Wednesday, June 5, 2024

Big Jake

Been a while since we did a western and I wanted to do something for my Papa's birthday today.

Cowboy movies and especially movies of John Wayne were a staple of his younger years and coincidently this is not only the first John Wayne film I've reviewed but it's also the first one I ever saw, and I was pretty young on top of that. So the story follows after a ranch is shot up and a young boy named Jake is taken as a hostage his grandpa Jacob saddles up with his two sons to deliver the ransom and get his grandson back, simple as dirt plot but an entertaining movie nevertheless. And this movie was made ostensibly during the last gasp of true western cinema which in and of itself had been in decline since the 60s, this movie came out in 1971 and John passed away before the end of the decade in 1979. The film takes place in 1909 and actually does a pretty damn splendid job setting up that time period, it has a fairly involved prologue just setting the scene and describing the events and people of the world to get you in the mindset, you see proper early 1900s automobiles, you see rifles with scopes and pistols with magazines, and it's not really there as commentary about how the old west is dying and the future is near but just as other elements of that day and age. John is same as ever in his films and there's something to be said about how recognizably iconic he still is 45 years after his death, and I feel this is a good introduction movie for his filmography because you see him have comedy moments but also the gunslinging horseriding moments as well, it worked out just fine for me and I've seen a good few of his other stuff because of this. Now I didn't know John's real life son Patrick Wayne played Jacob's son James in the movie, and he may be my favorite character of the bunch he has plenty of attitude to go around and always gives Jacob a lot of good grief right from the word go or more I should say daddy. That part never fails to tickle me pinker than I already am. Christopher Mitchum is the far more respectable straight laced son Michael but he has a penchant for the modern, riding a new fangled motorbike and has more contemporary morals about using guns. It's good to know Chris is still with us today. Richard Boone plays our bad guy here John Fain and right from the get go he has such a striking and memorable physicality to the role, a more rough and tanned face plus sporting a nice poncho doesn't hurt but I like how he plays it, he's not a psychopathic murderer or this cold blooded gunslinger he can be very affable with people and never seems to lose his cool but he's determined and ain't changing the plan even if it means the death of that boy. This was Maureen O'Hara's last acting role for a good long while and though she wanted a bigger part she was glad to work with John again due to them having such a strong friendship on past movies, which you truthfully just don't hear much about anymore. A good chunk of the secondary actors here were all part of previous Wayne films under his Batjac production company so you feel that tight knit relationship on screen between many of the actors. And strange as it is to say, no offense given to the filmmakers, but this movie doesn't look like it was shot in 1971. I mean there's barely any sets until nearer the end with a lot of location shooting out in the wilds of Mexico, but even from a cinematography point of view the film stock is something you'd see around the early 60s and the direction is pretty standard with little actual camera movement. Yet at the exact same time this film ain't afraid to put a good amount of blood or violence in! I mean barely past the 10 minute mark we get our inciting incident with this ranch getting raided, and they had the balls to shoot an under ten year old kid and (albeit off screen) machete this sweet young girl in a flower garden to death. I mean daaamn! That's the only thing that leans it more towards 70s action for me, everything else I totally buy it's 1909. Plus it sure don't hurt we get some Texas namedrops here and there, and considering I'm not that far from the Rio Bravo myself it's an interesting window to another time another place. It's not one of the best westerns I've seen but it sure as hell has some sentimental value and nostalgia for me to where I still like it just as much as I did when I was a youngin'. So I give it 3 stars, 7.5/10, and a big Happy Birthday to my Papa who was singlehandedly the force that got me to turn my head from science fiction and to give these western things a try to begin with!

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