Cast & Crew
In 1909 New Mexico, ruthless outlaw John Fain and his gang attack the opulent McCandles ranch. Because most of the hands are on a roundup, those who remain are easily overcome. More than ten men, women and children are killed or seriously wounded, including Jeff McCandles, whose nine-year-old son, Little Jake, is kidnapped. As the gang rides off, Fain throws a ransom note to Martha McCandles, the strong-willed family matriarch, demanding one million dollars. Family friend Buck Duggan, head of the Texas Rangers, does not want Martha to pay the ransom and suggests trailing Fain into Mexico, but she refuses, convinced that the job calls for a particularly unpleasant and harsh sort of man, her long-estranged husband, Jacob McCandles. After receiving an urgent note from Martha, Jake and his dog arrive at the McCandles train station, where he is greeted enthusiastically, except by his son James, who resents his long-absent father and sarcastically calls him "Daddy," precipitating a fistfight. Despite their long-held animosity, Jake and Martha still love each other, and Martha gently tells Jake about his grandson, whom he has never seen. She then shows him a trunk filled with one million dollars, and he agrees to handle things as she wishes. They soon begin to bicker over details, though, and each remembers how stubborn the other is. Minutes later, their youngest son, Michael, arrives at the station on his motorcycle, informing them that he has seen the gang while reconnoitering, and that Little Jake is alive. He then suggests a plan whereby the Rangers would drive automobiles ahead to a spot where they could ambush the approaching gang. Jake is adamant that the plan will not work and refuses to go along with it. Although Martha endorses Michael's proposal, she agrees to let Jake try doing things his way, as a backup plan. Jake then sets out on his horse, accompanied by his dog and four pack animals, at first riding parallel to the Rangers' automobiles, but gradually lagging further behind. The next morning, Jake is joined by his old friend Sam, an Apache tracker. Meanwhile, Michael, who has been riding his motorcycle in front of the convoy of automobiles, circles back to tell them that he has seen the outlaws. Driving ahead, the party sees what they think is a perfect place to ambush Fain's gang. Unknown to them, Fain and his men have their own ambush plan and attack the convoy from hiding places in the surrounding hills. During the ambush, the automobiles are incapacitated and several of the Rangers are killed or wounded. Michael furiously rides his motorcycle around the gang to distract them, then loops close by their horses, making Fain realize that they must leave immediately. Grabbing Little Jake, who has been hiding, Fain and his men then ride off. In the midday sun, just as buzzards are circling the stranded Rangers, Jake and Sam arrive. Buck apologizes for his mistaken judgment, but Jake cannot take the wounded men back to town. Instead, he and Sam, now accompanied by James, who had been with Buck, and the trunk of money, continue following Fain's trail. A short time later, they see Michael's motorcycle and what appears to be his body down on a cliff. When Jake discovers that Michael is alive but was just pretending to be dead in case the Fain gang was approaching, he knocks him down for frightening him and for risking his grandson's life with his ambush plan. Michael then continues with Jake, despite a buckshot wound in his posterior. When they camp for the night, James, who chafes under his father's orders, confronts him about why he left the family, suggesting that Jake had "a weakness for the ladies." Jake refuses to discuss it, then roughly removes the buckshot from Michael's backside. With Sam's scouting, they know that the Fains are only about three or four hours away. At a stop on the trail, Michael tells Jake that he is an excellent rifle shot, but when he tries to shoot a new type of weapon, a semi-automatic pistol, he cannot control it and forces everyone to dive for cover. That night, as James customizes his holster so that he can quick draw the semi-automatic pistol, Fain rides up to camp, saying he is a messenger. He tosses Little Jake's underwear to Jake, who pretends merely to be a hired hand. Fain says that they should go to Escondera and wait, then warns that others have heard about the trunk full of money, but no matter what happens, he must bring the one million dollars or the boy will be killed. After Fain rides out, Sam tells Jake that two men are close enough to camp to have heard everything. Jake orders them killed, but one escapes. The McCandles arrive in the booming oil town of Escondera during a fiesta. After they check into a hotel, Jake devises a plan to have Michael hide in the room while James creates a distraction for Sam secretly to return. Later, as James drinks and flirts with dancehall girls in the saloon, Jake goes to the barbershop to take a bath. At the appropriate moment, James starts a fight that spills over onto the street, enabling Sam to sneak back their hotel room undetected. At the barbershop, one of Fain's men tries to kill Jake in the shower, but Jake shoots him first and kills him. Meanwhile, when men break into the hotel room to steal the trunk, Sam and Michael kill them. When Jake and James return, his sons see that the trunk contains only newspaper and assume that Jake has stolen the money. Michael and James then fight with their father but are both knocked out by him. After Jake revives them, he reveals that he and Martha had secretly decided that they would not reward the kidnappers, who had already killed many of their ranchhands. As they are talking, Pop Dawson, one of Fain's men, comes to their room and reveals the details of exchanging the money for the boy, telling Jake that there will be a sharpshooter keeping Little Jake in his sight for an hour after the exchange to ensure that nothing goes wrong. When alone, Jake tells Michael that his job is to kill the sharpshooter, then goes with Sam and James to meet Pop. Pop is suspicious that "the fourth man" is not with them, but Jake tells him that he was killed and his body is at the jail. Although skeptical, Pop does not want to go to the jail to check the story. Unknown to Pop, Michael is trailing behind as the men ride off. At a deserted hacienda outside town, Pop tells Jake to go inside with the trunk. After Fain greets him, Jake tells the other members of the gang to come out where he can see them. Fain then tells Jake to open the trunk, but Jake refuses until he sees Little Jake. When the boy appears, Fain warns that Little Jake's head will be shot off by his brother Will if anything happens. Jake then throws the trunk's key to Fain, who is momentarily stunned when he sees that the trunk only contains newspaper, enabling Jake to draw his gun. Fain yells to Will to shoot Little Jake, but Michael kills him first, enabling Little Jake to run away. In the melee that follows, all of Fain's gang members are killed, as is Jake's dog, who, in trying to save his master's life, is brutally killed by a machete wielded by one of Fain's men. Fain himself is mortally wounded by Michael, after which the McCandles family head for home.
Harry Carey Jr.
Joseph C. Behm
William H. Clothier
J. W. Coffman
Harry Julian Fink
R. M. Fink
Michael A. Wayne
Joseph Wolfe Jr.
The biggest difference between the two movies is that The Searchers was directed by John Ford, whereas Big Jake was directed by George Sherman, a veteran of many westerns but hardly a towering Hollywood figure. Sherman had directed Wayne in some of the "Three Mesquiteers" western programmers he made for Republic during the late 1930s, and Wayne invited him to direct Big Jake, produced by Wayne's own Batjac production company, as a sort of nostalgic reunion, even though Sherman was having health problems that forced Wayne to supervise much of the shooting himself.
The movie was also a reunion in other ways. One of Wayne's real-life sons, Michael, produced it; another one, Patrick, plays James McCandles, hero Jake McCandles's rebellious son; and a much younger Wayne offspring, Ethan-named after the Searchers hero--plays Little Jake McCandles, the kidnapped kid. Talk about family values! On top of this, Robert Mitchum's son Christopher plays Big Jake's better-behaved son, Michael, and Maureen O'Hara lends an extra touch of class as Martha McCandles, the hero's estranged but secretly affectionate wife, who has only a couple of scenes before disappearing from the picture. O'Hara wrote in her memoir, 'Tis Herself, that while she "wasn't crazy" about this small and marginal part, "it was Duke [Wayne], so I agreed to do it." She enjoyed working again with character actors from the old Ford stock company, but wasn't pleased when some of her shots with Wayne were cut due to the film's excessive length. This was the fifth and final film she and Wayne appeared in together - the first was Ford's excellent Rio Grande in 1950 - and it was the tenth and final movie for Wayne and Sherman, who didn't direct any more features between Big Jake in 1971 and his death twenty years later.
Big Jake has an old-fashioned story arc. It begins with a massacre, when the outlaws headed by evil John Fain, ominously acted by the brooding Richard Boone, gun down most of the McCandles household before grabbing Little Jake and galloping away to prepare their ransom demand. It ends with an elaborate shootout involving a distant sniper, a hidden Derringer, the kidnapped boy with a hood over his head, and a trunk that's supposed to contain a million dollars but is really stuffed with newspaper. All this is filmed according to tried-and-true western conventions, accompanied by an Elmer Bernstein score that trots out almost every musical formula associated with Wild West movies.
But at a time when directors like Sam Peckinpah and Robert Altman were revolutionizing the western with pictures such as The Wild Bunch (1969) and McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971), being traditional was a somewhat daring maneuver. And to make sure they wouldn't seem too conservative, the filmmakers hedged their bets by going for the unexpected now and then: a faux-documentary introduction during the opening credits, a few more squibs and a bit more blood than Wayne's pictures usually contain, and a sequence where Big Jake's men race after Fain's gang in turn-of-the-century horseless carriages. The screenplay was written by Harry Julian Fink, who had worked with Boone on the memorable CBS-TV series Have Gun-Will Travel in the early 1960s, and R. M. Fink, whose other projects with her husband include Dirty Harry, also a 1971 release, and the Wayne vehicle Cahill, U.S. Marshal two years later. (Paramount asked Wayne to play Dirty Harry Callahan, but he was too booked up with Big Jake, The Cowboys (1972), and Rio Lobo (1970) to accept.) Like other writers who worked on Wayne's late movies, from True Grit in 1969 through The Shootist in 1976, the Finks are savvy enough to give him funny lines about his relatively advanced age, which Wayne didn't try to hide, and probably couldn't have anyway. They also let him reprise his celebrated Searchers tagline: "That'll be the day!"
Apart from Wayne's rich performance, the best thing about Big Jake is the cinematography by William H. Clothier, who takes spectacular advantage of the film's locations in Durango, Mexico, and other regions, such as El Saltito, where the crew found a waterfall so gorgeous that they included it in more shots than the story required. Wayne was fond of Durango for practical reasons, including union-free work and salary rules that cut down expenses for this and other Batjac productions. But he also loved the way its Sonora Desert surroundings fostered an authentically quaint atmosphere by keeping the modern world at a distance, and you can sense his affection on the screen. Big Jake was a modest hit in 1971, pulling in rentals of $7 million, and while it's no masterpiece, it holds up reasonably well today.
Producer: Michael A. Wayne
Director: George Sherman
Screenplay: Harry Julian Fink, R. M. Fink
Cinematographer: William H. Clothier
Film Editing: Harry W. Gerstad
Art Direction: Carl Anderson
Music: Elmer Bernstein
With: John Wayne (Jacob McCandles), Richard Boone (John Fain), Patrick Wayne (James McCandles), Christopher Mitchum (Michael McCandles), Bruce Cabot (Sam Sharpnose), Maureen O'Hara (Martha McCandles), Bobby Vinton (Jeff McCandles), John Doucette (Buck Duggan), Glenn Corbett (O'Brien), Jim Davis (lynching party boss), John Agar (Bert Ryan), Harry Carey, Jr. (Pop Dawson), Gregg Palmer (John Goodfellow), Roy Jenson (bathhouse gunman), Virginia Capers (Delilah), William Walker (Moses Brown), John McLiam (army officer), Bernard Fox (shepherd), Don Epperson (saloon bully), Jim Burk (Trooper), Dean Smith (James William "Kid" Duffy), Ethan Wayne (Little Jake McCandles), Hank Worden (Hank), Tom Hennesy (Mr. Sweet), Chuck Roberson (Texas Ranger), Robert Warner (Will Fain), Jeff Wingfield (Billy Devries), Jerry Gatlin (Stubby), Everett Creach (Walt Devries).
by David Sterritt
TCM Remembers - John Agar
Popular b-movie actor John Agar died April 7th at the age of 81. Agar is probably best known as the actor that married Shirley Temple in 1945 but he also appeared alongside John Wayne in several films. Agar soon became a fixture in such films as Tarantula (1955) and The Mole People (1956) and was a cult favorite ever since, something he took in good spirits and seemed to enjoy. In 1972, for instance, the fan magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland mistakenly ran his obituary, a piece that Agar would later happily autograph.
Agar was born January 31, 1921 in Chicago. He had been a sergeant in the Army Air Corps working as a physical trainer when he was hired in 1945 to escort 16-year-old Shirley Temple to a Hollywood party. Agar apparently knew Temple earlier since his sister was a classmate of Temple's. Despite the objections of Temple's mother the two became a couple and were married shortly after. Temple's producer David Selznick asked Agar if he wanted to act but he reportedly replied that one actor in the family was enough. Nevertheless, Selznick paid for acting lessons and signed Agar to a contract.
Agar's first film was the John Ford-directed Fort Apache (1948) also starring Temple. Agar and Temple also both appeared in Adventure in Baltimore (1949) and had a daughter in 1948 but were divorced the following year. Agar married again in 1951 which lasted until his wife's death in 2000. Agar worked in a string of Westerns and war films such as Sands of Iwo Jima (1949), Breakthrough (1950) and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949). Later when pressed for money he began making the films that would establish his reputation beyond the gossip columns: Revenge of the Creature (1955), The Brain from Planet Arous (1957), Invisible Invaders (1959) and the mind-boggling Zontar, the Thing from Venus (1966). The roles became progressively smaller so Agar sold insurance and real estate on the side. When he appeared in the 1988 film Miracle Mile his dialogue supposedly included obscenities which Agar had always refused to use. He showed the director a way to do the scene without that language and that's how it was filmed.
By Lang Thompson
DUDLEY MOORE, 1935-2002
Award-winning actor, comedian and musician Dudley Moore died on March 27th at the age of 66. Moore first gained notice in his native England for ground-breaking stage and TV comedy before later building a Hollywood career. Like many of his peers, he had an amiable, open appeal that was balanced against a sharply satiric edge. Moore could play the confused innocent as well as the crafty schemer and tended to command attention wherever he appeared. Among his four marriages were two actresses: Tuesday Weld and Suzy Kendall.
Moore was born April 19, 1935 in London. As a child, he had a club foot later corrected by years of surgery that often left him recuperating in the hospital alongside critically wounded soldiers. Moore attended Oxford where he earned a degree in musical composition and met future collaborators Peter Cook, Jonathan Miller and Alan Bennett. The four formed the landmark comedy ensemble Beyond the Fringe. Though often merely labelled as a precursor to Monty Python's Flying Circus, Beyond the Fringe was instrumental in the marriage of the piercing, highly educated sense of humor cultivated by Oxbridge graduates to the modern mass media. In this case it was the revue stage and television where Beyond the Fringe first assaulted the astonished minds of Britons. Moore supplied the music and such songs as "The Sadder and Wiser Beaver," "Man Bites God" and "One Leg Too Few." (You can pick up a CD set with much of the stage show. Unfortunately for future historians the BBC commonly erased tapes at this period - why? - so many of the TV episodes are apparently gone forever.)
Moore's first feature film was the 1966 farce The Wrong Box (a Robert Louis Stevenson adaptation) but it was his collaboration with Peter Cook on Bedazzled (1967) that's endured. Unlike its tepid 2000 remake, the original Bedazzled is a wolverine-tough satire of mid-60s culture that hasn't aged a bit: viewers are still as likely to be appalled and entertained at the same time. Moore not only co-wrote the story with Cook but composed the score. Moore appeared in a few more films until starring in 10 (1979). Written and directed by Blake Edwards, this amiable comedy featured Moore (a last-minute replacement for George Segal) caught in a middle-aged crisis and proved popular with both audiences and critics. Moore's career took another turn when his role as a wealthy alcoholic who falls for the proverbial shop girl in Arthur (1981) snagged him an Oscar nomination as Best Actor and a Golden Globe win.
However Moore was never able to build on these successes. He starred in a passable remake of Preston Sturges' Unfaithfully Yours (1984), did another Blake Edwards romantic comedy of moderate interest called Micki + Maude (1984, also a Golden Globe winner for Moore), a misfired sequel to Arthur in 1988 and a few other little-seen films. The highlight of this period must certainly be the 1991 series Orchestra where Moore spars with the wonderfully crusty conductor Georg Solti and leads an orchestra of students in what's certainly some of the most delightful television ever made.
By Lang Thompson
TCM Remembers - John Agar
Anything goes wrong, anything at all, your fault, my fault, nobody's fault I'm gonna blow your head off. No matter what happens, no matter who gets killed I'm gonna blow your head off.- Jake
You can call Dad, you can call me Father, you can call me Jacob and you can call me Jake. You can call me a dirty old son-of-a-bitch, but if you EVER call me Daddy again, I'll finish this fight.- Jake
Who are you?- John Fain
Jacob McCandles.- Jake
I thought you were dead.- John Fain
Not hardly.- Jake
They tell me you killed two good men in a fair fight tonight. That true?- O'Brian
No, three; countin' you.- James McCandles
This was to be the final film in which John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara would work star together; they had previously collaborated in Rio Grande (1950), Quiet Man, The (1952), _Wings of Eagles (1957)_ , and _McClintock! (1963)_ .
The film's working title was The Million Dollar Kidnapping, and some news items referred to it simply as Million Dollar Kidnapping. Although there is an onscreen 1971 copyright statement for Batjac Productions, Inc., the film was not registered for copyright. Maureen O'Hara is listed last in both the opening and closing cast credits. The opening credits read "And Maureen O'Hara as Martha," while in the closing credits her character name is listed as "Martha McCandles."
Throughout the opening credits, which are interspersed with photographs depicting famous persons, places and events from the early twentieth century, an off-screen narrator describes the contrasting history of the East and the West. The segment also includes a brief sequence from the popular 1903 film The Great Train Robbery (see below). The narration continues past the opening credits as "John Fain" and his gang ride toward the McCandles' ranch. The footage gradually changes from a sepia tone to color, then each of the gang members is introduced by the narrator.
In a running joke in the film, when various characters discover "Jake McCandles'" identity, they say "I thought you were dead." At the film's climax, when the dying Fain asks the question, Jake finally answers "Not hardly." According to the film's pressbook and reviews, it was shot on location in Mexico, primarily in and around Durango. Other locations mentioned in the pressbook include Los Organos, where the ambush sequence was shot, El Saltito, the site of a waterfall that was used as a backdrop to another sequence, Las Huertas, La Punta, Lerdo de Tejaca, El Pueblito and El Arenal.
As noted in the pressbook, Big Jake marked the acting debut of John Wayne's son Ethan (also known as John Ethan Wayne), who portrayed "Little Jake McCandles." Some sources refer to him as John Ethan Wayne. John Wayne's adult son Michael produced the film, and his other adult son, Patrick, portrayed "James McCandles." Actor Robert Mitchum's son, Chris Mitchum, portrayed "Michael McCandles." Although the film was not the first for singer Bobby Vinton, who portrayed "Jeff McCandles," it marked his first of only two non-singing film roles. His final dramatic role was in the 1973 Batjac production The Train Robbers, which also starred John Wayne.
According to a Daily Variety news item, Trinidad Villa, the son of early twentieth century Mexican revolutionary and bandit Francisco "Pancho" Villa, was cast in a small role, but his appearance in the released film has not been confirmed. Modern sources add Jerry Summers to the cast, include Chuck Hayward and Buddy Van Horn as stunt men and credit 'Chema' Hernandez as the film's the livestock coordinator and Dan Wallin as the music mixer.
Big Jake marked the final of five films in which O'Hara and Wayne appeared together, and the tenth and final collaboration between Wayne and George Sherman, who had directed several of the actor's "Three Mesquiteers" Westerns for Republic Studios in the late 1930s. Big Jake also marked Sherman's final feature film as a director.
Released in United States Winter January 1, 1971
Released in United States Winter January 1, 1971