Directed by George Sherman (his final feature film credit)
It is 1909 and a gang kidnaps “Big” Jacob McCandles’s grandson for ransom and so Jake must set out to rescue him.
John Wayne is Big Jake McCandles who is an absentee father that it is implied was thrown out of his house some years before. At first you think he just up and left but then it is all but outright stated that he was cheating on his wife Martha (Maureen O’Hara) and was kicked out. None of this is ever confirmed though in the narrative of the film.
The movie is set during the early 1900s. Cars are starting to become prevalent and the McCandles’s son Michael (Christopher Mitchum) even rides around on an early motorcycle. But these elements are quickly forgotten and if you walked in on the movie after the ambush by the kidnappers of some Texas Rangers, you would not know it. You would think you were watching a more traditionally set Western. It was a nice element that just got forgotten.
And speaking of Maureen O’Hara: why do you cast her and then do nothing with her? She was a hell of an actress and to just have her in the first few minutes of any movie is a waste. Of the character, it’s clear that Big Jake still loves his wife Martha, and she still has feelings for him. Jake even owns a pocket watch and tucked inside of it is a picture of her. But this romantic subplot does not go anywhere really. There is just some sexual tension between the two and then she is forgotten aside from a few mentions during the trip. I do not think it would have stretched credibility if the character had come along.
Another thing that bothers me is the Jake’s son Michael (John Wayne’s very own son Patrick Wayne) was resentful of his father. Openly so to the point he was willing to fight him. Yet by the end of the movie he was all right with his old man. They bonded and hugged. I am not sure at what point the change of heart occurred. It was a little out of the blue for me. Grudging respect would have been more plausible.
The action is good. John Wayne knew how to make an enjoyable Western. Even if the material was a little weak, he knew how to make it good. He had a unique tough guy presence that made the punches his characters tended to throw extra cool.
The concept is good but the unique aspects of it are left alone too quick in the story. The idea of clashing ages had real potential. I wish they had played it up a little more. It is a lighter example of the genre of its time. Not great but rather just a good film. It is not a must see but you will not feel it a complete waste.