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.

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.

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.


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

Keep those eyes TV shaped whilst watching great movies.

Mikey Wolf

No Retreat, No Surrender (1985) Van Damme, Bruce Lee’s Ghost & Karate Chop Hip Hop

This weeks nostalgic look back at the rental movies from our youth brings me to the karate filled streets of…. Seattle! in No Retreat, No Surrender (1985)

Tagline –Tonight, He either fights for his life or he’ll be running for the rest of it.

Who’s our hero today?
No Retreat, No Surrender would be the debut film for our hero actor Kurt McKinney who plays Jason Stillwell. Kurt was straight out of Kentucky and at the young age of 21 was already a black belt in taekwondo and an amateur kickboxing champ.

Had I seen this one on VHS back in the day?
You know what I was positive I had! Remember the cassette case on the video store shelves. You’re talking more than 35 years ago and one hell of a lot of videos watched and rented but honestly I didn’t recall any scenes as I excitedly watched. This movie took me right back to those fun time, teenage years, of discovering random movies.

Quick plot run down.
Jason Stillwell (Kurt McKinney) trains under his father Tom (Timothy D Baker) at the family dojo in Los Angeles. His dad was an expert fighter and practiced the true and respectful way of the martial art. One fateful day the dojo is seized by an organized crime syndicate with the intention of taking over all the dojo’s in the country. Refusal meant a devastating beating from the gangsters prized fighters, one being Ivan Kraschinsky (Jean-Claude Van Damme) a no remorse Russian killer. With lost pride, broken bones and fear for his family, Tom sells up and moves them all to Seattle for a peaceful new life!

Tom Stillwell – “I will not fight. Karate is not to be used aggressively but if I have no other choice. HiiYaaah

Does the hero have a day job?
Jason was obsessed with karate. On moving to Seattle his first mission was to turn the garage into this training arena. He was a Bruce Lee fanatic and posters of the legend covered all the wall space. Punch bags hung from the rafters. Sat in the corner was his beloved Wing Chun dummy. The famous wooden training tool seen in many a martial arts movies training montage. Jason would happily just stay in the garage however he needed to go to school and hopefully make friends.

What’s our heroes special skills?
He is an accomplished fighter in his own right but doesn’t have the drive and focus to finely tune his craft. His special hero skills are taught to him from a very unlikely source!! All will be revealed further down the page…

Heroes weapon of choice?
Just his fists and legs and every bone in his body that he can smash down on his attacking enemy.

Heroes drink of choice?
If Jason was following in Bruce’s footsteps then maybe he’d try some Hennessy Cognac Big Boss style? Or maybe even come back from the dead and drink Johnnie Walker whisky in all it’s wrongness!!

Does hero have a sidekick?
He does and everybody needs a RJ (J.W Fails) in their life. Skateboarder, break dancer, BMX stunts, rapper, Michael Jackson impersonator, moonwalk specialist, fixer, comedy relief, training motivator and general all round best buddy you could ever dream of.

Hot girl? Damsel in distress or ass kicker?
Kelly Reilly (Kathie Sileno) is an old flame of Jason who’d also moved out to Seattle with her brother, the newly crowned US National Karate Champion Ian ‘Whirlwind’ Riley (Ron Pohnel). Her brother also runs the local dojo and has under his wing the arrogant pretty boy Dean ‘Shooting Star’ Ramsay (Dale Jacoby) who believes Kelly is his gal. She only has eyes for our Jason, especially, when he seals the deal with buying a bunny for her birthday. Infuriated, Dean decides to give Jason a beating and get back his love.

Who’s the main baddie?
Well, there’s the local chubby fat kid bully, Scott (Kent Lipham) who’s a right pain in the arse. Causing trouble where ever he can. He does get a few funny lines and is generally a laugh stock. But we all know who the real baddie is… The formidable fighting fortress of Ivan “The Russian” Kraschinsky (Jean-Claude Van Damme). He also shocks the crowd with his wincing nut sack stretching trademark between the ropes splits. It’s a sight to bring tears to the most hardest of men.

Baddies special skills?
Being Russian with a Belgium accent?

Psycho baddies rating out of ten? 8.5/10
A killing machine of devastating power. He can and will fight all and everyone. He has no fear. A psycho in and out of the ring.

Heroes balls of steel and anger ratings out of ten? 8/10
Kurt McKinney does a grand job as our fighting hero Jason. You can see his trained skills shine through in certain scenes. Especially in the end arena showdown where all the fighters (all actual martial artists) get to show off their skills.

Surely it features a training montage scene?
OH MY!!! Surely it did feature a training montage and wow did it deliver. We get a Rocky style running with RJ on his BMX, upside down sit ups, weights, spring tension curls, hours on the wooden training dummy etc. But best of all the montages has to be having the ghost of Bruce Lee put Jason through some ridiculous training actions while delivering ancient eastern proverbs. Yep this film delivers on it’s, should be included in every 80s movie, montage promise

Will I be needing to pause the video player? AKA are there any boobies?
No nothing at all though bully Scott might of known what Jason was up to on his alone time? “Beat it, Brucey! Go home and play with your wooden dolly!

Sex scene?
No nothing at all. Though Jason and Kelly get to play tonsil tennis on the dance floor watched on by a giggling RJ and oddly, two of his robotic dancer friends.

Any good totally random surprise scenes?
One I never knew, I’d imagined they made it up for the plot of the film, but no, Bruce Lee’s grave is actually in Seattle and he’s buried next to his son Brandon Lee at the Lake View Cemetery. What is random in the film is Jason goes to his grave and prays for help. Later that evening the ghost of Bruce turns up, played by Tae-jeong Kim and puts Jason through a tough and strenuous training program with added words of wisdom.

Films body count? Low/Medium/High? 
Low. There are no Mortal Kombat fatalities here.

Best death scene?
No death scene’s yet there’s a crazy stunt bit in the ring involving Ron Pohnel and JCVD. In the frantic fight Ron gets thrown through the ropes and spins round a few times tying him up as JCVD rains down kicks and punches from all angles whilst trying to strangle him!.

Explosion ratio? Low/Medium/High? 
Low. No explosions in this movie review time.

How many stuntmen probably really died making this film?
Reading the trivia section of IMDB it is said that JCVD was tough to work with in the early days. With mention of his dangerous but spectacular fighting movements on set would often connect. It is said that cast member Peter “Sugarfoot” Cunningham (Frank Peters) was knocked out a few times with spinning kicks. A court case would raise such issues when filming Cyborg (1989) resulted in an actor, Jackson ‘Rock’ Pinckney losing an eye in an accident with JCVD during a scene. It has to be one of the dangers of trying to get martial arts film look realistic, especially on a budget back then. One things for certain is JCVD acting might be cheesy but when he starts to fight he looks savage.

Best Line

RJ – “Hey, ain’t no shelves built to stop THIS dancin’ machine.

Production Credits
No Retreat No Surrender is directed by Hong Kong action star Corey Yuen in his first American production. He’d starred in many Hong Kong action films before going into directing. He would also start doing action directing for fight scenes and choreography for big Hollywood films like Lethal Weapon 4 (1998) X-Men (2000) and Romeo Must Die (2000) and The Transporter (2002) to name a few.

The screenplay was written and created by Keith W Strandberg who would return to script two sequels. Neither sound like they have anything to do with the original. In No Retreat No Surrender II (1987) an American kickboxer has to go to Cambodia to rescue his girlfriend from Russian and Vietnamese troops. I’ve not seen it but I see Cynthia Rothrock gets to unleash her fighting powers. And in No Retreat No Surrender 3 Blood Brothers (1990) two feuding brothers, one a cop and the other a karate expert are forced to work together to revenge their fathers death. Actually if you wanted more of this crazy nonsense there’s also The King of the Kickboxers (1990) that might really be NRNS 4? Of course feel free to let me know if they are in fact really good fun.

Jean-Claude Van Damme might be splashed across the poster for the movie now but at the time this was his first big part film credit. He only pops in at the beginning however its the end fight that he really shines and shows why he got to become the JCVD we all loved or hated later on.

Cheese-O-Meter! Low/Medium/High?
This is hard cheese I’d have to admit but of course that’s what makes it’s so much fun.

IMDB score rating – 5.7/10

Wolfman ACTION & FUN rating – 7.5/10

Wolfman over all film rating – 6.5/10

Closing thoughts………………………………………….
Big thanks to my brother Dan for giving me a nudge on this one after he enjoyed watching the cheese fighting fest. Seeing it was on Amazon Prime I had to join the fun. It’s The Karate Kid (1984) and Breakin (1984) influences are all to be seen and you can throw in some The Last Dragon (1985) alongside many kung-fu action films at the time. Ok the acting and plot might not be great but for a B-movie 80s action film, it’s a total blast and I’m sure you will have a great time with it.

Feel free to let me know your thoughts on the film if you want. But most importantly have fun with the movies.

Keep it filmy…. Mikey Wolf.