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Film / Big Jake

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"They wanted gold. He gave them lead instead!"

A 1971 Western movie directed by George Sherman, starring John Wayne, Richard Boone, Maureen O'Hara and Jim Davis.

In 1909 Texas, 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's time to send for her long-estranged gunslinger husband, Jacob "Big Jake" McCandles (Wayne) – a rough and unpleasant man, to do a rough and unpleasant job.

Not one of The Duke's best-known Westerns, it is an interesting treat for dedicated fans. The film was made relatively late in the careers of most of those involved, and Wayne and his co-stars brought their many years of experience in making Westerns to bear on their roles, resulting in a competently-made, easygoing, consistently entertaining film. In addition to older, experienced Western actors, the film also featured two of Wayne's real-life sons, as well as the son of Robert Mitchum. The score, by Elmer Bernstein, 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 movie career. Automobiles, motorcycles, oil wells, and semi-automatic pistols all make appearances, and both Big Jake and his Indian companion Sam (Bruce Cabot) are old and grey, worn out by years of hard living.

Tropes in this film include:

  • Answer Cut: Martha noting that for this "harsh and unpleasant" affair, they'll need "a harsh and unpleasant kind of man" (and she knows exactly the right one). Cut to Jake's intro scene with his rifle at the ready and a badass scowl, with his Leitmotif playing.
    • Also a bit of a Description Cut, as the scene is a big Pet the Dog for him—though he does take advantage of the situation a bit himself.
  • Apron Matron: Martha McCandles, with more than a bit of Iron Lady as well.
  • 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 McCandles are tougher than the Texas Rangers apparently, being the ones to take down the kidnappers after the Rangers are ambushed.
  • Batman Gambit: Big Jake needs to convince kidnapper Pop Dawson 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.
  • Berserk Button:
    Jake: You can call me "Father"—you can call me "Jacob"—you can call me "Jake"—you can call me a dirty sonuvabitch...but if you ever call me "Daddy" again, I'll finish this fight!
  • 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 years old... and it damn near got me killed."
  • Camp Cook: The opening scene shows two cooks at the McCandles ranch, an aging black man named Moses Brown and a younger, unnamed white man preparing a meal for the household and ranch hands. Both of them attempt to fight back and are shot down when the ranch is attacked by outlaws.
  • 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.
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Billy DeVries of the Fain gang disappears in the middle of the original kidnapping and his fate is never referenced.
  • Cold Sniper: Kid Duffy, who shoots down armed lawmen and fleeing civilians alike with no hesitation and a faint smile.
  • 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."
  • Evil Old Folks: Pop Dawson, the oldest of the gang and a former member of the James gang is a mean old man who needlessly shoots a young boy running for cover during the kidnapping and once killed a man for $7.00.
  • Familial Foe: John Fain nearly kills Jeff McCandles, kidnaps his son, and demands a large ransom from his mother. Instead, she has her husband and other two sons go out to take Fain down, and they have some skirmishes throughout the movie.
  • Faux Affably Evil: John Fain, The Boone character.
  • Friendly Sniper: Michael, who is a smiling, deferential guy who's a good shot with a telescopic sight.
  • 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.
  • I Was Quite a Looker: James suggests Big Jake might've been this when he was asking for the reason Jake and Martha separated, hearing a rumor that he had an eye for the ladies but found it hard to believe looking at him now.
  • In the Back: The kidnappers shot two unarmed McCandles hands (one of the bronc busters and a cobbler) in the back as they run for cover, and also shoot Moses Brown multiple times in the back after he drops the rifle he was preparing to fight them with and is trying to stagger inside.
  • 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 subject 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:
    • John Goodfellow, 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.
    • Jeff McCandles is shot and falls through a railing during the kidnapping, then gets back up, shoots one of the kidnappers before being shot again and manages to survive that.
    • One of the McCandles men, Stubby the broncobuster, is shot in the leg, but then staggers to the bunk house to retrieve a gun and keep fighting.
  • Mama Bear: Martha, who tells Little Jake to run, and also stands in front of a wounded Jeff when it looks like Fain is about to finish him off.
  • 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.
  • Pants-Positive Safety: In the first, Wayne's character casually shoves a pistol into the front of his pants; it probably wasn't loaded, but he doesn't even bother to check first.
  • 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.
  • Son of a Whore: Kidnapper Kid Duffy. The first person he killed was one of his mother's clients.
  • Speak Ill of the Dead: Downplayed. When being told about those killed during the kidnapping Big Jake comments that Moses Brown was a good man, but a lousy cook.
  • 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.
  • Uncertain Doom: The McCandles foreman Bert Ryan, the two broncobusters, the old cobbler and the younger cook who are shot during the kidnapping. One of them survived based on a line from Jake that seven McCandles people are dead and one is crippled (not counting Jeff), after Moses Brown and implicitly the two children are said to have been killed earlier on, but it isn't revealed who the survivor is (presumably either the broncobuster shot in the back climbing the fence or the cook, the only two besides the boy whose wounds weren't shown much after they were shot).
  • 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. It isn't until the very end that John Fain confirms that he, too, thought McCandles was dead.
  • Whispered Threat: While he's not really whispering, Jake delivers one of these in such a low voice that only the Big Bad can hear it. His henchmen, standing several yards away, lampshade this by asking each other what Jake is saying. After the Big Bad tells Jake that his grandson is going to "get his head blown off" if anything goes wrong, he opens the crate and sees it's filled with only newspaper clippings.
    Jake: If anything goes wrong right now, your fault, my fault, anyone's fault...and I'm going to blow your head off.
  • Would Harm a Child: The kidnappers, who murder two children during their raid on the McCandles' ranch.