duke–he directed all his Three Mesquiteers series back in the day. There’s nothing fresh, as under Sherman’s pedestrian direction the oater mainly rehashes old Wayne themes from pics like Hondo and The Searchers but without coming close in value to those gems. There are numerous mindless brawls throughout that only detract from the real action. The screenwriters are the husband and wife team of Rita and Harry Julian Fink, who provide a thin script. It also marks the Duke’s fifth and final pairing with Maureen O’Hara.
It’s a turn-of-the-century Western, set in 1909, a transitional time from the Old West to a modern time with Model T’s and motorbikes, that throws together a kidnapping yarn, a family feud situation, and a reconciliation between father and sons. John Fain (Richard Boone) and his ruthless gang kill ten ranch hands on the big spread of McCandles’s Texas ranch and kidnap 8-year-old Little Jake (Ethen Wayne, the Duke’s kid), and leave Martha McCandles (Maureen O’Hara) a ransom note demanding one million dollars or they will kill the boy. Martha contacts her estranged husband Jacob (John Wayne), someone she has not seen in 18 years, and asks for his help to retrieve his grandson, someone he didn’t even know existed. Jake is given the ransom money by his ex-wife and goes to meet the outlaws with his faithful killer Collie, his trusted elderly tracker Indian friend Sam (Bruce Cabot), and two of his sons Michael (Christopher Mitchum, Bob Mitchum’s son) and James (Patrick Wayne, the Duke’s kid). Martha also agrees to allow Sheriff Buck Dugan, traveling faster than Big Jake because his men are in cars, to risk rescuing the boy by trying to jump the gang first, but the posse gets caught in an ambush. So it’s up to Big Jake, traveling by horse and mule, to make contact with the kidnappers who are situated near the Mexican border, and the film plods along until it comes to life again in the final colorful rescue attempt and shootout with the gang.
Wayne is his usual bigger-than-life heroic self, but with old age has become more self-effacing. Boone makes for a superb villain. William H. Clothier’s photography as usual is beautiful. Production values are efficient. The pic comes close to delivering as a strictly entertaining Western, but in the end gets no cigar as Wayne gets little help from anyone else but Boone and can’t pull off such a slight story line by his lonesome.
REVIEWED ON 1/7/2006 GRADE: B-
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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