(director: Andrew V. McLaglen; screenwriter: Andrew J. Fenady/from the sory by Andrew J. Fenady “Chisum and the Lincoln County Cattle War”; cinematographer: William H. Clothier; editor: Robert Simpson; music: Dominic Frontiere; cast: John Wayne (John Simpson Chisum), Forrest Tucker (Murphy), Geoffrey Deuel (Billy the Kid), Patric Knowles (Henry Tunstall), Pamela McMyler (Sally Chisum), Ben Johnson (Pepper), Glenn Corbett (Pat Garrett), Christopher George (Dan Nodeon), Andrew Prine (Alex McSween), Lynda Day (Sue McSween), Bruce Cabot (Sheriff Brady), Robert Donner (Morton, deputy sheriff), Ray Teal (Justice J.B. Wilson), Gregg Palmer (Karl Riker), Alan Baxter (Gov. Axtell), Richard Jaeckel (Jess Evans); Runtime: 110; MPAA Rating: G; producer: Andrew J. Fenady; Warner Brothers; 1970)
“A stylish big-budget rousing range war Western that is a gimmicky mix of myth and hokum.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A stylish big-budget rousing range war Western that is a gimmicky mix of myth and hokum, directed with flair by Andrew V. McLaglen; it plays cutesy with the Billy the Kid (Geoffrey Deuel) and Pat Garrett (Glenn Corbett) movie lore legend and touches on the actual history of the Lincoln County Cattle War but in a Hollywood way, something that almost fouls up the fictionalized John Simpson Chisum (John Wayne) part. He’s the staunch reformed Indian fighter and gunslinger who is now an Indian lover and honest cattle baron on the side of the little guy and frontier justice (overlooking the fact he was a monopolist before the arrival of his villainous rival). Chisum is the good-guy capitalist fighting the evil capitalist Murphy (Forrest Tucker), a newcomer to the 1878 New Mexico Territory town of Lincoln who is buying out all the local businesses through legal and semi-legal means while expanding his ranch and bribing the law as far away as in the capital, where the unprincipled appointed frontier governor sits, and locally through his stooge Sheriff Brady.
It’s produced and scripted by Andrew J. Fenady, from his story “Chisum and the Lincoln County Cattle War.”
Chisum, after gunning down wise guy rustler Nemo, secretly hired by Murphy, meets his petite niece Sally Chisum (Pamela McMyler) in town as she comes in by stagecoach to stay on the ranch after living back east. Neighboring cattle baron, the effete Englishman, Henry Tunstall (Patric Knowles) has taken in Billy the Kid as a house guest in his efforts to reform the reputed killer of at least 12 men, and is teaching him to read and study the scriptures. Billy and Sally hit it off, much to Chisum’s grief. But Chisum has no time to fret about that since his nemesis Murphy is rustling his cattle, shooting his ranch hands, corrupting the town institutions, trying to break the back of Chisum’s stranglehold on Lincoln and gouging the town by overpricing the goods in his general store. It’s too late to control Murphy’s evil schemes by the time Chisum and his ally Henry act to try and foil the ruthless Murphy by opening their own general store and bank, to be run by an honest lawyer named Alex McSween. All hell breaks lose when Deputy Sheriff Morton kills the unarmed Henry and tries to frame him as a rustler, when he was riding to get the governor to act on behalf of the good citizens who demand ‘law and order.’ Billy reverts to his outlaw ways and seeks revenge, killing Morton, Brady and the others who acted against his kindly benefactor. Chisum, with the help of his loyal ranch foreman Pepper and drifter buffalo hunter Pat Garrett, also go after Murphy, but he does it according to the law. His aim is to bring Murphy to justice for all the murders and thefts he committed.
After the busy plot knocks itself out bringing in various subplots, it all leads to a typical Western shootout between the baddies and the goodies. Since you know who will win there’s no tension, as the thrill is to watch Pat Garrett, Billy the Kid, and Chisum take on the likes of Murphy and his henchmen led by a maniacal bounty hunter turned sheriff, Dan Nodeon, and a former gang partner of Billy’s named Jess Evans. The highlight of the shootout is a cattle stampede through the bad guys’ town barricade to keep Chisum out, where Billy the Kid is trapped by Nodeon’s men in the general store.
If you could wade through the overlong narrative and the muddled plot to get to the exciting climactic shootout, then you’ll see the Duke you were waiting for–firing away with his pistols blazing and the bad guys killed as easy as squatting flies in a closed barn. It’s a big and splashy Western that makes for mindless entertainment, which is not such a bad thing for an escapist film.
REVIEWED ON 5/29/2005 GRADE: B-
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