Big Jack


1h 25m 1949
Big Jack

Brief Synopsis

A pair of thieves swindle their way through the gay '90s.

Photos & Videos

Film Details

Also Known As
Big Harp, Big Jack Horner, The Great Harp
Genre
Comedy
Drama
Western
Release Date
Apr 29, 1949
Premiere Information
not available
Production Company
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp.
Distribution Company
Loew's Inc.
Country
United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 25m
Sound
Mono (Western Electric Sound System)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
7,630ft (9 reels)

Synopsis

In 1802, in the backwoods of Maryland and Virginia, young physician Dr. Alexander Meade is being hanged for grave-robbing, a practice necessary for his medical experiments, when members of a notorious band of thieves save him from death and deliver him to their chief, Big Jack Horner. Although Big Jack is feared by all who know of his reputation, a glimpse of his generosity shows through his rough-hewn exterior after Meade successfully patches up his wounded leg. As a token of his appreciation, Big Jack offers Meade an antique timepiece, but the doctor refuses, asking only to be permitted to do his work and to have his books returned to him. Eager to please Meade, Big Jack goes to Marlborough County and engages the sheriff in a gunfight to gain possession of the doctor's seized belongings. Later, Big Jack presents Meade with a pretty young woman named Patricia Mahoney, who was taken by Big Jack against her will to be Meade's bride. Patricia, however, thinks that Meade had requested their arranged coupling and shows contempt for him when they meet. Meanwhile, Valentine, one of Big Jack's men, spreads the news about Meade's crimes. Big Jack rises to Meade's defense, however, explaining that the only difference between their profession and his is that they "rob the living and he robs the dead." Big Jack continues to insist that Meade stay by his side, and now that Big Jack knows that he can repay his debt to Meade by furnishing him with dead bodies on which to experiment, he considers killing the sickly men in his gang in the name of science. Meade, fearing Big Jack's overzealous approach, insists that the corpses he work on be those of men who died from natural causes. One evening, Meade escapes with Patricia and returns her to her home in Montaville. When Meade realizes that he has fallen in love with Patricia, he decides to stay in Montaville and set up a practice. Big Jack, meanwhile, has become distraught since his pal Meade escaped, and vows to find him and bring him back. Disguised in clothing stolen from a couple they pass in a stagecoach, Big Jack and his wife, Flapjack Kate, make haste for Montaville. There a gun battle between Big Jack's men and half the town ensues when Meade orders Big Jack to leave. Meade is taken by force to Big Jack's camp, where he demands that Big Jack return the money he stole from the Montaville bank. Big Jack initially rejects Meade's demand, but after Flapjack Kate helps Meade escape, he rethinks the method he is using to win Meade's friendship and returns the money to the bank and makes amends with Meade. Later, while Meade undertakes a delicate abdominal operation on Patricia's ailing sister Sarah, Patricia's father, the Mayor of Montaville, leads a posse to drive the grave-robbing doctor out of town. As Meade races against time to save Sarah's life and his own, Big Jack arrives with his men and succeeds in keeping the posse from storming Sarah's house. However, when the men in the posse mistakenly think that the operation has failed, they engage Big Jack and his men in a gunfight. Big Jack is mortally wounded in the battle, but before he dies he presents Meade with a token of his friendship: the timepiece the doctor had initially refused to accept when he successfully operated on his wounded leg.

Film Details

Also Known As
Big Harp, Big Jack Horner, The Great Harp
Genre
Comedy
Drama
Western
Release Date
Apr 29, 1949
Premiere Information
not available
Production Company
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp.
Distribution Company
Loew's Inc.
Country
United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 25m
Sound
Mono (Western Electric Sound System)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
7,630ft (9 reels)

Articles

Big Jack -


Wallace Beery had played comedy roles, villains and blustering men of adventure in silent films, and when sound came in found perhaps his best co-star Marie Dressler in Min and Bill (1930). Almost as wild and wooly in real life as his famous screen characters Long John Silver and Pancho Villa, Beery reportedly lost two wives (one of them the legendary Gloria Swanson) due to excessive drinking. Yet Beery remained a popular MGM star until his death in April of 1949. Released two weeks later, Big Jack sees him playing to his strengths as a Maryland highwayman circa 1810, a 'roughneck with a heart of gold'. Jack is harassed and hugged by his wife (Marjorie Main), broad antics that serve as comedy relief within historian James Thomas Flexner's fairly serious story about the development of medical science. Frequently in need of a doctor's assistance, robber Jack becomes involved in the murky doings of Dr. Meade (Richard Conte), whose experiments require the illegal practice of exhuming corpses for study. The outlaw forms a partnership with the idealistic Dr. Meade, who decides to defy the rules of his profession by performing an experimental 'operation' on a sick little girl. As is the custom with sentimental Wallace Beery vehicles, Big Jack's big heart saves the day. Trade reviews couldn't decide whether Big Jack was a comedy or a drama, but all seemed to agree that its subject matter was revolting. Grave robbing might be acceptable activity for Boris Karloff in the horror hit The Body Snatcher (1945), but not in light entertainment for the whole family. Cue magazine summed up the consensus opinion: "...ghoulish business -- a cheap and tasteless mess about a medical grave robber, a low-comedy bandit and their joint vivisection troubles."

By Glenn Erickson
Big Jack -

Big Jack -

Wallace Beery had played comedy roles, villains and blustering men of adventure in silent films, and when sound came in found perhaps his best co-star Marie Dressler in Min and Bill (1930). Almost as wild and wooly in real life as his famous screen characters Long John Silver and Pancho Villa, Beery reportedly lost two wives (one of them the legendary Gloria Swanson) due to excessive drinking. Yet Beery remained a popular MGM star until his death in April of 1949. Released two weeks later, Big Jack sees him playing to his strengths as a Maryland highwayman circa 1810, a 'roughneck with a heart of gold'. Jack is harassed and hugged by his wife (Marjorie Main), broad antics that serve as comedy relief within historian James Thomas Flexner's fairly serious story about the development of medical science. Frequently in need of a doctor's assistance, robber Jack becomes involved in the murky doings of Dr. Meade (Richard Conte), whose experiments require the illegal practice of exhuming corpses for study. The outlaw forms a partnership with the idealistic Dr. Meade, who decides to defy the rules of his profession by performing an experimental 'operation' on a sick little girl. As is the custom with sentimental Wallace Beery vehicles, Big Jack's big heart saves the day. Trade reviews couldn't decide whether Big Jack was a comedy or a drama, but all seemed to agree that its subject matter was revolting. Grave robbing might be acceptable activity for Boris Karloff in the horror hit The Body Snatcher (1945), but not in light entertainment for the whole family. Cue magazine summed up the consensus opinion: "...ghoulish business -- a cheap and tasteless mess about a medical grave robber, a low-comedy bandit and their joint vivisection troubles." By Glenn Erickson

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

Working titles for this film were Big Harp, Big Jack Horner and The Great Harp. This was the last picture of actor Wallace Beery, who died of heart failure on April 15, 1949. The sixty-year-old Beery had been under contract to M-G-M for nineteen years. According to an August 1948 Los Angeles Times article, the story was "written originally by James Thomas Flexner," but his contribution to the released film has not been confirmed. A February 1948 Los Angeles Times article indicates that Spencer Tracy was set for role played by Richard Conte, and that Robert Taylor and Van Johnson were considered for the part played by Beery.