Friday’s Favorite Flix – Big Jake
This week's Friday's Favorite Flix, “Big Jake,” is set in 1909 and takes place in Southern Texas, near the Mexican border and in Mexico. The film tells two stories. The main story is the kidnapping of a small boy for ransom and the resulting outcome. The sub-plot is about the passage of an era.
A ruthless gang led by John Fain (played brilliantly by Richard Boone) raids the large and successful McCandles ranch, near the town of McCandles, Texas. During the raid, the gang wounds and kills quite a few of the ranch hands and domestics and wounds, nearly killing, a family member, Jeff McCandles (played in just a couple of scenes by the pop singer, Bobby Vinton). The gang leaves a ransom note and rides into Mexico with the child.
“Big” Jake McCandles (played by John Wayne) is called back from an extended absence by his wife, Martha McCandles (played by Maureen O'Hara in her last movie with John Wayne), to deal with the kidnapping of his grandson, “Little” Jake McCandles (played by John Wayne's son, Ethan Wayne).
Jake calls for his old Apache friend, Sam Sharpnose (played by Bruce Cabot) to help him out. Jake has supplies and a trunk carrying the ransom money tied to some pack mules and off he, along with his dog, “Dog” (played by a Bob Weatherwax, trainer of Lassie, collie) go to retrieve Little Jake and to deal with the kidnappers. Shortly into their journey, they're joined by Sam and Jake's two sons, James McCandles (played by John Wayne's son, Patrick Wayne) and Michael McCandles (played by Robert Mitchum's son, Christopher Mitchum). Michael is a geek that's into motor vehicles instead of horses (he starts out riding a motorcycle) and new weapons (he's armed with a prototype of a new pistol). James is the disrespectful son that has hard feelings over the long absence of his father.
Friday’s Favorite Flix are descriptions of those movies we love – We either own them or when channel surfing, we’ll stop when we find them and settle down to watch.
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The sub-plot hints at the cowboy and gunslinger era being replaced by a more civilized, citified and mechanized era: The aging Jake and Sam passing the baton on to Jake's sons, James and Michael and the use of horses, mules and six-shooters slowly giving way to automobiles, motorcycles and new-fangled weaponry.
A running gag throughout the movie is the line, said by various characters to Jake, “I thought you was dead” and Jake's replies to the comment (the most notable being, “Not hardly.”). These exchanges, aside from adding a bit of humor to the film, serve to inform us that the cowboys and gunslingers were still with us then and weren't going to disappear quickly.
Along with the phrases mentioned in the paragraph above, the film is very rich in first-rate lines and phrases you'll take away and remember. I won't give them away here, but the fan-made trailer video that's embedded with this article contains one of the more memorable ones.
The movie and its sub-plot are introduced in a documentary style while the opening credits are rolling, You're treated to old black and white photographs from the era along with a narration detailing some of the happenings and events of the time. It's fascinating stuff.
Released in 1971, the movie was produced by John Wayne's son Michael Wayne and was directed by George Sherman and John Wayne (uncredited). It features music by Elmer Bernstein. It's more violent than the typical John Wayne movie, but not to the level of “The Wild Bunch” and other truly violent westerns. Lots of folks get shot up, but there's no spurting blood. In the couple of really violent scenes, you see the instigator moving in the shot, while the results are below the camera's view. Bernstein did a masterful job with the music for these scenes (think eek eek eek scenes from “Psycho” and other movies).
Filmed in Durango, Mexico, the scenery is beautiful and like most well-photographed western films, I highly recommend you see this in wide-screen format. Of the films John Wayne made in his later years, this is one of his best. If you're a fan of Westerns, John Wayne and / or crime dramas, rustle up some of Janie's Fall Chili and Cornbread and give this Favorite Flix a try. I'm pretty sure you'll enjoy this one.
About Steve Cooper
Steve Cooper is an applications software developer who also builds custom home media solutions. His interests include reading, music & movies, guitar, woodworking and motor racing.
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