Big Jake (1971) They Wanted Gold For The Boy. John Wayne Gives Out Lead.

There’s only one man brave enough and tough enough for the job. Yep, that’s big bad ass John Wayne. What’s the king of the cowboy’s up to this time? Here’s my review of Big Jake (1971)

What’s going down in Western town?
On the outskirts of the Mexican and USA border sits a peaceful family ranch run by the flamed haired Martha McCandles (Maureen O’Hara). Her children and grandson live with her alongside the stable and kitchen staff. The long horizon across the barren landscape foreshadows a warning as a trail of horses with their riders start to come into view. This is the The Fain Gang. A bunch of low down dirty killers with only death and money on their minds. When they arrive the carnage starts. It ends with Martha’s beloved grandson kidnapped with a ransom on his head for his safe return. The money needed for the kid?… It was a cool million and there was only one man for the job.

Who’s our righteous hero gunslinger?
Jacob McCandles (John Wayne) famously known as Big Jake was a formidable character. A no nonsense vintage man of the wild west. The turn of the century was beginning to change the landscape but you could sure guarantee that Big Jake wasn’t gonna be fitting into this new world any time soon. With Martha presenting him with his favourite two old trusty Greener shotguns there really was no doubt there was only one man to deal with this gang of thugs and murderers.

Does he have a trusty side kick?
Big Jake has his trusty four legged friend forever by his side. The collie is affectionately called Dog and does everything Jake says. A man’s best friend.

Cowgirl love interest?
Martha McCandles was the the estranged wife of Big Jake. He’d been unfaithful and left after having three sons together. You could see that they still loved and respected each other. She was a strong independent woman. With the ransom set at a colossal amount she would have to scraped together every dollar. Just the sheer size of the red strong box was tell that the number was huge. This was the safe return of her grandson she was paying for.

A collection of low down and dirty bad boy cowboys?
Oh my yes this bunch are real low down and dirty. Pure lawless killers. Lead by the charismatic John Fain (Richard Boone) with a twinkle in his eye of pure evil. His gang, The Fain Gang, are on this murderous mission to get their prize. The young boy, Little Jake (Ethan Wayne). The film begins with a fantastic introduction with the narrator going through each member of this formidable gang one by one. You can watch it on the video below. The beginning of that clip also shows the turning of the era and the big changing tides of the time.

Sheriff in town?
Buck Dugan (John Doucette) probably fits this part the nearest as the leader of the Texas Rangers brought in to help deliver the ransom.

Injun’s?
Big Jake asks for the help from his best and most trust friend, after Dog of course. Sam Sharpnose (Bruce Cabot) would be most welcome on any dangerous mission. He reads the land, good with a knife, even turns into a younger, different looking man, when he runs and jumps to take down a man on his horse. “You do realise it’s a stunt double Mikey?” “Oh really! I thought he had special morphing Native American mystical super powers?“. Ok! whatever, we all need a Sam Sharpnose as a right hand man, he’s got your back.

A rootin and tootin old fella?
There’s a few old boys about but no rootin and tootin. So I’ll add Scottish shepherd, played my Welshman Bernard Fox, condemned ready to be swung from a hanging tree. Luck shines down bringing our righteous hero along the path. I’m sure if he had it to hand that shepherd would sure be rootin and tootin on his bagpipes.

One of best scenes.
Big Jake is from the old era of the West. In front of him the future is slowly making its way in. Metal four wheel contraptions pumping out steam and smoke chug their way through the uneven ground. A man, his young son, in goggles whizzes about annoyingly on a motorbike. Big Jake looks as he sits proudly on his trusty four legged friend, “What! Not the poor Dog? How cruel! John Wayne’s eating way too many beans over the years. He’ll crush that poor little collie dog!“. “Oi doffus! His horse man, his horse!

Anyhow, there’s lots of great scenes. The final battle is great, Big Jake punching his kids out is pretty funny too and the big saloon brawl is silly but fun. If I had to pick one moment I might go for the two REO Motor Car Company early automobiles filled with rangers overtaking Jake and Sam on their horses and disappearing into the distance. Soon hitting trouble and with blown out tyres and steam escaping from the engines as they take gun fire. As Jake catches up he just strolls on by the carnage on his horse with a knowing glance to Buck Dugan and his Rangers as he carries on with the mission.

The quick-draw question shootout round.

  • Shoot-out ratio.
    Plenty of gun battles and pistol fisticuffs.
  • Someone has to have the fastest hands?
    The young and cocky Michael McCandles (Christopher Mitchum) sure thinks he is with his fancy brand new Bergmann automatic pistol. Which he soon shows he’s completely inept at handling. With bullets flying all over place and every one diving for cover. It’s time for yet another ticking off from Dad.
  • Saloon fight.
    The perfect distraction means to pick a fight with the big baddest brawniest man in the bar saloon. Big Jake takes a beating and then in a funny scene he puts his hands up and says hang on a minute this might be a case of mistaken identity.
  • Hang on a minute is that so-in-so?
    Way too many faces to write about so I’ll just go for Big Jake’s son. First up is moody pants older son James McCandles is played by John Wayne’s real son Patrick Wayne. With his good looks you will probably best know him as the hero Sinbad from watching the action adventure good fun film Sinbad and The Eye of the Tiger (1977). Well that is if you managed to take your eyes off Ray Harryhausen’s or Jane Seymour’s marvelous creations. Then there’s Michael McCandles (Christopher Mitchum). Wide-eyed and carefree he has a love for what the future technologies might bring, even when they don’t fare him well. With that surname and that chin he can only be the son of the legend, Robert Mitchum. Which leaves us with Little Jake, the kidnapped kid. Big Jake’s grandson from yet another son, Jeff McCandles (Bobby Vinton). Little Jake is actually played by John Wayne’s youngest son, Ethan Wayne.
  • Scalping?
    No not here. Scalping, I believe, hopefully, had stopped in the 20th Centry.
  • The best little whorehouse in the west?
    Passing through a party town of Mexico and the ladies are out ready to dance and make some coin.
  • Bank robbery?
    No bank robbery but there’s plenty of temptation with the reinforced red chest filled with a million dollars on show preached on the back of a bucking mule.
  • Spittoon, cactus, tumbleweed or beans!
    Don’t be stupid and find yourself in firing distance of our tobacco chewing Big Jake. You’ve been warned. He can take an eye out from 20 paces!! There’s lots of cactus on show but sure I didn’t noticed a tumbleweed this time round. We all know the raw power of beans was flowing through all these guys digestive systems!

How’s the look of the land?
Many incredible landscape filming locations were used across the state of Durango in Mexico. You get the classic western look of a vast cowboy driven regions with valleys and mountain in the backdrop. Plus a few rivers for the horses to gallop though.

Production stuff
Big Jake directed by George Sherman was a Western film making machine. He has so many credits to his name, though Big Jake would become his last big picture after 30 odd years behind the camera. It would become one of the biggest hits of the year at the box office too.

It is written by husband and wife double act of Harry and Rita Fink. They would create the legendary inspector with the 44 Magnum, the one and only Dirty Harry.

Did I learn a factoid?
I thought this bit of trivia was nice. Big Jake would be the final film John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara would work together on. They’d previously been in Rio Grande (1950), The Quiet Man (1952), The Wings of Eagles (1957), and McLintock! (1963). It is said that Maureen considered John her first and best friend. Even going so far as naming a wing of the home she shared with her husband, General Charles Blair, the John Wayne wing.

One other piece of trivia on a personal note. General Charles Blair would be Maureen O’Hara final husband. He was a Brigadier General with the USAF and in their later life had a flying boat with a seat in the cockpit just for his wife. It was a Sandringham VP-LVE called the “Southern Cross” before having it’s name changed to “Beachcomber”. It is one of the star attractions at Solent Sky an aviation museum in Southampton. I’ve been a few times and sat in the pilot seat and in Maureen’s chair next to the ashtray she is said to have smoked like a chimney in.

Verdict
I’d missed seeing this one out of the Wayne’s gigantic film cannon. So it was a very pleasant surprise. It has big Sam Peckinpah influences, especially with the beginning and end shoot out however the comedy, which I very much enjoyed, does take the harshness out of it. I even liked the repeated “I thought you were dead?” line every time Big Jake turns up. It’s all very quintessential John Wayne and brilliant for it. I had a wonderful time. It’s on Amazon Prime at time of writing.

Score
8/10

Feel free to let me know what you thought of this one?

Keep those eyes TV shaped whilst watching great movies.

Mikey Wolf

Ladybug Ladybug (1963) Cold War Nuclear Missile Threat From Frank and Eleanor Perry

A nice quiet rural elementary school on the outskirts of the countryside was busy just having a normal day. At the back of the Principal’s sat a device. It featured four different alphabet codes. One had suddenly lit-up and started emitted a dreadful high-pitched tone. Soon the Principal is calmly trying to decipher the code. Three teachers look on. “What does the Y symbol mean Mr Calkins?” one asked as he skimmed through the manual. With a slight baffled break in his voice he calmly says “Nuclear missile attack in one hour!“.

Now this was the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis. The air raid warning alarm system had been fitted as a precautionary measure. They would have weekly drills to evacuate the building and decide the next course of action. This would require lining up in the playground alongside their assigned teacher and therefore return to class when the test threat was over. However, this time it seemed real. With no response from constant phone calls to verify the warning threat, the Principal had no other choice but to send the children home. Each teacher would walk their class across the countryside roads as they passed each pupils homestead.

Tagline – Powerful! Fascinating! Startling! A Shocker!

Time was ticking. How much time had passed already? Fifteen minutes? Twenty minutes? Mrs Andrews (Nancy Marchand) the math teacher had wore the wrong shoes today. She was in heels and her feet where gonna hurt. It didn’t matter. She was broken. You could see on her face the realisation that she and everyone around her was likely to be vaporised in forty odd minutes. She looked straight forward and marched on ahead with the ten or so children of varying ages following behind. They knew the threat. The constant drills and radio reports had embedded the terrifying thought of death by bombs and explosions. They chatted among themselves. Who’s had a bomb shelter? A cellar or a basement. Would the basement be deep enough to withstand the blast? Who was home to tell, to warn? As they passed by their homes they would run with their imagination running wild. Fear and adrenaline racing.

Back at the school the heavily pregnant secretary Betty (Kathryn Hays) wanders the art class in a daze of confusion. Her perfect dreams of starting a family was soon to be wiped from the earth in a flash. The thought of such destruction was inconceivable. Meanwhile the dinner-lady Mrs Maxton (Jane Connell) was tasked with filling water canisters with one of the young students left behind. Confused by all the jars of water, why, he inquisitively asked. Back in his office, Principal John tried to keep it together, constantly trying to get through on the phone. Surely someone should know something? The clock is ticking! If you were to look at your watch, now maybe twenty five minutes to destruction? What would you do?

This is a terrifying somber paced melodrama. You ponder the horrific situation with them. Each kid runs off to tell their family of the incoming bombs. Petrified out of their young minds. Wishing to save their loved ones. There’s been no announcement on the radio, every one is oblivious to possible destruction. The kids sing songs as they walk the path of the unknown. Mrs Andrews is at the end, she is beside herself. Imminent death is just moments away? Tick tick tick…

Ladybug Ladybug fly away home,
Your house is on fire,
Your children shall burn!

Imagine if that actual happened? Shocking as it might sound, it has, and on way to many occasions. Ladybug Ladybug is said to have been inspired by the real events in an article that had appeared in a magazine publication called McCall’s the year before the film. Astonishingly it’s horrifying to remember back to one that only happened very recently!

In 2018 the island of Hawaii was thrown into unnecessary pure terror when a text message was received by many warning of an immediate missile attack! WTF! For real! A false missile alert sent across the island by television and radio broadcasts to messages sent to directly to mobile phones. The alert advised residents to seek shelter, and concluded: “This is not a drill“. It wasn’t until thirty eight minutes later that the threat was deemed false! 38 minutes of blind panic.

What Ladybug Ladybug does so well is the portrayal of the stressful blind paranoia and psychological effects heightened by the constant threat of all out nuclear war of the Cold War. An unseen enemy always looming ready to start the destruction of the world. The young cast are fantastic with their innocent wide eyed imagination of the terror they are about to face. Writer and director couple Frank and Eleanor Perry really get the most out of their inexperienced cast which includes film debuts from William Daniels who will be know to millions as the voice of the electronic talking car KITT the buddy to David Hasselhoff in the TV cult classic Knight Rider. Also the actress playing the Math Teacher on the long walk is Nancy Marchand who would become Livia the mother to the one and only Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini).

Ladybug Ladybug has become the fourth film I’ve reviewed from the work of Frank and Eleanor Perry’s which included their debut film, the psychological drama, David and Lisa (1962) The holiday vacation drama Last Summer (1969) and best of all, in my honest opinion, The Swimmer (1968) with Burt Lancaster. There remains two I need to see before they parted ways from each other, Trilogy (1969) and Diary of a Mad Housewife (1970). The duo were so very talented together, that’s for sure.

Ladybug Ladybug is on YouTube here to stream at time of writing if you wanted to see it.

So remember to use the wise words of Bert the Turtle and DUCK and COVER as it will help save you when the nuclear blast hits!!!!! DOH!

All the best and happy viewing hehe.

Mikey

Rebel Without a Cause (1955) Confession, Preconception And My Punishment.

Here’s some random waffle from your friendly movie blog host Mikey Wolfman and a review, of sorts, for Rebel Without a Cause. I do hope you are sitting down, not because the length of the upcoming ramblings but for the shock horror factor that this here “movie fan” had never seen it! Insert blood curdling death scream here. Then, if I may, I’ll try and explain my unforgivable sins and let you decide my fate. Feel free to pick one.

  • 30 minutes on the naughty step.
  • Stand in corner with dunces hat on for one hour.
  • The stock’s for a day with rotten fruit of your choice.
  • Medieval stretching table.
  • Electric chair.

OK the last few might be over kill! To be honest I don’t really know the proper punishment for this atrocity so feel free to make your own up. “I don’t why I’m making up my own but what about packing me, a tight squeeze I know, what with my middle-aged furry frame, into a cannon and blasting me into space? Just a thought“. Anyhow here we go…

Court In Session – In My Defence

You see with a film so famous, especially one steeped in popular culture, I find you can build such a picture in your mind that you feel you’ve actually seen something. References fill film magazines and books with iconic images of the young heartthrob James Dean. We all remember the movie posters, slightly off-centre, stuck with small thumb indented blobs of Blu-Tack on student digs walls in our youth. Then later, trying to be cool, fixed in fancy glass frames in hipsters loft apartments. Large format images showcasing this dashingly handsome young man with his futurist, at the time, flicked back quiff. A blood red jacket strikes a dazzling image draped over a white vest adding to that look of danger in his eyes. If James Dean image wasn’t enough to show this rebellious nature, pushed to entice both female and male fans then adding the muscle car of the 1949 Mercury Coupe would surely bring awe and wonder.

So that poster with James Dean portrayal of Jim Stark was not only uber cool and stylish it also conjured up all sorts of ideas about the content of the film. It had me thinking Jim Stark was a tough chain-smoking kid who rebelled against the system. A thuggish menace to society. A juvenile delinquent and all-round troublemaker. It was in the title, Rebel and he didn’t even have a cause to be one! Preconceived ideas that when I eventually sit down and watch it I’m shocked by how completely different James Dean’s depiction of Jim Stark is? It couldn’t be further from that image that I’d had in my mind all those years.

The narrative focus of Rebel Without a Cause is on the fateful, crossing paths, of three young characters. Teenagers with crashing hormonal changes racing through their young bodies driving them with confusing emotions. Desperate to understand their place in society. The need, desire, to have parental help, for something so simple as just plain advice. Our three protagonists all have this natural flaw which is magnified by the changing dynamics in their lives. Which alienates them, pushes them to the fringes of society, to become misfits. Yet, all they desire, is to fit in.

Whether it’s the desperate need for a father figure, or the love of a father. Baffled with life after the loss of both parental guidance and craving for any love, family, brotherly or otherwise. All three characters have deep flaws but can they be rescued before society casts them out?

Lets meet the three stars.

Jim Stark (James Dean)
Jim drinks and smokes whilst aloof with a brash and unpredictable temperament but under that red jacket is a fundamental caring and sensitive young man yearning to fit in, to have friends. He has a normal family. His mother, Carol (Ann Doran), is a little overbearing while his father, Frank (Jim Backus), loves him ever so much. However, he will never punish him, reprimand him. While he brings Jim tea dressed in his kitchen apron, Jim loathes his inability to stand up to his nagging wife or scream or yell some wisdom at him. To man up!

Judy (Natalie Wood)
Turning sixteen should be a joyous event. Anything different hadn’t ever crossed Judy’s mind. She was happily going about her life in what seemed the perfect nuclear family. Loving mother, cheeky little brother and her beloved Dad (William Hopper). Like many father daughter bonds they can be special but suddenly and unexpectedly kissing her father good morning was no longer allow. The love he’d shown had turned to strict sternness. She was now considered an adult and with it came a one sided barrier between them. Judy was distraught. She thrived for that love.

John “Plato” Crawford (Sal Mineo)
Plato has it the hardest. Well, he actually lives in a giant house filled with wealth. He also has a housekeeper (Marietta Canty) who dotes after him. However, he’s all alone and confused. Expected to grow up too soon. His father left when he was young and his mother is nowhere to be seen. Thought’s inside his mind twist and turn. He struggles with his sexuality, he desires to be grounded. All he really wants is the closeness of a loving family. Anxious and traumatised Plato tries to deals with life the best way he can, in a slightly manic way.

My thoughts on film and my final defence.

So you see, a films legacy can be altered by perceived expectations, unconsciously or otherwise. Like I say pop culture can have a big part in this, the trailer can be edited to show a different tale all together, the promotion poster may fail to show the hidden tender side or a sensitive manner. Join them all together with the films misleading title and there you go, a film’s preconception changed in 66 years, well in my head anyway.

Tagline – Teenage terror torn from today’s headlines

It’s a brilliant film with a strange and sad legacy with the tragic young violent real deaths of all three actors and not to mention a controversial behind the scenes production with the, I’ll get my kicks where ever I can, director Nicholas Ray. All three performances are first rate, especially when watching knowing that James Dean had died just a month before the cinema release. For me, I’d say, Sal Mineo’s Plato steals the show. Every time he appears on screen you feel the unpredictable nature to him and those wide open innocent longing eyes will break your heart.

Yep it took me a long time to finally see this film. To be honest I sometimes feel I appreciate them more in my older years. Especially looking back whilst doing my little blog post write up. I thoroughly enjoyed it and best of all was discussing it with my daughter who’d recently watched it and was about to embark on an essay for University. Proper adult writing, no talk of medieval torture devises or other forms of corporal punishment. So I leave you to decide my fate. Which punishment I deserve or will you have leniency with my plea?


So whats next on the preconception smashing watch list? Should it be Marlon Brando in The Wild One (1953) because that is all homoerotic and set in The Blue Oyster Bar from Police Academy isn’t it? And I’m sure I read that the Village People have a cameo? Yep you guessed it, I’m larking around!

Thanks for having a read and you are most welcome to comment if you wish.

Keep on watching that wonderful squared screen. All the best.

Mikey Wolfman…

The Big Caper (1957) Let’s Meet The Bank Heist Gang.

A cool million dollars with a whole stack of change was sat waiting within the bank vault. The California Bank, in the small town of San Felipe, would hold the hefty payload over the weekend, ready for the payroll for every single Monday. It was too much to think even about. Sat there smiling, ready for the taking. Too tempting not to. What was needed for The Big Caper was an expert gang with a perfect plan. Lets meet them…

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Cast a Dark Shadow (1955) Sly Dirk Bogarde Just Loves Those Older Ladies

Edward “Teddy” Bare (Dirk Bogarde) looked well shifty. There was something about him. His handsome good looks were a facade that hid a sinister charm. You see, Edward had a thing for older ladies. Putty in his hands they would become. It wasn’t a fetish for cougars or a domineering mature mother figure that he needed. No, there was a criteria that had to be fulfilled if he was to spend his time dating an older lady. You guess it, money, they had to be rich. He had caught one too. A sweet older lady called Monica (Mona Washbourne). In whirlwind romance they were married.

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My Beautiful Laundrette (1985) Thatchers Britain With Gay Love and Soap Suds

The 80s was a weird and wonderful time. My era. Generation X. Born in the 70s and grew up in the 80s. Video rental, smoking cigarettes behind the school bike shed, underage drinking, sniffing glue!…… and those dreaded “Thatcher Years“! Good old Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher dividing the nation. Tory rule went on forever. It always felt bleak times. Constantly surrounded by the threat of nuclear destruction, the narrative of pop culture at the time. Music videos and TV shows were awash with images of the triad of superpowers. America, The UK and Russia, all with itchy trigger fingers ready to push the button… Sniff some more glue! Vast unemployment swept across the land. Three million and counting were numbers said to be out of work and claiming benefits on the dole. The miners strikes, Greenham Common CND protests and the AIDS epidemic filled the news cycle… Pass the Evo-Stik!

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The Public Enemy (1931) The Grapefruit Gangster WTF Spoiler Filled Look Back

STOP! Pull on the brakes. Halt there in your tracks my dear movie loving friend. This is a spoiler filled post for The Public Enemy. Well, it’s more of a WTF look back to what happened in the film I just watched. Please turnaround and return when you have seen it or if you really don’t care, then be warned the surprises will be mentioned and spoiled.

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The Square Ring (1953) Basil Dearden’s Knockout Boxing Drama

Funny to think of a ring being square? Ok, just me then… Ding Ding. So that’s that, my review of boxing drama, The Square Ring. Thanks for popping on by…

A re-match you say? Ok! here goes. This is a neat little boxing drama featuring a snapshot into the lives of six fighters ready to enter the boxing ring. The main narrative is centered within the changing rooms for our home club boxers. Men at different stages and journey paths of their careers. A wise ex-pro is the dressing room attendant, his experience puts him in the perfect place to give out honest and practical advice. Whether they listen to his sage wisdom is another thing but he would never judge. He’s been there before.

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The Dark Man (1951) Killer Thriller With A Big Chase Filler…

I wanted a short movie, preferably with a dash of crime, thriller and drama all rolled into one. Oh go on then, chuck in a young sexy lady for a bonus! I’m equal, even throw in a hunky fella to balance it out. Devilish good looks with a cad like pencil thin mustache. Tall, dark and handsome but sorry ladies there’s no gentleman with this guy. He so happens to be a relentless killer! Dubbed The Dark Man! His demeanor is threatening, with a foreboding sinister evil that he’d use to quietly menace and kill with. Truth be told he was also a tad stupid. You see, he had just killed. Blasted a man to death. This guy has no virtues, he shot him straight in the back. You see the man had seen him, not kill, yet the Dark Man had, no he had seen his face. The poor man, who would soon become deceased didn’t realise his fate at first. Then when it dawned it became kind of obvious. It didn’t matter, like I said, his life was over, he wasn’t telling no one. Now if the Dark Man was sensible he’d remove himself from this small town with haste…

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