John Wayne as Jacob McCandles in Big Jake (1971)

The Kidnappers

Whilst not John Wayne's last western there is something about "Big Jake" which feels like a last hoorah, as if Wayne himself felt that he wouldn't make many more westerns and so do one more with the old gang. By the old gang I don't just mean the regulars such as Harry Carey Jr. and Bruce Cabot but also Maureen O'Hara and son Patrick as well as Christopher Mitchum son of Robert. It is entertaining because of so many familiar faces which also include Richard Boone and the less than subtle story which sees Wayne playing an old cowboy in the changing West provides plenty of moments of typical western humour. But it means for the most the actual storyline of Wayne playing a Grandfather trying to rescue a kidnapped grandson plays second fiddle until the end where we get an action ending superior to the rest of the movie.

When a group of outlaws lead by John Fain (Richard Boone - Hombre) terrorize the McCandles ranch, murdering many and kidnapping young Jake (Ethan Wayne) his grandmother Martha (Maureen O'Hara - The Rare Breed) has no option but to pay the ransom. But in order to do so she gets in touch with her estranged husband Big Jake (John Wayne - Chisum) and along with his old Indian buddy Sam Sharpnose (Bruce Cabot) and Jake's sons James (Patrick Wayne) and Michael (Christopher Mitchum) hit the trail in search of the outlaws and Young Jake.

Maureen O' Hara as Martha McCandles in Big Jake (1971)

The actual basic storyline to "Big Jake" is not that great, with Big Jake returning to help rescue the grandson he has never met. But it allows for some typical entertainment and by typical I mean we have John Wayne teaching his resentful sons some respect and we get a few brawls. And to add to this we have a bit of the changing face of the West as we have the Rangers in automobiles and son Michael not only riding a motorbike but also having a prototype gun with a magnum. But none of it is that special, just entertaining to watch John Wayne and Patrick act with Christopher Mitchum as well as another John Wayne son Ethan.

If that was all there was to "Big Jake" it would be an okay western for fans of John Wayne but thankfully it has some memorable scenes and I don't mean the motorbike scene where Christopher Mitchum does a Steve McQueen. Nope I am on about the ending which sees Big Jake ride alone to hand over the money in return for his grandson. Not only is the ending full of terrific and suggestively brutal action but it has atmosphere something which is missing for the most as the emphasis had been on amusement. In many ways the ending to "Big Jake" is far superior to the rest of the movie.

What for me is sort of disappointing is that whilst it is fun watching John Wayne act with son Patrick and Christopher Mitchum he doesn't share that many a scene with the others. And that to me is disappointing when it comes to Maureen O'Hara's contribution as estranged wife Martha as it is such a small part it doesn't allow for any of that Wayne O'Hara chemistry. In the end it is Richard Boone as bad guy John Fain who makes the biggest impact and that is despite a poor character.

What this all boils down to is that "Big Jake" is really a western for fans of John Wayne rather than westerns because whilst the ending is good the rest of the movie feels like an excuse for Wayne to make a movie with his old friends and his sons.