Movie Review

The Sons of Katie Elder

If Texas Coundn't Tame 'em ...could She?
The Sons of Katie Elder Movie Poster

US Release Date: 07-01-1965

Directed by: Henry Hathaway


  • John Wayne
  • John Elder
  • Dean Martin
  • Tom Elder
  • Michael Anderson Jr.
  • Bud Elder
  • Earl Holliman
  • Matt Elder
  • Martha Hyer
  • Mary Gordon
  • George Kennedy
  • Curley
  • Dennis Hopper
  • Dave Hastings
  • James Gregory
  • Morgan Hastings
  • Paul Fix
  • Sheriff Billy Wilson
  • John Doucette
  • Hyselman
  • Rhys Williams
  • Charlie Striker
  • Strother Martin
  • Jeb Ross
  • Jeremy Slate
  • Ben Latta
  • Sheldon Allman
  • Harry Evers
  • John Litel
  • Minister
Average Stars:
Reviewed on: July 1st, 2001
John Wayne and Dean Martin in The Sons of Katie Elder.

John Wayne and Dean Martin in The Sons of Katie Elder.

The Sons Of Katie Elder is not one of John Wayne's best movies. There is not enough action and the pace could use some caffeine. Still, for Wayne fans, it is a fair afternoon viewing.

This movie is about four brothers, Wayne plays the oldest, a gunslinger. Dean Martin is a gambler wanted for murder. Earl Holliman is an unsuccessful businessman and Michael Anderson Jr. plays the youngest brother attending college. The foursome get together for their mother's funeral and through much bickering agree to herd some cattle she purchased just prior to her death.

The best thing this movie has to offer is the cast. John Wayne has the greatest screen presence ever. Sure it probably helped that he was physically big, but his charm was that he always played a mans man, with tough talk and guns a blazing. He is the epitome of what a movie star is. Not the greatest actor, but he has the greatest screen persona.

Dean Martin always seemed to me to be the second fiddle. He played the straight man to Jerry Lewis. He was the Executive Officer to Frank Sinatra's Captain of the Rat Pack. However, he had the leading man looks that both Lewis and Sinatra lacked. Here he holds his own against The Duke and shows that he actually had greater acting range than Lewis or Sinatra.

The movie moves along slow but steady. The brothers arguing and the occasional fights add some spark to an otherwise unspectacular western. The one surprise in the plot comes at a gunfight when the brothers get shot up pretty bad and one dies. No, I won't tell you which one. You will have to watch the movie.

Reviewed on: May 4th, 2015
John Wayne and Dean Martin in The Sons of Katie Elder.

John Wayne and Dean Martin in The Sons of Katie Elder.

Wayne was at least 15 years too old for the part of John Elder. If you look at the dates on his father's tombstone, you can see that he was either 63 or 64 when he died. The problem is that Wayne was 57 in real life. He was also 36 years older than Michael Anderson Jr., who played Bud, the youngest of the Elder siblings, making their surname particularly apt for the Duke.

Of course if Wayne wasn't going to let a little thing like lung cancer stop him from making movies, then an age discrepancy certainly wasn't either. Just months before filming began on this movie, one of Wayne's lungs and two of his ribs had been removed. The star had been very public about his battle with the disease and he felt it was important to show audiences that he could still live up to his man's man image. Something he easily accomplishes here despite his age and medical condition.

Of course if I'm going to quibble about plot inconsistencies, I might as well point out that one of the Elder brothers looks Italian. While I agree with Eric that Martin was an underrated actor, he wasn't good enough to make me believe he was Wayne's blood relation. It's just one of those points you have to accept and it's worth it because the easygoing charm of Martin is a nice anecdote to Wayne's more blunt approach. This was their second movie together, following 1959's Rio Bravo and the two prove again that they make what seems on the surface to be an odd pairing, but one that works anyway. They are the two brothers who make the most impact, although the hero-worshiping Bud, as played by Anderson, provides some laughs as the youngest and most naive of the brothers. Earl Hollman as Matt is overshadowed by all of them and fails to make much of any kind of impact.

The supporting cast features some familiar faces. George Kennedy is effective as Curley, the gunfighter hired to protect the film's real bad guy played by James Gregory. A youngish Dennis Hopper plays the villain's cowardly son, whose main job is to whine about the Elders whenever he has a chance. Strother Martin turns up in a small part as the man in the saloon who win's Martin's glass eye. The unseen character of Katie Elder also looms large over the story, affecting all 4 of her children's fates.

Eric's right that the film runs long. There's not much plot or mystery to this simple revenge story. We know who the bad guy is right from the beginning and since this is a John Wayne movie you know that it will end with Wayne killing him in a gunfight. However, the film takes 2 hours to tell this story. The brothers are entertaining to watch, but even so, the story is obviously stretched. When the final shootout comes, it does entertain, sometimes unintentionally such as when Wayne fires over a dozen times from a single six-shooter.

Not one of Wayne's most classic westerns, but thanks to his presence, Martin's, and a rousing soundtrack by Elmer Bernstein, it's still worth watching at least once. It's remembered fondly enough that it was loosely remade as Four Brothers in 2005 with Mark Wahlberg in the lead.

Reviewed on: May 6th, 2015
Believe it or not Michael Anderson Jr., John Wayne, Dean Martin and Earl Holliman are The Sons of Katie Elder.

Believe it or not Michael Anderson Jr., John Wayne, Dean Martin and Earl Holliman are The Sons of Katie Elder.

The pace is quite leisurely and the film's one big flaw is the idea that these four men are brothers. If, however, you can get past both of those things you are in for a fairly compelling western of the kind they stopped making decades ago. The Sons of Katie Elder has a great premise. Each of the brothers returns for their mother's funeral only to be framed for murder and forced into a deadly game of revenge.

Each of the brothers is a stereotype. There's the gunman, the gambler, the kid and the one with no personality (Eric, I don't think it's difficult to guess which one of them dies). This is a story of redemption. Katie Elder's sons ran off and neglected her and in death she forces them to reunite and avenge her -and their pa's- memory. And most importantly, to prove that her life and all the sacrifices she so willingly made, were not in vain.

John Wayne was too old for the role but he makes you forget it with his incredible presence and swagger. He had his own unique style. Nobody else walked like John Wayne or talked like John Wayne (except of course for every impressionist in the business). He remains to this day the most iconic movie star in Hollywood history, as well as the most prolific leading man. He arrived in Hollywood in 1926 and appeared in at least one picture a year for the next 51 years! A feat unlikely ever to be matched. He survived the initial bout with cancer but his battle with the Big C aged him noticeably. The fact that he continued working for another decade is truly remarkable.

Scott mentioned the many familiar faces in the supporting cast, although how he can call a 28 year old Dennis Hopper “youngish” is beyond me. Granted he is playing someone younger than his actual age but from my vantage point he certainly doesn't look old enough to qualify for the "ish". As good as the supporting cast is, though, this is the Duke's movie from start to finish. After Wayne, Dean Martin fares best. He gets several heroic moments along the way. Still Wayne towers over him and everyone else onscreen.

Eric's right, The Sons of Katie Elder isn't one of John Wayne's best movies, but it isn't one of his worst movies either. And FYI, as far as Mark Wahlberg movies go, Four Brothers isn't so bad.

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