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Film: Big Jake
"They wanted gold. He gave them lead instead!"

A 1971 Western movie starring John Wayne, Richard Boone, and Maureen O'Hara. In 1909, a gang of brutal ruffians led by John Fain (Boone) violently kidnaps the grandson of Martha McCandles (O'Hara), who runs a large and lucrative cattle ranching operation. When the thugs demand a ransom, Mrs. McCandles decides it is time to call in her long-lost husband, Jacob McCandles (Wayne)- a rough and unpleasant man, to do a rough and unpleasant job.

Not one of The Duke's most famous Westerns, it is an interesting treat for dedicated fans. Made relatively late in the careers of most of those involved, Wayne and his colleagues brought their many years of experience in making Westerns to bear on Big Jake, resulting in a competently-made, easygoing, consistently entertaining film. In addition to older, experienced Western actors, the film also featured two of John Wayne's real-life sons, as well as the son of Robert Mitchum. The score was pretty good too.

Set in 1909, rather than the 19th century, like most Westerns, Big Jake deals tangentially with the closing of the American West and the end of the age of cowboy heroes like those played by John Wayne throughout his career. Automobiles, motorcycles, oil wells, and semi-automatic pistols all make appearances, and Jacob McCandles (as well as his Indian companion, Sam) are both old and grey, worn out by years of hard living.


Tropes in this film include:

  • Apron Matron: Martha McCandles
  • Badass Boast: Several, but one in particular sticks out-
    O'Brien: "They tell me you killed two good men in a fair fight tonight. That true?"
    James: "No. Three, counting you."
  • Badass Family: The McCandless' are tougher than the Texas Rangers apparently
  • Badass Grandpa: Jacob McCandles is a literal example of this trope.
  • Batman Gambit: Big Jake needs to convince one of the kidnappers that one of the members of the ransom party has died, even though he is still alive. When the kidnapper demands to see the body, Jake tells him it is sitting in the jailhouse, with all the other dead bodies, knowing that the kidnapper (a career criminal) will be highly averse to going anywhere near a jailhouse.
  • Big Damn Heroes: The party that comes to ransom Little Jake instead just kills the kidnappers and takes him back without paying.
  • Bystander Syndrome: "I haven't interfered in anybody's business since I was eighteen year old... and it damn near got me killed."
  • Can't Bathe Without a Weapon: There's a shower scene, and Jake knows someone's after him, so he keeps a shotgun in the shower. When the guy comes in to kill him, Jake has the shotgun in his hands and uses it to shoot through the thin wooden door of the shower stall.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Two actual guns, in this case- Michael's telescoped long-distance rifle, and the semi-automatic pistol he gives to his brother, both of which are featured more as novelty items early in the film.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Several. Michael's sharp-shooting, James' constant quick-draw practice, and others.
  • Cool Old Guy: Jake McCandles is one, his Indian companion, Sam, is another. Both of them suffer from poor eyesight, fading hearing, and slower reflexes than they used to have, but they make up for it with skill and experience.
  • Dark Is Not Evil: Dog is a huge black pooch, but closer to Big Friendly Dog than Angry Guard Dog, given he attacks mostly on command.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Big Jake, as per every John Wayne character.
  • A Dog Named Dog: Played by one of Lassie's offspring!
  • Every Car Is a Pinto: At least one automobile explodes abruptly into flames.
  • Evil-Detecting Dog: Jake's dog, simply named "Dog."
  • Faux Affably Evil: The Boone character.
  • Friendly Sniper: Michael.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: Several, particularly involving the machete.
  • Heroic Dog: Dog who is somehow able to figure out what Jacob McCandles wants him to do just from hearing his name called.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Sam and Dog.
  • I Just Shot Marvin in the Face: Big Jake casually sticks a derringer pistol into the front of his pants, pointing straight down to his groin. It probably wasn't loaded, but he doesn't actually bother to check. There is also a scene in which Michael McCandles' fancy new semi-automatic pistol fires wildly out of control, causing all of the other members of the ransom party to dive for cover.
    • The derringer is single action meaning the hammer needs to be cocked by hand. As it was not cocked, it wasn't really a danger.
  • I Have No Husband. Said by Martha McCandles at one point... just before she decides to call on her husband.
  • I Have Your Grandson.
  • Kansas City Shuffle: Big Jake doesn't tell anybody that the strongbox containing the "ransom money" actually contains nothing but newspaper clippings. His sons are rather miffed when they find out. The kidnappers have rather a different reaction..
  • Kensington Gore: The blood in this film is bright red, and doesn't seem to come from any obvious wound.
  • Kick the Dog: Several. In one instance, a member of lynch mob gratuitously kicks a young boy, prompting Big Jake to get involved in the situation, when previously he had been suject to the Bystander Syndrome. There are also several examples involving the gang of kidnappers, the most egregious of which belong to the machete-wielding overweight kidnapper. One of these involves an actual dog.
  • Let's Fight Like Gentlemen: O'Brien has his gun pointed at James' back, but instead of just shooting him, he lets James turn around so they can have a quick-draw contest... to the death.
  • Machete Mayhem: By the most odious and Obviously Evil of the kidnappers.
  • Made of Iron \ Rasputinian Death: The machete-wielding kidnapper is attacked by an angry dog (twice!), shot with a pistol (also twice), stabbed in the stomach with a knife, and finally dies after being stabbed in the stomach with a pitchfork.
  • Memetic Badass: In-universe: it has been years since anyone heard of Jacob doing anything, let alone being badass. On discovering who he is, nobody ever takes the chance that he might not be anymore.
  • Only a Flesh Wound: Many, many times. The only really realistic example is when Jacob's son James takes a barrel full of buckshot in the arse.
  • Papa Wolf: Big Jake.
  • Parental Abandonment: Big Jake abandoned his wife and children many years before, and his son James is still sore about it.
  • Phrase Catcher: "I thought you was dead." Possibly alluded to by Escape from New York, made about 10 years later.
  • Rancher: The McCandles ranch is run over by a gang of cutthroats.
  • Retired Badass: Jake McCandles appears to be this, though what, exactly, he is doing before his wife calls on him is not made entirely clear.
  • Thicker Than Water: When little Jake is kidnapped, his grandfather and two of his uncles are the ones to come rescue him.
  • Throw Away Guns: Big Jake does this at one point, but it is probably justified- out of ammo, he was aiming for his assailant, hoping to slow him down in a life-or-death situation and thereby buy himself enough time to finish the guy off. He would have been easily able to retrieve it, once the assailant had been dispatched.
  • Twilight of the Old West: Takes place in 1909 when automobiles are used to chase the bad guys.
  • Underestimating Badassery: Like nearly everybody else in the movie (see Phrase Catcher above), the kidnappers assume that Jacob McCandles is dead. It naturally never crosses their minds that he might be the one coming after them. Had they known he was alive, it's very likely they would have kidnapped somebody else's grandson. This may be a piece of Fridge Brilliance, actually, since it isn't until the very end that John Fain confirms that he, too, thought McCandles was dead.
  • Would Harm A Child: The kidnappers, who murder two children during their raid on the McCandles' ranch.
  • You Said You Would Let Him Go: Actually inverted in this case.

The Big BossFilms of the 1970sBless the Beasts and Children
The Big CountryIndex of Film WesternsBlazing Saddles

alternative title(s): Big Jake
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