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Looking Back at Big Jake (1971)

Plot: The avenging head of the McCandle clan returns to his estranged family and leads the search for his kidnapped grandson. Big Jake sets off, his sons in tow, to deliver the ransom to the kidnappers, but has little intention of handing it over without a fight.

John Wayne stars in this classic Western directed by George Sherman in his final directorial role.

Big Jake is the type of Western I have always enjoyed even if I normally tend to prefer Spaghetti Westerns for their more interesting characters with questionable morals.

Jake McCandle (John Wayne) isn’t exactly a true-blue hero mind you and has been estranged from his family for many years because he’s just too damn manly to be there for his sons. You can understand why his sons are bitter towards him as he has been absent for so long that it would cause resentment that they have to do what he says when going to rescue the kid. Jake also gets into regular fist fights with his sons as any good parent should…

It does actually feel authentic as that is the way people would have behaved back then and you can’t help but like Jake despite his many character flaws. John Wayne was never a great actor but he had plenty of screen presence so it’s understandable why he had such a good career. His name is synonymous with the Western genre and this remains one of my personal favourites.

The mixture of the old west mixed in with more modern technology like cars and motorcycles shows how times were changing and that men like Jake were soon to be a part of a bygone era.

Elmer Bernstein provides a sweeping score reminiscent of his work on The Magnificent Seven and makes you feel wistful for simpler times.

As this was at the beginning of the 70’s Big Jake is a little more violent than some of his earlier ones to add a bit of (true) grit to it.

The villains are suitably ruthless with Richard Boone particularly nasty and the final shoot-out delivers plenty of bloodshed; did they need to kill the dog though? Also I love how Jake never even names it… it’s just called Dog.

In terms of flaws although you can understand why they are bitter towards their father Jake’s sons James McCandles (Patrick Wayne) and Michael McCandles (Chris Mitchum) aren’t all that endearing as characters so we don’t really care about them all that much.

Overall, Big Jake remains a hugely enjoyable Western with John Wayne his usual surly gruff self making him believable for the times. It has some impressive shoot-outs and a high bodycount that should still impress modern Western fans.