Sluggishing it Out
Having been held a prisoner of the Territory, Cam Bleeker (Fess Parker) escapes and whilst shot clean through the shoulder makes it back home. But home is no longer home as his wife is dead and instead he finds Jeanne Dubois (Nicole Maurey) and her two children. Dubois and her husband bought the ranch after Cam's wife died but her husband was killed by the pro-slavery "Red Legs" and now she runs the place on her own. Cam ends up agreeing to stay and help with them becoming a new family with Jeanne's kids loving Cam like a father. But Governor William Clayton (Herbert Rudley) would like Cam's help to infiltrate Luke Darcy's (Jeff Chandler) guerrilla army as he is now using his men to take over Kansas towns and build his own empire. Despite not wanting to be involved when Cam learns that Darcy was responsible for his wife's death he agrees to help.
"The Jayhawkers!" is not a complicated movie as we have Cam Bleeker infiltrating Darcy's guerrilla army partly to stop Darcy from building his empire but also to get revenge for the death of his wife. When you strip it down to those bare bones it becomes clear that "The Jayhawkers!" runs to a familiar theme, one which I reckon any actor known for his westerns would have made with that familiarity of going undercover being one of the most used ideas in westerns. If that was just the case then "The Jayhawkers!" would have been an okay movie, not overly memorable but an enjoyable 1950's western distraction.
But "The Jayhawkers!" isn't satisfied with just working the familiar theme and instead director Melvin Frank seems to want to make this more than just another western with the focus on the central characters of Cam and Luke. Now in fairness both Jeff Chandler and Fess Parker play their parts well especially Jeff Chandler who makes Luke Darcy a powerful man with a plan and the confidence which makes you believe if he says he will do something he does it. The thing is that making "The Jayhawkers!" almost a character study makes it a wordy movie with Darcy often talking more than he needs to. Unfortunately whilst it certainly means that characters are established it often feels painfully long winded and short on action.
What this all boils down to is that "The Jayhawkers!" is an entertaining western and I am sure those who want more than just some familiar action and storytelling might enjoy the focus on the characters in this. But for me it pushes things too far and ends up becoming long winded with too many dialogue heavy scenes.