Big Jake (Blu-ray)
Directed by George Sherman
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 1080p VC-1 codec
Running Time: 109 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, 2.0 English; 1.0 French, German, Spanish, others
Subtitles: SDH, German, Spanish, French, others
Region: no designation
MSRP: $ 24.99
Release Date: May 31, 2011
Review Date: May 27, 2011
In the last decade of his career, John Wayne’s step may have slowed a little, but he still possessed a sense of humor and could show it in films that mixed a serious story arc with more playful subplots along the way to the big finish. George Sherman’s Big Jake isn’t as much fun as some of his earlier westerns either in terms of humor or action, but it’s still an easygoing, mostly fun film that doesn’t overdo the shenanigans at the expense of its story. It’s a family affair, too, with his sons operating both before the camera and behind the scenes of its making.
When his grandson (Ethan Wayne) is abducted by ransom-demanding kidnappers led by the nefarious John Fain (Richard Boone), estranged husband and father Jacob McCandles (John Wayne) agrees to transport the million dollar ransom money with the aid of his trusty dog and Indian friend Sam Sharpnose (Bruce Cabot) in an attempt to reclaim the boy whom he’s never met. A posse is organized to try to bushwhack the kidnappers so that the money won’t need to be paid, and among its members are McCandles' sons James (Patrick Wayne) and Michael (Christopher Mitchum), but they’re ambushed by the bad guys though the two McCandles sons luckily escape the massacre. So, teamed up now with their father with whom they forge an uneasy alliance, the quartet of men and the dog take on all comers as they attempt to do the impossible: survive long enough to get the kidnapped boy back without the kidnappers killing him or them in the process.
By setting the story in 1909, screenwriters Harry Julian Fink and R.M. Fink can have some fun with the posse setting off in three model-Ts and a motorcycle, all believing these new modes of transportation which can outlast and outrun a horse are invincible. (They soon learn differently when bullets meet their tires, and they’re left stranded in the desert.) John Wayne’s differing relationships with each of his movie sons adds some variety to the story since Michael shows respect and deference (and impresses him with his skill as a sharpshooter) while James is disrespectful and sarcastic until each proves his worth to the other. The film also proved to be the last pairing of Wayne with lovely co-star Maureen O’Hara who has some effective cameo scenes early in the film and then is never seen again. What a shame more couldn’t have been done with their last on-screen pairing. Director George Sherman isn’t a cinematic innovator with the camera, but he gets the job done in fine fashion staging an especially well-crafted hotel ambush for the bad guys that plays very nicely with surprises and some tension without turning into a gore-soaked spectacle. The final shootout does stretch credulity a bit as everyone receives wounds that are being laughed off in the final freeze frame. One wonders if perhaps there weren't later scenes that were cut for time.
John Wayne’s advancing age didn’t prevent him from dominating every scene he’s a part of, and his ease before the camera and his low-key performance style continue to stand him in good stead. Richard Boone’s nasty villain John Fain doesn’t have to be a mustache-twirling bad guy to get his wicked nature across. He also shares a wonderfully droll scene with Wayne halfway through the movie as the two men trade barbs and size one another up in one of those monumental meetings of great actors that are always such a pleasure to watch. Patrick Wayne continues to display a great deal of screen charisma as the cocky James; he never had quite the star career that his looks and acting talent should have brought him. Christopher Mitchum had an impressive acting stint in Wayne’s Rio Lobo. Here he doesn’t quite equal that even though his role is larger. Maureen O’Hara remains lovely and talented even in her few early scenes as the determined family matriarch. In other supporting roles, Bobby Vinton, Glenn Corbett, Jim Davis, John Agar, and Harry Carey Jr. are all recognizable faces and carry off their roles without a hitch.
The original Panavision aspect ratio of 2.35:1 is presented at 1080p resolution using the VC-1 codec. For almost the entire film, image clarity and sharpness are truly first rate. Only a couple of momentary shots in the film’s second half seem out of focus and atypically soft. Color saturation levels are very good, and flesh tones, sometimes a trifle exaggerated in depth, are generally pleasing. Black levels vary from pretty good to very good. The image overall is very clean, and the sterling transfer does not betray the movie’s age at all. The film has been divided into 11 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix really does not possess much surround presence. Elmer Bernstein’s jaunty score (which will certainly bring to mind his classic music for The Magnificent Seven while not quite matching its majesty or magic) gets the only real surround presence in the mix. Sound effects are mostly restricted to the front channels with dialogue well recorded and attached to the center channel.
There are no bonus features of any kind on the disc.
3.5/5 (not an average)
Big Jake is another in the entertaining series of John Wayne westerns which, even though made during the last few years of his career, continue to prove enjoyable and worth many revisits. The Blu-ray looks and sounds as good as one could hope from material of this vintage though the lack of any bonus material is a decided letdown.