Today’s movie is Chisum (1970). Chisum (1970) is a classic John Wayne cowboy flick. When I say it is classic John Wayne it is similar to many of his other films. New York Times film critic Howard Thompson stated “Forget substance. Settle for color and commotion and you won’t feel cheated.” The movie only boasts a 6.9 on iMDB.com but it is a fan favorite with 83% on the Tomatometer at RottenTomatoes.com. I have to agree as the support cast is great, the back stories are compelling, and the bad guys getting it in the end is just good black and white justice. This movie generally covers the Lincoln County War and the rise of Billy the Kid but with very little attention paid to historical accuracy.
Sheriff Brady was played by John Wayne‘s old drinking buddy Bruce Cabot.
What can I say about the star of this movie that hasn’t been said before? Marion Robert Morrison starred as John Chisum, but of course, you know the actor as John Wayne. John Wayne may be the best known of all of the American actors. For many, he typifies the concept of being an American. His bold swagger and take-charge ways are valued held highly by many American. This is also the same values that cause many non-Americans to have contempt and hatred for our country.
John Wayne had 181 acting credits spanning 50 years from 1926 to 1976. In those early years of Wayne’s career, he met a real western lawman who had come to Hollywood to try and sell his story. That man, from whom John Wayne learned to act like a cowboy was none other than Wyatt Earp.
Wyatt Earp is such an icon of the western movie genre that a review of IMDB shows no less than 56 movies portrayed that characters spanning from the 1930’s all the way through the ought teens including the masterful Tombstone (1993) that showed why Kurt Russell was cast in roles as diverse as The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes (1969), Used Cars (1980), Escape from New York (1981), Silkwood (1983), The Best of Times (1986), Big Trouble in Little China (1986), Captain Ron (1992), Stargate (1994), and Miracle (2004). We will get to those movies later. But I digress – went off on a little bit of a man crush there. To sum up, John Wayne could not pick a better cowboy to learn from.
Wayne went to USC on a football scholarship and began working in Hollywood. During The Big Trail (1930), wagon train western Raoul Walsh met a handsome prop boy by the name of Marion Morrison and renamed him John Wayne after Revolutionary War General Mad Anthony Wayne. The name came because Walsh was reading a book about Mad Anthony Wayne at the time. I guess we can all be glad he wasn’t reading about the Swamp Fox – Francis Marion.
About 84 of Wayne’s movies were westerns of some type. These movies ranged from playing a singing cowboy in Riders of Destiny (1933) to his final film where he played an aging gunfighter with cancer in The Shootist (1976). In-between he played every kind of cowboy from the driver in The Searchers (1956), to mad in Red River (1948), and comedic in McLintock! (1963).
I believe it would be safe to say he made movies about being in every branch of the service (maybe not Coast Guard). In movies, he flew planes of every size and description and drove every type of boat and ship.
Wayne was a lifelong Republican and a war hawk even supporting the Vietnam War. However, during World War II he made the choice, not the enter service because it might affect his career. Wayne died in 1979, from cancer. That same year a Congressional Gold Medal was struck in his honor.
Wayne was a controversial figure in life but a hell of an actor. Through his acting, he set the bar for manliness. Gregory Peck had an interesting idea about Wayne quoting – That’s why those fellas were so magnificent playing the same part because they’d played it forty times. That’s why John Wayne finally became a good actor in True Grit (1969) – he’s got 150 of them behind him. Now he’s developed a saltiness and an earthiness and a humor and a subtlety that comes from mining that same vein over and over again.
The character of Lawrence Murphy was played by Forrest Tucker. Tucker is a well-known actor with almost 150 acting credits, the majority of which were television roles. He is perhaps best known for his role on the television show “F-Troop” (1965-1967). However, I am more impressed by his role in Auntie Mame (1958) where he was cast as Beauregard Jackson Pickett Burnside the owner of Peckerwood Plantation just outside of Savannah.
Actor Christopher George played Dan Nodeen a snarling hired gun working for the Murphy side. I would not normally mention him except for two things. The first was a line he delivered in this flick. When asking where he was going, he replied he was leaving because there aren’t enough paydays in this outfit. In other words, money ain’t worth getting killed for. Secondly, when working with beautiful starlet Lynda Day on this film they fell in love and were married. After that, she was known as Lynda Day George. Lynda Day played Sue McSween who was married to an honest storekeeper who was caught in the middle of the feud. Day has 80 acting credits and was a successful TV actress.
British actor Patric Knowles was cast as the English cattleman, Henry Tunstall. For some reason, the producers cast a much older actor for this part. In reality, Tunstall was 25 when he was murdered. Knowles has 127 credits from 1932 to 1973. Knowles was cast as Frank Andrews in The Wolf Man (1941) who helped track and kill the Wolfman. Knowles played the role of Will Scarlett in The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) and the unrequited love in Auntie Mame (1958).
Ben Johnson played the role of Chisum’s (John Wayne’s) sidekick. He peppers this movie with authentic frontier gibberish and is continually mumbling to himself. Johnson really stole the spotlight from Wayne in this movie. Johnson had 104 acting roles and consistently played the role of the wise cowpoke. His most noted part is in The Wild Bunch (1969). However, I like him as the insurgent supporting grandpa in Red Dawn (1984).
Geoffrey Deuel played Billy ‘The Kid’ Bonney in this movie. Deuel was born in Lockport, New York in 1943. He attended high school in Penfield, New York before attending Ithaca College and Syracuse University. He eventually he followed in the steps of his older brother Peter and went to Hollywood. Deuel began appearing on television in 1966, and his first and best-known film is Chisum (1970). He spent six years in the Army and has been active in education. The last of his 39 television and movie credit was in 2001. He is currently living in Florida with his wife and dog.
Glenn Corbett played the role of Pat Garrett. Corbett played one of the outlaws that kidnapped John Wayne‘s grandson in Big Jake (1971), he was also in Midway (1976) along with everyone else that could walk. I don’t know if you remember that movie, but it was the second movie to have Sensurround. It is described as a “special low-frequency bass speaker setup consisting of four huge speakers loaned out by distributors to select theaters showing the film. This system was employed only during certain sequences of the film, and was so powerful that it actually cracked plaster at some movie theaters.” I saw this movie in 1976, and I think I still have a hearing impairment.
Pedro Gonzalez-Gonzalez played a Mexican Rancher in Chisum (1970), but he can be seen in 85 movies playing bit parts. A few John Wayne films where he was present include The High and the Mighty (1954), Rio Bravo (1959), and Hellfighters (1968). Of course, we would not want to forget him in The Love Bug (1968).
Chisum (1970) is set during The Lincoln County War. I mean the one in New Mexico territory in 1878 and not anything that happened in Nebraska. In a nutshell, Lawrence Murphy owned a store and some other stuff, and he was pretty happy setting the prices due to lack of competition. Englishman John Tunstall arrived on the scene, and with backing from a powerful rancher, John Chisum tried to break the monopoly by opening a competing store.
Each side started gathering gunfighters, ranch hands, and lawmen for the coming fight. The Murphy side was supported by the Jesse Evans gang and the local sheriff Brady. On the Tunstall side were a group of armed men known as the Regulators. Among this group were the town constable Richard Brewer and a skinny kid by the name of William Bonney. No doubt you know him as Billy the Kid. Somewhere in the middle of the two groups was Pat Garrett.
Well like any good western the two sides start knocking each other off. But wait a minute I’m still talking about real history. I haven’t gotten to the movie yet. First Murphy’s people killed the Englishmen Tunstall. Then the Regulators murdered Sheriff Brady. The killings continued for a few months with names such as the Blackwater Massacre where only 3 people were killed, and the Battle of Blazer’s Mill. These nicely named murders finally resulted in the Battle of Lincoln.
The two sides took up positions around town and started shooting and hollering at each other. A couple of folks got killed, but it was basically a standoff. On the fourth day, the army arrived. They pointed their cannons at the Regulators, and some of them fled. Later that day they set the house on fire driving the remaining Regulators from the house. A few more were killed in the fight, but the Kid and some others got away.
Things settled down after the fight. Two years later Pat Garrett became the County Sheriff. Garrett and Billy the Kid were good friends and had often been seen gambling together in the local saloon earning the nicknames “Big Casino” and “Little Casino.” This did not stop Garrett from killing Bonney in the night under questionable circumstances.
This story has been retold by Hollywood many times. Notables include The Left Handed Gun (1958), Young Guns (1988), and today’s subject Chisum (1970). I just want to take a second to talk about Paul Newman and The Left Handed Gun (1958). Newman did a great job in this movie, and I hope to return to him for Cool Hand Luke (1967), Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), and The Sting (1973). But what I want to talk about is the left hand. It was widely believed that Billy the Kid was left-handed. The only proven photograph of him shows holster on the left side. When the rifle he was holding in his other hand was examined in the late 1950’s, it was found that breach opening was facing the wrong way. This was confirmed in 2001 when the buckle and buttons in the picture were studied. It seems that the photographer simply flipped the negative before the image was printed.
The movie begins with a rousing theme song that explains how hard Chisum worked to drive his cattle beyond the Red River and to fight the Indians for the land. This could be viewed as a continuation of Red River (1948) showing the elder years.
Since Chisum (John Wayne), got there first, of the anglos anyway, he took the best piece of land. He is shown sitting on his horse watching over what is now his. Chisum’s boss hand, James Pepper (Ben Johnson) collects him from the hill so they can meet the stage.
Sheriff Brady (Bruce Cabot) is out meeting with Mexican bandits so he can pay them to cause trouble for Chisum. Some of Chisum’s men are herding a string of ponies when the Mexican bandits attack. They kill a lot of men and steal the horse.
In town, Chisum finds that the general store owner is pulling out. He has been bought out by L.G. Murphey (Forrest Tucker). Chisum is told about the attack and heads towards the Tunstall Ranch to head them off.
On the Tunstall Ranch, Englishman Henry Tunstall (Patric Knowles) and his assistant William Bonney AKA Billy the Kid (Geoffrey Deuel) are sorting cows as to ownership. Tunstall mentors Bonney on fair dealings. Chisum and his men ride up, and the Tunstall group rides after.
The bandits are watering the horses. Chisum and Pepper ride down to confront the bandits. Bonney rides ahead, and he is the best with a gun and doesn’t mind killing. Pepper finds the money that the sheriff paid the bandits.
Chisum invites Bonney to his niece’s reception, but when he finds out, he is the kid they have an awkward moment. Chisum goes back into town to meet his niece when she arrives on the stage. Chisum goes into the bar and finds out the L.G. Murphey and his flunky James J. Dolan (Edward Faulkner) cutting off the water from the other ranchers. Chisum allows the others to take his water. He then insults Murphy and Sheriff Brady before leaving the bar.
At the stage, he meets the new store manager Alex McSween (Andrew Prine) and his wife Sue McSween (Lynda Day George). His niece, Sallie Chisum (Pamela McMyler) is at the stable buying a horse.
Chisum and Sallie head back to the ranch. Tunstall is acting as a father figure Bonney. When they come out of the store, Bonney’s old riding gang comes up led by Jess Evans (Richard Jaeckel). Tunstall is a little shocked that Bonney used to ride with a crowd like that. Evans goes to work for L.G. Murphey.
Former buffalo hunter, Pat Garrett (Glenn Corbett) comes into a camp where men are watching Chisum’s cattle. He lets them know that rides led by Evans are approaching the herd. Garrett helps the cattlemen fight the rustler. They capture one of the rustlers named Riker (Gregg Palmer) and take him back to the house. It is the night of the party and Garrett sees Sallie dancing with Bonney. When they are introduced, Garrett gets a little snide with Bonney. The next day they drop Riker off at the jail with Sheriff Brady.
L.G. Murphey explains to Alex McSween his plan to get the water rights from Chisum. Sheriff Brady and Evans come in to talk about Riker, but they won’t talk about it in front of Alex. The three men plan to let the prisoner escape and hid in the line camp. They plan to put out a reward poster for the escaped rustler.
James J. Dolan is roughly throwing an old Hispanic man named Juan, out of the Murphey’s store. Bonney fires a shot through the window to stop the fight, but Tunstall has him put his gun away. Chisum shows up, and they talk to Murphey about his prices. Tunstall and Chisum decide to open a store and a bank to compete with Murphey.
The herd that was scattered by the rustlers was supposed to be delivered to the Army. At the fort, the commander says he has ordered a herd from someone else. The chief, White Buffalo (Abraham Sofaer), knows Chisum from the old days. When he tries to talk to Chisum, an Army First Sergeant (John Pickard) grabs the chief. Chisum grabs the sergeant, gives him a cigar, and calmly explains that if he touches White Buffalo again, he will kill him.
After Chisum rides out, the commander meets with L.G. Murphey. They have been making shady deals.
Alex has found out what a rat Murphey is and he goes to see Chisum and Tunstall. They propose that he run their store and bank as a partner.
Bonney is leading the wagon train to get the supplies for the new store. Garrett loses his money gambling and decides to go along with Bonney. Before Billy leaves, he gives a wooden cross to Sallie cause he thinks she’s purdy.
Scar-faced bounty hunter Dan Nodeen (Christopher George) comes in with the body of Riker to collect the bounty. Murphey’s plans have gone off the rails a bit. Sheriff Brady mentions that Nodeen limps because Bonney shot him a few years back. Murphey offers Nodeen a job, but he refuses.
During the trip to Santa Fe, Booney and Garrett become good friends. Booney wants to know if he can change and get married. Garrett tells that it takes time to get over your past. When the wagon train is crossing a river, Evans and his gang of riders attack. The wagon train is prepared, and the raiders take a pretty bad beating. The wagon train loses some men as well. Evans shoots Bonney as he is driving one of the wagons across, but he survives so Sallie can take care of him.
Chisum wants to kill Murphey, but Tunstall and Alex stop him. Tunstall plans to go to Santa Fe to talk to the territorial governor. Chisum has to throw in his contempt for government that is higher than the gun.
The store and bank hurt Murphey’s business as soon as they open.
While Bonney is healing, Tunstall leaves for Santa Fe, but first, he makes Bonney promise not to use the gun.
Evans brands some of Murphey’s cattle with the Tunstall brand. The sheriff then sends me out to arrest Tunstall. Tunstall starts arguing and reaches for his watch. One of the deputies, Bradley (Robert Donner) overreacts and shoots him. He then places a gun on the unarmed man.
They have the funeral for Tunstall just as Justice J.B. Wilson (Ray Teal) shows up. Bonney is the last to leave the graveside. He vows revenge. Chisum gets deputized to track down the killers.
Murphey and Evans get their version of the story to the territorial governor.
Chisum and his men catch the wanted men in a little cantina. They beat the men and then take them into custody. Garrett and the men are taking the prisoners to town when Bonney rides up. Cool as a cucumber, he shoots the two men down and flees.
Bonney charges into town and guns Sheriff Brady down in the middle of the main street. Murphey gets the governor to revoke J.B.’s power. The governor appoints Nodeen as the new sheriff.
Chisum says he will handle Murphey if there is any more trouble. Bonney comes to see Sallie and Garrett catches him. Chisum takes Bonney in and tries to explain things to him. Chisum talks about a girl he walked away from in Texas. Is this Red River (1948) again?
Nodeen goes on a terror spree looking for Bonney. Bonney gets a gan together and plans on robbing the bank and killing Murphey.
Back at the ranch, Garrett is macking on Sallie. Garrett gives the Chisum is the great white father speech.
Booney and his gang ride into town at night. They break into Chisum’s store to steal dynamite. Alex catches them and he is trying to convince Booney. Nodeen sees Booney from across the street and gathers his group. Nodeen and his men start firing indiscriminately into the store. The rest of Bonney’s gang makes it into the store. Nodeen won’t let Alex and Sue leave even though they are innocent bystanders.
At sunup, Nodeen calls Bonney to come out. They start firing again. Alex asks Murphey if Sue can out. They let her outside and she crosses the street. Hey but their shooting that way too. Alex decides he wants to come out. Nodeen refuses to let him out. Bonney starts picking the other side off and widdles them down pretty good. Sue rides out to get Chisum. Murphey guards both ends of town and puts a barricade up.
Chisum gets all the men he can and heads into town. Alex asks for a cease fired and comes out alone. When he does, Nodeen guns him down in the street. Nodeen calls for torches. Chisum and other locals meet by the cattle corral in town. By this time, Nodeen’s men have et the store on fire. Chisum and his men send the herd of cows, you know not dairy cows, but real Texas Longhorns screaming down the main street of town and over the barricade.
Chisum rides his horse through a window to get at Murphey. Bonney and his remaining guys break-out and continue the fight. Murphy and Chisum fight in every room and break all of the furniture and windows. Bonney tracks down Evans and kills him in a fair fight.
Murphey and Chisum fight upstairs and fall out the top window. Murphey is impaled on a set of horns. I guess they came of the wall or one of the cows lost them. Nodeen leaves town saying it ain’t worth it. Garrett becomes the sheriff. Gen. Lew Wallace takes over as governor and gives a general amnesty. Garett and Sallie are a thing now.
So Garrett becomes sheriff, gets the girl, and rich guy Chisum goes back to lording over his valley. Billy, the Kid, becomes an outlaw. The end.
Is that a better ending than the real ending? I don’t know how I feel.
World-Famous Short Summary – English boy, goes to the Wild West, hangs out with Billy the Kid. Things end badly for the English boy. Oh, and for Billy the Kid too.
In real-life, Pat Garrett killed his friend Billy Bonney on July 14, 1881.
I hope you enjoyed today’s show. I really appreciate you spending the time listening. You can find connections to social media and email on my site at classicmovierev.com. There are links in the podcast show notes as well. Remember this show is entirely free and independent. All I ask is that you jump over to Apple Podcast and give me a review. It really helps the show get found.
Beware the moors.