Burt Kennedy

My childhood hero in Big Jake and The War Wagon

John Wayne…the first actor I fell in “love” with. Maybe not so much with the man himself but with the on-screen persona. The larger-than-life cowboy. And maybe not so much love but admiration.

The War Wagon (1967) is probably one of the first movies I recall watching. And…I watched it over and over and over and over….at one point I knew most of the dialogue by heart.

Here John Wayne plays Taw Jackson who was wrongfully imprisoned by Pierce (Bruce Cabot) who also takes Jackson‘s ranch on which there is gold. On his early release, Taw Jackson plans to steel gold that Pierce is transporting in an armoured stagecoach (complete with a mean Gatling gun mounted on top) called the War Wagon. Together with Lomax (Kirk Douglas) he plans and executes this job only to have some unexpected change in events. Directed by Burt Kennedy it also stars Howard Keel as Levi Walking Bear amongst others.

What I’ll never forget is John Wayne doing a running-jump-mount onto his horse as only he could do and look good. I must admit, I’m long overdue for a re-watch of this movie. I wonder if so many years later it still holds the same appeal. If anything, it will most certainly take me down a nostalgic path.

The second John Wayne movie I recall so clearly from those days, and prefer it to The War Wagon, is Big Jake (1971). From this one I can still recall the dialogue by heart especially “You can call me father, you can call me Jacob, you can call me Jake, you can call me a dirty son-of-a-bitch, but if you ever call my daddy again, I’ll finish this fight” which he says to his on-screen son James, played by real-life son Patrick Wayne after being called Daddy a few times too many. Throughout the movie there are some wonderful lines which add wonderful character. I’ve just re-watched it this week and still enjoy it as much as I did a number of years ago.

johnwaynebigjake

The story is simple. Little Jake McCandles (Ethan Wayne) is kidnapped by John Fain (Richard Boone) and his gang. Martha McCandles (Maureen O’Hara) says that finding Little Jake  “is, I think, going to be a very harsh and unpleasant kind of business and will, I think, require an extremely harsh and unpleasant kind of man to see to it.”. Enter John Wayne as her estranged husband, Jacob McCandles, the man for the job. Joined by his sons James and Michael McCandles (played by Christopher Mitchum and Patrick Wayne respectively), friend Sam Sharpnose (Bruce Cabot) and Dog, they set out to Mexico with a large box of ransom money. What unfolds is a great Western that already shows hints of the new world to come: Michael has a fancy modern looking hand gun and the automobile is already making its film debut. All with the patriarch resisting the change. Directed by George Sherman, I believe John Wayne also had a directing role albeit uncredited. I enjoy watching The Duke being all tough and no-nonsense when he needs to but being the father/grandfather figure in other situations (even if it means being a bit tough and no-nonsense). As much as I’d just love to share some more quotes from Big Jake, I’d rather leave them up to you to discover.

While some may not consider these two the best of John Wayne‘s works, they definitely are the most special to me. And, although there are no cowgirls far and wide, they instilled in me that romantic dream of being a cowgirl. I would have loved nothing better! In fact, to this day, if I could be transported to a “world” of my choosing, I’d be a cowgirl back then.

*Quotes taken from watching the movies

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