John Wayne in Big Jake.
Big Jake was made near the end of John Wayne's legendary career. It was the fifth and final time he played opposite the beautiful Maureen O'Hara. Two of his real life sons also appear in the movie. Patrick Wayne plays one of Big Jake's sons and Ethan Wayne plays his grandson.
The movie opens by setting up the time period. It is 1909 and the Old West is pretty much history. A brief montage of famous events of the day gives way to an action-packed and ruthlessly violent scene in which the wealthy McCandles' Ranch is attacked by a vicious gang of outlaws. They kidnap the young grandson of the family and demand one million dollars ransom.
Of course Big Jake comes to the rescue, although he has been estranged from his wife and family for many years. He sets off in pursuit of the kidnappers with two of his grown sons, his dog and his faithful sidekick Indian named Sam.
This movie is all about the Icon that was John Wayne. He is larger than life and impossibly brave and wise. There's a running gag where whenever he tells someone his name they reply, “I thought you were dead."
But it is the action and the camaraderie between the four men that makes the movie good. Wayne kept up with the times at least as far as screen violence was concerned. In this movie when someone gets shot there is blood.
Richard Boone plays John Fain the leader of the cutthroat gang. As bad guys go he's a pretty good one and he makes a formidable foe for Wayne. Some of the best lines are between these two characters. Especially during the climax when Big Jake turns Fain's words against him. “And now you understand. Anything goes wrong, anything at all... your fault, my fault, nobody's fault... it won't matter - I'm gonna blow your head off. No matter what else happens, no matter who gets killed I'm gonna blow your head off."
As a child this was my favorite John Wayne movie and I still have a soft spot for it. It's not a perfect movie but it is a perfect example of the Legend of The Duke.
John Wayne and Christopher Mitchum in Big Jake.
It shows the legend of John Wayne very well indeed. Here is a 64 year old fat man in a great action/adventure movie. He is surrounded by many younger guys; his sons, (as Patrick mentioned) Robert Mitchum's son Christopher and pop singer Bobby Vinton. They all barely register on screen when compared to the enormity of Wayne's screen presence. Wayne didn't need co-stars he was a movie star's movie star.
Patrick mentioned some lines from the movie. There are many good ones. After one of his son's sarcastically calls him "Daddy", Wayne says, "You can call me 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-bitch, but if you EVER call me Daddy again, I'll finish this fight." In another scene, Wayne is asked if the sight of blood bothers him. Wayne responds, "Only my own." The movie also has some humor such as when they go to a hotel and the clerk says he will allow the dog to stay but the Indian has to go.
The heart of the movie is Wayne interacting with his sons. They fight and bond over the course of the movie. The sons also learn things about their parent's relationship. Wayne and O'Hara only share a couple of scenes but they are good ones. They bicker but love each other.
The setting of this movie is the end of the old west. Wayne would only make a few more westerns before dying of cancer. Big Jake was the perfect movie for John Wayne to make, at that point in his long career.
He might be old, but he can still kick your ass!
Like you Patrick this was my favorite John Wayne movie growing up also. I couldn't even begin to guess how many times I watched it as a kid. Wayne's first line in the movie is, “No sir. No sir I ain't” and I surprised myself by still remembering it without being aware that I still remembered it. And it turns out I could still quote nearly all of the lines in this movie.
Sure Wayne was old and out of shape, but he still believably kicks ass here. When he threatens Richard Boone's character you know it's not an empty threat. His presence fills the screen. Truly he is larger than life even here at this advanced point in his career.
There are a few new things that I noticed this time around while watching it that I didn't remember from seeing it before. One is that Christopher Mitchum is really not a very good actor. A couple of times he seems to almost fluff his lines, espeically near the beginning of the film when he's telling his mother where the kidnappers went. The second thing is how when the Indian Sam Sharpnose is killed at the end of the movie, Wayne and his sons never seem very concerned about it. They just say, "Let's go home!" and they all burst into smiles.
It's a cliché to say that they don't make movie stars like they used to, but in the case of the Duke, that's exactly the truth. No one could ever reproduce his rugged magnetism in quite the same way.
Photos © Copyright Batjac Productions (1971)