Big Jake

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Big Jake
Big jake ver2.jpg
The second version of the theatrical release poster.
Directed byGeorge Sherman
Produced byMichael Wayne
Screenplay by
Narrated byGeorge Fenneman
Music byElmer Bernstein
CinematographyWilliam H. Clothier
Edited byHarry Gerstad
Distributed byCinema Center Films through National General Pictures
Release date
  • May 26, 1971 (1971-05-26)
Running time
110 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$7.5 million (North American rentals)[1][2]

Big Jake is a 1971 Technicolor Western. It was the final film for George Sherman in a directing career of more than 30 years. It grossed $7.5 million in the US.


In 1909, there is a raid on the McCandles family ranch by a gang of ruthless outlaws led by John Fain. They massacre the ranch hands and kidnap Little Jake, the grandson, leaving a ransom note and heading back for Mexico, where they have been hiding out. Martha, the head of the family, is offered the help of both the army and the Texas Rangers in hunting the gang. She replies that this will be "a harsh and unpleasant kind of business and will require an extremely harsh and unpleasant kind of person to see it through." In consequence, she sends for her estranged husband, the aging Jacob "Big Jake" McCandles, a near-legendary gunfighter who wanders the west with his Rough Collie, simply named Dog.

When Jake arrives by train, he and Martha discuss a plan to take the ransom to the kidnappers, a million dollars in a big red strongbox, although Jake warns that, "Pay or not, we run the risk of never seeing the boy again". Then his son, Michael, rides up on a motorcycle, bringing word that he has seen the kidnappers in the Chilicothe Canyon. The Texas Ranger captain is present and offers the services of his men, equipped with three touring cars. They, however, are ambushed and their cars put out of action. Jake, preferring the old ways, has followed on horseback, accompanied by an old Apache associate, Sam Sharpnose. He is now joined by his sons, Michael and James, with whom his relations are tense because of his desertion of the family ten years before.

That night, Fain rides into their camp to make arrangements for the handover, telling Jake that they will “send the boy's body back in a basket" if anything should go wrong. Both men deny any personal stake in the business, each claiming to be "just a messenger boy". The family party crosses into Mexico the next day and checks into a hotel. Knowing that they have been followed by another gang intent on stealing the strongbox, Jake sets a trap for them and they are all killed. During the attack, the chest is blasted open, revealing clipped bundles of newspaper instead of money. Michael and James become suspicious of Jake and they all slug it out, but Jake assures them that it was both his and Martha's idea. James fears for Little Jake's life, but Jake tells them they'll have to go in anyway.

A thunderstorm breaks and Pop Dawson, one of the outlaws, arrives to give them the details of the exchange. He warns them that a sniper will have a gun trained on Little Jake in case of a double-cross. Jake arranges for Michael to follow after them to take care of the sharp shooter and convinces Dawson that he had been killed in the fight. At the hideout, Jake is led in alone to where Fain and four other gang members are waiting, one holding a shotgun on Little Jake. Jake tosses the key to the chest to Fain, who opens it to discover that he has been tricked.

Fain orders his brother, Will, to kill Little Jake but he is shot by Jake. Dog is wounded by the sniper and Jake is wounded in the leg before Michael kills him. Jake tells Little Jake to escape but he is hunted by the machete wielding John Goodfellow, who has already hacked Sam to death. Dog comes to the rescue and is himself killed before Jake arrives and impales Goodfellow on a pitchfork. Fain rides up and is preparing to finish them off when Michael arrives from where he had been waiting in ambush and blasts him off his horse. Before he dies, Fain asks, "Who are you?" When Jake answers, "Jacob McCandles," Fain says, "I thought you was dead," as have other characters during the course of the film. “Not hardly," Jake replies.

With Little Jake rescued, and the broken family bonded, they prepare to head home.



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 in the Sierra de Órganos National Park.[4]

John Wayne's son, Patrick, portrays James McCandles. Robert Mitchum's son, Christopher, portrays Michael McCandles. Wayne's youngest son, Ethan, portrays Little Jake.


Howard Thompson of The New York Times encouraged theatergoers to "stick it out" until the exciting climax, which the rest of the film was a "long prelude" to that "simply jogs along fairly tediously on the rescue trail, with the star being his laconic self, plus conventional spurts of violence, likewise the saddle humor."[5] Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune gave the film 2 stars out of 4 and wrote, "With a little bit of restraint, the latest John Wayne Western, 'Big Jake,' might have been one of the veteran star's recent best. The most obvious excess, and this is unusual for a John Wayne film, is violence."[6] Arthur D. Murphy of Variety wrote that the film had "[a]n above-average script, plus excellent direction by vet George Marshall and superior photography by William Clothire on Mexican locations," but was "gratuitously violent far beyond the legitimate requirements of the action plot."[7] Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times stated, "To say that 'Big Jake] is a typical John Wayne western is pretty much to say it all. His fans should be well-satisfied with its tried and true combination of action and comedy. 'Big Jake' is scarcely distinguished but is certainly enjoyable."[8] Gary Arnold of The Washington Post called it "a rather insufferable sort of 'typical' Wayne vehicle" with "an undercurrent of vindictiveness that spoils the ostensible humor. It's obvious that young actors are needed to appeal to younger viewers and to perform the kinds of physical action that require youth and dexterity and that Wayne is just too visibly massive and slow to accomplish these days—but they're treated almost exclusively as stooges ... There's no good reason why the young leads in a Wayne picture shouldn't be allowed to function with at least as much importance and dignity as Ricky Nelson in 'Rio Bravo' or the young actor who played opposite Joel McCrea and Randolph Scott in 'Ride the High Country' or, better yet, Montgomery Clift in 'Red River.'"[9] Allen Eyles of The Monthly Film Bulletin declared, "Another genial celebration of Big John's ability to carry a film practically single-handed. Although supported by the group of dependables who usually appear in his films, as well as by a good proportion of his family, it is the Wayne personality—carefully catered for by the script—that accounts for most of the pleasure."[10]


Big Jake was released to DVD by Paramount Home Entertainment on April 29, 2003 as a Region 1 widescreen DVD and on May 31, 2011 as a Region 1 widescreen Blu-ray DVD.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Big Jake, Box Office Information The Numbers. Retrieved June 24, 2012.
  2. ^ "All-time Film Rental Champs", Variety, 7 January 1976 p 44
  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. ^ Thompson, Howard (May 27, 1971). "Wayne Returns". The New York Times. 33.
  6. ^ Siskel, Gene (June 1, 1971). "Big Jake". Chicago Tribune. Section 2, p. 8.
  7. ^ Murphy, Arthur D. (May 26, 1971). "Film Reviews: Big Jake". Variety. 20.
  8. ^ Thomas, Kevin (July 1, 1971). "'Big Jake' Latest Wayne Western". Los Angeles Times. Part IV, p. 13.
  9. ^ Arnold, Gary (July 8, 1971). "'Big Jake': Typical Wayne". The Washington Post. B14.
  10. ^ Eyles, Allen (August 1971). "Big Jake". The Monthly Film Bulletin. 38 (451): 159.

External links[edit]