Thursday, March 16, 2017

Big Jake (1971)

I don't like Chris Mitchum's hat.

It's not every day that you see children murdered in a movie. Even in a movie like Man Bites Dog, the profoundly offensive French "comedy" about a film crew following a serial killer, the child he tries to kill gets away. When there's a child involved, there's little suspense because you know full well nothing's going to happen to him.  

In this movie, you get the worst of both worlds. You see two children casually murdered in the raid at the beginning, then you sit there knowing nothing is going to happen to the kid who was kidnapped.

Big Jake (1971) is about a rich family in Texas in 1909. A band of outlaws led by Richard Boone raid their ranch, murder several people and kidnap the 8-year-old grandson of the family matriarch (Maureen O'Hara). They demand a one million dollar ransom ($25,281,000 in today's money).

Maureen O'Hara sends her estranged husband, Jake (John Wayne) along with his two sons, Patrick Wayne (John Wayne's actual son) and Chris Mitchum (Robert Mitchum's son) to Mexico, ostensibly to deliver the ransom and bring back the kid, "Little Jake" (played by Ethan Wayne, John Wayne's youngest son).

Shortly before they're to deliver the ransom, they're attacked by a different gang trying to get their hands on the money. The two sons find out by accident that there is no money. The trunk is full of newspaper. John Wayne explains that he and their mother decided they weren't going to pay a gang after they killed everybody and they were going to rescue the kid and kill all the kidnappers. It seems like something they should have been told earlier so they could give some thought as to how they were going to do this. And if John Wayne had been killed, they would have had no idea there was no money until the kidnappers opened the trunk.

In the end, they kill all the kidnappers and rescue the child. Not much of a spoiler there. John Wayne and his sons all survive. They're strangely indifferent to the death of John Wayne's Indian friend, Sam (Bruce Cabot).

It would have been better if one or both of Big Jake's sons had been killed. Better still if Big Jake himself died. Having the entire family survive made it like an episode of Bonanza or The Big Valley.

As it was, Maureen O'Hara's decision not to pay the ransom was of no consequence. There was no downside. All she did was send her adult sons on an adventure so they could bond with their elderly father. They slaughtered two entire gangs of murderers and came out fine.

John Wayne was too cheerful through the whole thing. Was he always like this? Smiling at every act of violence. Smiling as they set off to kill everyone. How many times did he get punched in the face in this thing? He was 64. In real life, that could have killed him.

Strangely, a lot of people love the movie. There's a guy in England doing a remake.

When I first saw this thing, I took it to be John Wayne's answer to The Professionals.

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