Tag Archives: John Wayne

Big Jake (1971)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Grandfather tracks grandson’s kidnappers.

In 1909 a group of outlaws led by John Fain (Richard Boone) raid the McCandles homestead and kidnap their grandson (Ethan Wayne). Martha (Maureen O’Hara) is the home’s matriarch who decides that the help of the army and Texas Rangers just won’t do and the family’s estranged grandfather, Big Jake McCandles (John Wayne) will. Big Jake, who was once a legendary gunfighter in his day has been roaming the west alone for many years, but once he gets word that his grandson has been kidnapped he snaps into action using the help of an old Apache associate named Sam (Bruce Cabot) to help track where the kidnappers are.

This another film where in Leonard Maltin’s review book he gives two different takes of the film depending on which version, older vs. newer, that you have. I realize Maltin does not review all of the movies that are in his book, but whoever reviewed this movie in the older versions gave it only 2-stars and describes it as an ‘uneasy combination of a traditional Wayne western and a Butch Cassidy-type spoof’. In the newer versions Maltin or whoever did the review now suddenly likes it and gives it 3-stars calling it ‘an underrated western that’s well paced and handsomely shot’. The only consistency between the two is that both consider Boone’s performance as being ‘especially good’.

For me the original review is far more accurate. Although the film does start out with a rather offbeat, Avant-garde opening everything that comes after is formulaic and mechanical. The plot is too basic and not all that exciting or gripping you never see or learn much about the boy who has been kidnapped and therefore one’s concern for his safety wanes. It starts out right away with the violent kidnapping without any backstory and then deviates into a lot of side-story adventures until you almost forget about the kidnapping plot completely only to finally come back to it with a so-so shootout finale. In a lot of ways the kidnapping theme could’ve been excised completely as the only time it gets amusing is during Wayne’s bantering with his co-stars as they ride around looking for the bad guys, so everything should’ve centered on that while possibly changing the plot around to them looking for gold or lost treasure instead.

Wayne’s presence is the biggest detriment as he has played this domineering, stubborn old codger for far too long and there needed to be a fresh new spin put on it, but none is supplied. I was hoping for one brief moment that the arrogant, brash Wayne character might be proven wrong at something, or forced to swallow his immense pride just to keep things balanced, but of course its only everyone else that has do that while the mystical Wayne proudly plods on like he can do no wrong.

I thought the introduction of the automobile into the plot, where some of the men decide to ride in those while Wayne stubbornly sticks with his horse, might offer this by having the old-fashioned character eventually forced to modify his thinking and embrace change and modernization. In reality everyone must eventually have to do this at some point in their lives, so The Duke should too, but instead here the reverse occurs, where those that adapt to change are made to look foolish while the hard-headed Wayne rides off unblemished, which to me made it too agonizingly predictable.

Having Wayne’s real-life son Patrick playing Big Jake’s feisty and rebellious son is fun, but I wanted their confrontations to be played up more. Christopher Mitchum is okay too as Big Jake’s other kid who rides a motorbike and this was the last movie that Mitchum did with Wayne because afterwards he quit speaking to him due to Wayne’s right-wing leaning politics, which I found ironic since 25 years later he ran for a California congressional seat as a conservative republican.

O’Hara is sadly wasted and seen only during the film’s first 15 minutes and then that’s it. Singer Bobby Vinton also appears at the beginning, but his acting is terrible and fortunately for the viewer his time on the screen is brief.

The only thing that I liked about the movie is the gorgeous view seen outside the ranch home in the opening scenes and I wished that the entire story had taken place in the home so we could keep enjoying its breathtaking surroundings, which was filmed on-location in the Mexican state of Durango. Otherwise everything else is a bore.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: May 26, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 50Minutes

Rated G

Director: George Sherman

Studio: National General Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

Brannigan (1975)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: The Duke in London

Jim Brannigan (John Wayne) is a gruff Chicago cop hired to extradite mob boss Ben Larkin (John Vernon) from London back to the states, but Brannigan finds that England’s more restrained form of policing doesn’t conform to his and is at immediate odds with British police commander Charles Swann (Richard Attenborough) from the beginning. Things become even more problematic when Larkin gets kidnapped forcing the police to engage in a ransom drop in order to get him back. Brannigan must also avoid a very aggressive hit-man named Gorman (Daniel Pilon) who was hired by Larkin to kill him.

This was Wayne’s second attempt at playing a modern day tough guy policeman, which was mainly in response to being snubbed from the starring role in Dirty Harry. His first flick as a cop was McQ, which was quite derivative and made The Duke look like an old, sickly walking corpse ready to keel over at any second. Here though Wayne is strangely reinvigorated and seems much spryer on his feet. He also doesn’t take himself quite as seriously and spends most of the time eliciting humorous quips and comebacks, but by the end the London scenery and array of supporting characters start to overshadow the big guy until he becomes almost like a co-star in his own movie.

The story is a bit different from a typical Wayne vehicle in that the first half has virtually no action and consists mainly of the police surveillance of the kidnappers and trying to figure out what they’ll do next. One drawn out scene even deals with Wayne and lady cop friend Jennifer (Judy Geeson) following a mail truck around London in order to see where the ransom money, which they think is in the truck, will be taken.

While this subdued approach may annoy the more action addicted Wayne fans I found it to be a refreshing change of pace and I liked how the film analyzed the boring aspects of police work instead of just glamorizing the sexy shootouts. Unfortunately the second-half devolves back into the familiar formula, which includes not only an uninspired car chase, but a big barroom brawl as well. The brawl, which was filmed at the exclusive Garrick Club, is the most off-putting because it’s done in a comically slapstick way that drains all the grittiness and realism that the film tried so hard to create in the first-half right out of the movie altogether.

The sleek looking, dark glasses wearing hit-man, who drives a ritzy looking sports car seems like a character straight out of a James Bond movie. The segment done in slow motion as well as the running joke of having every hotel room that Brannigan stays in get destroyed by those who is after him only helps to cement this as being just another whimsical, uninspired cop outing that despite a first half that showed some promise has nothing edgy or original about it.

The idea of having Brannigan essentially trying to ‘save’ a mobster’s life just so he can bring him back here to go to trial isn’t a very riveting plot point to begin with. The Larkin character is completely unlikable, so the viewer could care less whether he can escape the clutches of his kidnappers or not and the story would’ve been far more compelling had Brannigan been out to save a kidnapped child instead, which along with the other misguided ideas described above probably explains why this thing ended up tanking badly at the box office.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: March 26, 1975

Runtime: 1Hour 51Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Douglas Hickox

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube

McQ (1974)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Old cop breaks rules.

Lon ‘McQ’ McHugh (John Wayne) is a retired cop lured back onto the force to investigate the death of his former partner Stan Boyle (William Bryant). Boyle was shot dead in a deserted alleyway and the head of the homicide division (Eddie Albert) thinks it’s the work of radical militants, but McQ has other ideas. He believes local narcotics dealer Manny Santiago (Al Lettieri) is behind it and he goes after him with a vengeance only to learn that the corruption lies far deeper and the bad guys may have infiltrated his own department.

Wayne’s ego was bruised when he had lost out in his bid to star in Dirty Harry as director Don Siegel felt he was just too old for the part, so he went on a mission to prove them wrong by not only playing a tough-guy cop here, but also a year later in Brannigan.

However, the aging Duke looks completely out-of-shape. Since a 1965 operation Wayne was unable to run due to having only one lung and could barely even walk long distances without needing oxygen. His acting style was by this time completely passé. The rest of the cast were consummate method actors genuinely trying to create a different character while Wayne simply plays himself for the hundredth time, but only without the cowboy outfit.

I was also not sure whether he was wearing a wig or it was just dyed, but it looks terrible either way. For my money it’s a rug, which I found amusing as this was a man who built his reputation on being tough and gritty and yet too vain to simply let himself age gracefully, which even if he was completely bald by that time would’ve looked infinitely better than the thing he had plopped on his head.

The run-of-the-mill plot offers few twists and no interesting characterizations or dramatic angles and is saved only by the Seattle scenery and some really cool car chases. One includes Wayne chasing a laundry truck while driving his vintage 1973 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am only to become confused about which truck he is after when a completely identical one suddenly comes onto the scene. There’s another thrilling chase at the end that was shot on the Olympic Peninsula and an equally exciting moment when Wayne’s Firebird gets crushed from both ends by two Big Mac trucks while it’s parked in an alleyway. You also get to hear Wayne deliver his immortal line: “I’m up to my butt in gas!”

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: January 4, 1974

Runtime: 1 Hour 51 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: John Sturges

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Hellfighters (1968)

hellfighters

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Put out the fire.

Chance Buckman (John Wayne) runs a company specializing in putting out oil well fires. His loyal assistant is the young and dashing Greg Parker (Jim Hutton) who on his off-hours is known to be quite the ladies’ man. When Chance is injured during a freak accident and sent to the hospital Greg call’s Chance’s estranged daughter Tish (Katherine Ross) to come visit him. When Tish arrives her and Greg fall in love and get married even though there is no initial chemistry and after only knowing each other for five days. The rest of the film deals with Chance and Greg quarreling over having his daughter, or any woman for that matter, on-site watching them put out fires as he feels it’s ‘not the proper place for a woman to be’.

If this were a documentary on the real Red Adair, which is who the Chance Buckman character is modeled after, this would have been an exciting and fascinating film. Unfortunately the drama in-between the fire scenes is lame and hooky. The characters and situations are generic and boring and the 2-hour runtime becomes almost interminable to have to sit through.

Politics aside I have always enjoyed Wayne as an actor. Yes he can basically only play one type of part, but he does it well. He knows how to have an onscreen presence, can usually own every scene he is in and can sometimes surprisingly show a good self-depreciating sense of humor as well. However, here he looks old, tired and washed-up. He goes through his scenes like he is sleepwalking and as bored with the threadbare material as the viewer. The silly barroom fight that he and his pals get into becomes ridiculous when you realize that it is old geezers in their 60’s and 70’s that are throwing the punches. The only good scene he has is during a humorous throwaway where he sits on a committee and much to his annoyed reluctance must decide what color to paint the company’s 1,400 nationwide bathrooms.

Despite the fact that she later told reporters that this film was “The biggest piece of crap I’ve ever done!” it is Ross who is the most engaging and quite beautiful in her bob haircut. I enjoyed the way her character stands up to Wayne and apparently behind the scenes the two did not get along and had quite a few arguments. Vera Miles as Wayne’s wife is badly miscast as she was 23-years younger than him and looks more like Ross’s older sister than her mother.

The opening 20 minutes where you see step-by-step how the men put an actual oil rig fire out is quite compelling and even educational, but it goes completely downhill from there and never recovers. By the end the whole thing becomes redundant and having the climatic finale takes place in South America where the men risk being shot at by guerrilla snipers adds little tension or interest making me conclude that the one thing that should’ve been set on fire was the script, but unfortunately it wasn’t.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: November 27, 1968

Runtime: 2 Hours 2 Minutes

Rated G

Director: Andrew V. McLaglen

Studio: Universal

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray (Region B)