The ABC's of Film Noir
The ABC's of Film Noir

Big Jake (1971) Classic Movie Review 106

Big Jake (1971)

Big Jake (1971)

Not if we kill them first!


Today’s movie is Big Jake (1991) a romping stomping rooting tootin man fest. This movie has so many great lines it’s fun to watch even if you’re not buying the whole premise. Most of the actors we have talked about before so I’ll jump right in.


John Wayne plays Jacob, the patriarch of the McCandles clan, who has been away for like 10 years because he prefers the company of men, I mean he can’t live in the same house with Martha McCandles (Maureen O’Hara). Of course, we have spoken about John Wayne extensively begin with Episode 2 – Chisum (1970).

Big Jake (1971)

Big Jake (1971)

The lovely and talented Maureen O’Hara plays the role of Martha McCandles. In this movie, she is powerful and driven but is only in the movie for a bit. We first covered O’Hara in Episode 3 – McLintock! (1963).

The middle McCandles son was James played by Patrick Wayne, who was also covered in Episode 3 – McLintock! (1963).

Christopher Mitchum, the son of Robert Mitchum played the youngest McCandles son Michael. Mitchum had a decent film and television career including an earlier movie with John Wayne, Rio Lobo (1970).

Singer Bobby Vinton was cast as the eldest son, Jeff McCandles. Why they cast him, heaven only knows. Was it a mafia thing?

Jacob’s best buddy and traveling companion is Sam Sharpnose. That’s right a full blooded Indian tracker played by none other than Bruce Cabot. We started with Cabot back in Episode 1 – King Kong (1933).

The bad guys consisted of John Fain played by Richard Boone, who was covered Episode 49 – The Alamo (1960), O’Brien played by Glenn Corbett who was covered in Episode 2 – Chisum (1970), Pop Dawson who was played by Harry Carey Jr. who was covered Episode 12 – Billy the Kid Versus Dracula (1966).

The head of the Texas Rangers was Buck Dugan played by John Doucette. Doucette was a character actor with almost 300 credits. He was in True Grit (1969) and Patton (1970).

Hank Worden played the role of Hank, Martha’s driver. Worden was covered in Episode 49 – The Alamo (1960).

John Agar played the ranch foreman. Agar was covered in Episode 2 – Chisum (1970).


The year is established as 1909 through a series of photographs. It highlights how modern the world was except that the western US was still wild. As the bad guys are riding towards the McCandles ranch a bio is presented on each

Big Jake (1971)

Big Jake (1971)

of the bad guys. At the ranch, Little Jake McCandles is practicing the piano. Upstairs. Jeff McCandles (Bobby Vinton) is sleeping.The gang attacks the ranch, killing innocent men, women, and children. When Jeff comes down he is wounded by John Fain (Richard Boone) head of the bandits. They even kill old Moses Brown the cook before they kidnap Little Jake. `Little Jake stabs O’Brien in the cheeks making an enemy for life. They leave Mrs. Martha McCandles (Maureen O’Hara) alive so she can pay the ransom.

Hank (Hank Worden) comes riding in after the attack. Martha tells him to get a doctor and the sheriff. Hank asks about her husband to which she replies, I have no husband. She finds the ransom note with instruction on the body of her wounded son. The bad guys and their hostage cross back into Mexico.

Martha has a strong box brought down and she is offered aid from the Army and the Texas Rangers. The Rangers are led by Buck Dugan (John Doucette). Martha turns down both offers saying it is going to be a harsh and unpleasant business and will require a harsh and unpleasant kind of man.

The scene switches to Big Jake McCandles (John Wayne) sighting his rifle. In the distance are a group of cattle men about to hang a sheep herder. Big Jake convinces himself he is not going to get involved. He talks it over with his Rough Collie that goes by the name of Dog. About that time one of the men kicks a small Mexican boy. Big Jake rides down and rescues the shepherd (Bernard Fox) and buys the sheep. The hang men change their tune when they find out they are dealing with Big Jake. Later a rider brings a letter from Martha saying she needs his help.

Big Jake arrives via train with his horse in tow. Jake goes in to see Martha. She tells of Jeff being shot and Jeff’s son being kidnapped. Hank and another man bring in the red strong box with the million dollar ransom. Jake opens the box and asks Martha if that is the way she want to do it. She says yes, they need to be given what they have ask for. Big Jake agrees.

Jake begins loading the gear and sees Buck. Buck and his rangers want to take cars and go with Jake. James McCandles (Patrick Wayne) arrives and is mad because his dad left ten years ago. He keeps calling Big Jake daddy. Jake pulls him off the horse and says since you haven’t learned to respect your elders, it’s time you learned to respect your betters. Big Jake sends for Sam Sharpnose (Bruce Cabot) an Indian guide and tracker.

About this time Michael McCandles (Christopher Mitchum) rides up on a motorcycle and they have a little comedy interlude. Michael reports that he has seen Little Jake alive five hours earlier in the Chilicothe flats.he proposes that the Rangers can use the car to get ahead of the kidnappers. Martha says she will chance it and then asks James opinion.

The two sons go with the Rangers. The cars pass the horses and mules on the road.

Big Jake meets up with Sam Sharpnose and Sam explains that he doesn’t hunt Apaches. He also explains about the kidnapping. The pair and the dog continue on their journey into Mexico.

The Rangers drive to the ambush site while Michael scouts on his motorcycle. Although they have lost sight of the kidnappers, the two McCandles boys and Buck decide to go into the pass even though they are warned against it. Of course, Fain and the gang have made it their first and they ambush the Rangers. The Rangers take a beating and all the cars are destroyed while Michael does some pointless riding around on his motorcycle.

Jake and Sam arrive at the ambush and he refuses to help the stranded Rangers. He further states that he should kill Buck for endangering his grandson. James joins his father and they don’t know the location of Michael. James argues with his dad and Sam gives him some good advice. The find Michael laying at the bottom of a cliff with a destroyed motorcycle. He was playing possum. Jake punches him in the face twice, once for making him think he was dead and once for risking Little Jake.

That night the three McCandles and Sam make camp. James starts messing with Jake and then they find out he has been hit by buckshot. They perform the surgery by the campfire. The next day they pass a distinctive water fall that the Fain gang passed the day before. Jake tells Sam he thinks they are being followed. Sam finds that they are being followed by three or four men. They have a little fun with Michael’s automatic pistol. Michael shows that he is an expert shot with a sniper rifle.

That night they set-up camp in an abandoned adobe hut. That night fain rides into the camp to work out the details of the exchange. Fain tells them to go to Escondaro. He also says they have not been following the McCandles. Jake says he doesn’t care about the boy and Fain says he is just a messenger. Fain says they will “send the boy’s body back in a basket” if anything should go wrong.

Big Jake (1971)

Big Jake (1971)

Sam says that two of the men following them are in the trees. He and go go and kill one but the other gets away. They leave and go into the town and check into a hotel. They say the dog is okay but no Indians. Jake knows that the other gang will be trying to steal the money so he sets a trap. Big Jake scatters his group and he gets to the cantina and picks a fight with the meanest biggest oil driller. During the fun time ruckus, Sam slips over the roof and into the room. Jake goes into a shower and the man that was following him comes and hold Jake at gunpoint. Two men come into the cantina and pick a fight with James. James finally shoots the two men with his brother’s automatic pistol. Three other bad guys come into the room, two by the door and one by the window. Sam kills the window guy, Michael kills the first doorman and dog get the second. When the man at the shower hears the shooting he aims to kill Jake but Jake fires a shotgun through the stall doors and kills the man.

During the shooting in the room, the red chest is broken open and everyone finds out that there are only newspaper clippings in the box. The two sons accuse their father of stealing the money. Both sons hit their father in turn and then he beats them both down. When they wake up he tells them that this was Martha’s idea, remember giving them what they ask for. Michael says they will kill Little Jake if there is no money. Big Jake in one of the greatest lines of all times says “Not if we kill them first.”

Later that night Pop Dawson (Harry Carey Jr.) comes to the room and tells Jake to come with the money and that they will have a sniper on Little Jake. Michael is sent to get the sniper. They tell Pop that Michael is dead.

Pop leads them to a courtyard and leaves. A man is hiding around the corner and Jake spits tobacco in his eyes while James gets in position. Jake crosses the courtyard and finds Fain and four men waiting. Jake sicks the dog on one of the men. Another man comes out with a shotgun on Little Jake. Fain gives Jake a final warning. When Fain insists that Jake open the money case, Jake throws him the keys. Fain sees that money is fake and Jake gives a final warning to Fain.

The shooting starts and both Jake and Fain are hit. Michael kills the sniper. Fain shoots the dog. Big Jake gets away with Little Jake. Big Jake gives Little Jake a derringer and tells him to run. Sam kills one of the gang and is killed by machete-wielding John Goodfellow. Good fellow chases Little Jake and dog comes to the rescue and is killed.

Michael is shot but kills another bad guy. O’Brien get the jump on him but then Michael kills him in a fair fight.

Out of shotgun shells Jake hits Fain with a lantern and goes after Little Jake. Big Jake uses a pitchfork to finish off Goodfellow. Fain rides up and is about to shot both of the Jakes when Michael picks him off with a sniper shot. Before he dies fain ask who he is. Big Jake tells him and Fain says I thought you were dead. Big Jake replies. Not hardly.

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

World-Famous Short Summary – Couple goes through rough patch

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Beware the moors

Big Jake (1971)

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