Big Jake (film)

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This article is about the film. For the character in the children's TV series, see Big Jake (character).
Big Jake
Big jake ver2.jpg
The second version of the theatrical release poster.
Directed by George Sherman
Produced by Michael Wayne
Screenplay by Harry Julian Fink
Rita M. Fink
Starring John Wayne
Richard Boone
Maureen O'Hara
Patrick Wayne
Christopher Mitchum
Héctor Veira
Narrated by George Fenneman
Music by Elmer Bernstein
Cinematography William H. Clothier
Edited by Harry Gerstad
Batjac Productions
Distributed by Cinema Center Films through National General Pictures (theatrical)
Paramount Pictures (DVD)
Release date(s) 26 May 1971
Running time 110 min.
Country United States
Language English
Budget $4.8 million
Box office $7,500,000[1]

Big Jake is a 1971 Western film directed by George Sherman, written by Harry Julian Fink and Rita M. Fink, produced by Michael Wayne, edited by Harry Gerstad, starring John Wayne, Richard Boone and Maureen O'Hara, narrated by George Fenneman, and shot on location in Durango, Mexico.[2] The supporting cast features Patrick Wayne, Christopher Mitchum, Glenn Corbett, Jim Davis, John Agar, Harry Carey, Jr., Ethan Wayne and Hank Worden.

Big Jake was released to generally favorable critical reviews but to a lukewarm box office performance.


Set in the year 1909, Jacob "Big Jake" McCandles (John Wayne) is an aging rancher and near-legendary gunfighter estranged from his family. He wanders the west with his trusty Rough Collie, simply named Dog. The family's ranch is raided by a ruthless gang of Nine outlaws led by John Fain (Richard Boone). They kidnap Jacob's grandson Little Jake (Ethan Wayne), for ransom, murdering ranch hands and seriously wounding Jacob's eldest son, Jeff (Bobby Vinton). Martha McCandles (Maureen O'Hara) summons Jacob.

Jacob and his wife have been separated for nearly 10 years. Jacob arrives by train and he and Martha discuss a plan to take the ransom to the kidnappers and for Jacob to return with the boy. Jacob warns that "Pay or not, we run the risk of never seeing the boy again". Martha has what is well known as a million dollars in a big red strongbox that Jacob is to deliver to the kidnappers. Martha has anticipated Jacob's needs for the job and Jacob is ready to go. When Michael brings word that he has seen the kidnappers in the Chilicothe Canyon, Texas Ranger Capt. Buck Duggan offers the services of his Texas Rangers, equipped with three REO touring cars. Martha chooses to go for it in spite of Jake's reluctance to try it. Both Michael and James go with the Rangers. Jake rides out on horseback with Sam Sharpnose (Bruce Cabot) and Dog and head toward the border.

The Rangers intend to ambush the kidnappers in the canyon but instead Fain's gang ambushes the Rangers. During the shoot-out, in which several Rangers are killed, James is wounded and all the early autos are immobilized. Jake arrives on horseback, shares his water with the Rangers, and threatens to kill Buck if his grandson is killed. Jake takes Michael and James with him. That night, Fain rides into their camp to meet with Jake. However, Jake identifies himself as an employee of the McCandles Family while Fain pretends not to be the leader of the kidnappers but rather "just a messenger boy". Fain tells Jake that he will send "the boy's body back in a basket" if anything should go wrong.

They cross into Mexico the next day and check into a hotel. Jake sets a trap for some men who were planning on stealing the strongbox. During the attack, the lock is blasted open revealing newspaper clippings instead of money. Michael becomes angry that he killed a man for newspaper clippings. Michael and James accuse Jake of stealing the ransom money and the three slug it out, but Jake assures them that it was both his and Martha's idea. James fears for Little Jake's life, but Jacob tells them they'll have to go in anyway. Pop Dawson arrives, gives them the details of the exchange, and leads them to the gang's hideout. Once there, James and Sam are kept outside, while Jake and Dog are led in. Michael sneaks in to take care of a sniper that will have a gun trained on the boy in case of a double-cross.

Jake and Dog are led in to where Fain and four other gang members are waiting. Fain emphasizes that his little brother Will has a shotgun pointed toward the boy and he'll "blow that kid's head right off" if things go wrong and that there is a man who keeps his sniper rifle trained on Little Jake. Jake tosses the key of the chest to Fain, who eagerly opens up the chest only to find the newspaper clippings. In a fit of rage, Fain throws his lamp into the chest and orders "Kill the boy!" Jake opens fire with his shotgun, and kills Will and orders Dog to get Little Jake. Dog is shot by the sniper after saving Little Jake.

Jake is shot in the leg by the sniper right after Dog, then Michael uses his sniper rifle and kills the kidnapper sniper. Jake regroups with Little Jake and Dog, who is wounded but still alive. After Little Jake tends to Jake's leg wound, Jake hands over his derringer, "Betsy," to Little Jake, ordering him to run out and find his uncle James. Little Jake had never fired a gun before, but he takes the gun and runs. A kidnapper named Trooper tries to sneak up on Jake. Sam opens fire on Trooper and kills him. While Sam is reloading, Fain returns fire and wounds Sam. John Goodfellow then finishes off Sam with a machete.

Meanwhile, James takes on the other gang members. James is wounded in his left arm during a shoot-out where he kills two kidnappers. Breed is hiding on a wall and gets the drop on James and challenges him to draw. James shoots him off the wall. Fain shoots Jake in the left arm and Jake retreats from the shoot-out. The machete-wielding thug John Goodfellow searches for Little Jake who is hiding behind a post and casting a shadow that reveals his hiding place. Just as Little Jake is about to be killed, the badly wounded Dog jumps in the way and attacks Goodfellow; Goodfellow manages to fight off Dog and hacks him to death with his machete (though not shown, it is presumed Dog is killed). Jake starts to shoot Goodfellow; out of ammunition, he throws his gun at Goodfellow and then uses a pitchfork to kill him. Jake grabs Little Jake and they run. Fain rides up and prepares to finish off the two of them. Just as Fain is about to shoot, Michael shoots Fain in the chest, blasting him off his horse. Before he dies, Fain asks, "Who are you?" Jake answers, "Jacob McCandles." Fain says, "I thought you was dead," and then dies. "Not hardly," Jake replies.

At the end, Sam, Dog, and all of the kidnappers are dead and James and Jake are wounded. With Little Jake rescued, the family heads home.

Main cast[edit]


John Wayne and Richard Boone at the film's premiere at John Wayne Theatre at Knott's Berry Farm in 1971

Written as The Million Dollar Kidnapping, which was used as the shooting title, it was filmed from early October to early December, 1970, in the Mexican states of Durango and Zacatecas,[3] including scenes shot at the El Saltito waterfall and Sierra De Organos (in the municipality of Sombrerete, Zacatecas).[4]

John Wayne's real-life son, Patrick Wayne, portrays James McCandles in the film, while Robert Mitchum's son, Christopher Mitchum plays Michael McCandles. Wayne's youngest son Ethan Wayne is seen as his grandson, Little Jake, in the movie.

The couple who wrote the screenplay for the film, Harry Julian Fink and Rita M. Fink, also wrote the original script for Dirty Harry, which was also released in 1971. They also wrote Wayne's later film, Cahill US Marshal.

This was the last of five films in which John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara appeared together. The previous four were

Theme music was composed by famed composer Elmer Bernstein.

Director George Sherman and John Wayne were friends from their days in the 1930s when Sherman directed him in several westerns at Republic Pictures. Sherman was 63 years old at the time this film was shot and not in the best of health. Parts of the picture were shot in remote locations in Mexico, and when Sherman's health prevented him from going on location, Wayne directed the shooting himself. However, although he did direct enough of the picture to be listed as co-director, Wayne insisted that only Sherman's name be listed in the credits as director.


Big Jake received generally favorable reviews from critics.[5] The film however was not a box office success, compared to its $4.8 million budget. It earned $7,500,000 in the United States, making it the 26th highest grossing film of 1971.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Big Jake, Box Office Information The Numbers. Retrieved June 24, 2012.
  2. ^ Variety film review; May 26, 1971, page 20.
  3. ^ Eyles, Allen (1979). John Wayne. A. S. Barnes. ISBN 978-0-498-02487-0. 
  4. ^ Hughes, Howard (2008). Stagecoach to Tombstone: The Filmgoers' Guide to the Great Westerns. I.B. Tauris. p. 155. ISBN 978-1-84511-498-5. 
  5. ^ "Big Jake, Movie Reviews". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved June 24, 2012. 

External links[edit]