This is the first in a series of articles in which we take a look at some of the directors John Wayne worked with on more than a number of occasions, starting with Andrew V. McLaglen.
Son of actor Victor, Andrew was a British born director who went on to work with some of the biggest Hollywood stars of all time, including Kirk Douglas, Robert Mitchum, Richard Burton, James Stewart and of course John Wayne, with whom the director made five movies.
His relationship with JW started in the early 1950s when he worked as assistant director on “Big Jim McLain”, “The Quiet Man” and “Blood Alley”, to name but a few.
At one time touted as a worthy successor to John Ford, McLaglen cut his directing teeth on numerous TV Western shows as ”Gunsmoke”, “Rawhide”, “Have Gun Will Travel” and “Wagon Train”.
A third of the nigh-on forty films he went on to direct were Westerns, although McLaglen also had a huge box-office hit in Europe with a contemporary war film, “The Wild Geese”, which concerned the adventures of a group of mercenaries set in Africa.
Probably McLaglen’s best Western, outside of those he made with Wayne, is the American Civil War film, ”Shenandoah”, which starred James Stewart and Doug McClure, and is the closest the director got to emulating the style and approach of Ford himself.
The films that McLaglen and Wayne made together were produced over a ten-year period and consisted of four Westerns and a modern-day action movie. This article will revisit our earlier reviews of those films and at the same time present them in order of preference.
This was the only non-Western movie that Wayne and McClaglen worked on which is why it’s last in the list.
It’s not the finest moment for those involved and is probably the least interesting of their five collaborations.
The script isn’t exactly up there with other JW movies scripted by Clair Huffaker such as “The Comancheros” and “The War Wagon” either, the story at times coming across more like The Jim Hutton and Katherine Ross Show than a Wayne vehicle.
The usual suspects – Bruce Cabot, Edward Faulkner, Cliff Roberson and even Pedro Gonzalez Gonzalez – help to round out the cast, with Vera Miles from “The Searchers” and “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” playing JWs estranged wife.
What does elevate the film somewhat are the oil well action sequences, which are here presented as realistically possible albeit without running the risk of immolating the main cast members.
It really does look as though Wayne and his co-stars are in the thick of the action during these sequences. Wayne’s character, Chance Buckman, is obviously based upon the famous oil well firefighter Red Adair, who, along with his colleagues ‘Boot’s Mansen and ‘Coots’ Matthews, was special adviser on the film.
On the downside, the look and feel of the film comes across at times like a TV movie of the week.
Also, co-star Jim Hutton, playing Wayne’s business partner, and Katherine Ross, as JWs daughter, are woefully inadequate when it comes to supposedly represent the generation of young hipsters that bloomed in America at the time the film was released.
On the other hand, it delivers the action as required, which sometimes is all you need in a Wayne movie.
The Undefeated (1969)
If there’s a checklist detailing the pre-requisites for a John Wayne cowboy film then someone in the production office certainly covered all the bases for “The Undefeated”. Harry Carey Jr.? Check. Ben Johnson? Check. Bruce Cabot? Goes without saying. John Agar? But of course. Throw in Paul Fix, Dub Taylor, Don Collier and Chuck Roberson and a decent scriptwriter in James Lee Barratt (“Shendandoah”) and you are well and truly in John Wayne territory.
The movie kicks off quite well with a decently staged civil war sequence. In fact, you could be forgiven for thinking that Wayne has wandered onto the set of “The Undefeated” from the end of “The Horse Soldiers”.
Rock Hudson is perfectly cast as the leader of a defeated Confederate brigade who meet up after the end of the Civil War with a bunch of ex-Union boys lead by Col. Thomas, played by JW.
You get the traditional scene of the rebels and the union army trying to out-sing each other with their respective national anthems as referenced in other Westerns such as “Dodge City” and “The Outlaw Josey Wales”, the singalong resulting in a somewhat comedic punch up between both sides.
Duke and the boys are off down south of the border to try and sell horses to the Mexican army whilst Rock and his group wants to get as far away from the surrender at Appomatox as they possibly can and make a living serving the Mexican emperor Maximillian.
Hudson is quietly impressive as the Confederate Colonel and Wayne appears to be enjoying himself in his role as ex-soldier turned horse seller.
His statement prior to driving a herd of three-thousand horses across the border of “Let’s take em’ to Mexico” appears to be a deliberate reference to his instruction twenty years before in “Red River” to “Take em’ to Missouri, Matt”. And dig those crazy sideburns the Dukester sports as well. Very stylish
There’s an ill-fated attempt to introduce a liberal element into the story with a young white woman falling for Wayne’s adopted Indian son, Blue Boy.
A very young Jan-Michael Vincent, or just Michael Vincent as he’s credited here, vies with Blue Boy for the attentions of the lady in question but this issue is never resolved by the end of the film.
Not that anyone back in the 60s would have been offended by such a storyline. As the critic Roger Ebert points out, the actor playing Blue Boy, one Roman Gabriel, looks about as Indian as ‘one of the Beach Boys’.
When it comes to late career Wayne Westerns, “The Undefeated” isn’t short on action and adventure but it’s not as fast-paced or as exciting as say “Big Jake” or “Chisum”, the latter of which we will come to later on in the proceedings.
On the other hand, it’s got John Wayne in it, and that’s good enough for us.
Cahill US Marshall (1973)
If Wayne had worn an eye patch in this film then it would have been a more than worthy sequel to “True Grit”, rather than “Rooster Cogburn”, but he doesn’t so it’s not.
Instead, he plays an ill-tempered one-man killing machine who expects his two surprisingly young sons to not stray from the path of righteousness, which of course is exactly what they do.
The movie has a really good supporting cast, including Gary Grimes as Wayne’s eldest son, George Kennedy as a no-good lying killer and Neville Brand taking the reins from Bruce Cabot as a Native American scout who, just like Cabot in “Big Jake”, doesn’t live long enough to collect his pension.
Accompanied by stalwart Wayne co-stars Harry Carey Jr., Paul Fix and Hank Worden, as well as a typically violent script from Harry and Julian Fink of “Big Jake” and “Dirty Harry” fame, plus a reasonably memorable Elmer Bernstein score, it all adds up to making “Cahill” one of Duke’s better late Westerns.
A lot of the action takes place at night, bestowing an almost noirish tone on the proceedings.
Kennedy plays his part just right, giving it a real “Night of the Hunter” Robert Mitchum vibe when it comes to terrorizing Wayne’s kids.
In this film, just as in some of the actor’s other late-career cowboy films, Wayne’s character more than matches that of the morally compromised villains, even using his sons as bait to draw Kennedy and his gang out into the open before perfunctorily dispatching everyone and reconciling with his two boys.
They’ve ended up on the wrong side of the law by aiding and abetting Kennedy in a bank robbery, the moral of the film being that parents ignore what their children get up to at their peril.
We’d say staking your own kids out in the open to lure a bunch of killers to their death leaves a lot to be desired as far as parenting skills go but then this is a John Wayne movie, so whatever he does to get justice done gets a pass from his dedicated audience.
A bit of a bad wig day for Duke though if we’re being honest. He should have found his inner Tom Jones and just kept his hat on.
When we initially reviewed “Cahill,” we said that in our list of John Wayne / Andrew McLaglen films then this would probably take second spot.
We have since revised our position slightly bearing in mind how much our faithful Mostly Westerns readership seems to revere even more the next film coming up, so “Cahill” drops to third place.
“McLintock!” reunites Duke with Maureen O’ Hara for the first time since “The Wings of Eagles”.
It’s a Western, although more in name than anything else. Wayne only fires three shots in the film, two at a couple of pheasants and a blank shot at Patrick Wayne.
Even though real action is fairly sparse on the ground, this film epitomizes Duke’s high, wide and handsome persona to great effect.
There’s also an iconic Wayne moment when he tells Leo Gordon he’s not going to hit him, then changes his mind with the words “the Hell I won’t” before punching Gordon’s lights out.
He also gets to call him Pilgrim as well. The fact that this takes place at the top of a mud pit tells you all you need to know about the comedic nature of the film and, yes, everyone ends up getting knocked headlong into it.
Seeing as this is a James Edward Grant scripted opus, it should come as no surprise that the case for gender equality is not exactly at the forefront of the narrative, particularly when it comes to Wayne’s treatment of Maureen O’Hara, playing his estranged wife, in the sequence at the end of the movie.
Still, although the sexual politics of the film is not going to gain too many brownie points from feminists and the politically correct brigade of today, it was probably deemed all clean fun back in the less than enlightened early 1960s.
The climactic encounter between Wayne and O’Hara is reminiscent of the end of “The Quiet Man”, the film striving a bit too much to duplicate the success of their earlier film together rather than carve out some ground of its own.
Also, on the assumption that a John Wayne film must on occasion have a musical interlude, Jerry van Dyke and Stephanie Powers are no much for Dean Martin and Ricky Nelson.
“Rio Bravo” it isn’t but to be fair this was the first time Wayne worked with Andrew McLaglen, and it took a while for their collaboration to get into its stride.
“McKlintock!” is often praised by Wayne fans as one of his more popular efforts so who are we to argue?
Having said that, for our money here at Mostly Westerns it took until “Chisum” until they finally made a genuine classic Wayne Western together.
Speaking of which…
The opening credit sequence, which runs for nearly three and a half minutes, grabs you right from the start with a series of paintings by artist Russ Vickers depicting a cattle drive, thunder and lightning storms and Indian attacks.
The credits finally settle on the image of the main character, John Chisum, on a hilltop astride his horse, master of all he surveys.
The picture then morphs into live action and there sits the man himself, a. memorably iconic image of JW if ever there was one. This is definitely where director Andrew McLaglen’s aptitude for capturing the landscape of the West pays off in spades, the cinematography one of the best aspects of the whole film.
Cattle baron Chisum, one of only a handful of real-life characters John Wayne ever played in his lengthy career, finds himself up against a sneaky land-grabbing villainous swine played by Forrest Tucker who starts trouble by first of all buying up all of the businesses in the local town then arranging for Chisum’s horses to be rustled by a bunch of South of the border types from down Mexico way.
This leads to a good old ‘laughing Mexican stand-off’ scene, “Chisum” containing the only example of a sequence such as this in which JW gets the chance to strut his stuff.
Catching up with the rustlers who have taken his horses, JW is greeted by a Mexican Bandido who attempts to put JW off his stride with a grin as wide as a Cinemascope screen, but of course, it doesn’t work. It never does.
After a brief exchange in which the bad and soon-to-be-dead guy asks if Chisum has brought any gold or silver along with him to repurchase his own horses, Chisum replies ‘No. Just lead’ and then pays the gentleman in kind.
JWs co-stars, including the great Ben Johnson, take out the rest of the gang, but, as ever, it’s Duke’s show and don’t none of you forget it.
There doesn’t appear to be any suggestion of romance for Duke / Chisum in this film like there was in the other McLaglen Western he made prior to this, “The Undefeated”, so it’s obvious Wayne has finally been put out to pasture female-relationship-wise.
He’s now definitely more the benign uncle to his niece rather than the farmyard rooster of yore, which is probably why Wayne’s performance is one of his most bad-tempered and uncompromising to date, “True Grit” notwithstanding.
The movie also features the real-life characters of Billy the Kid and his nemesis Pat Garrett, played respectively by Geoffrey Deuel and Glen Corbett. In our humble opinion here at Mostly Westerns we definitely think this is the best of the Wayne and McLaglen cowboy oaters they worked on together.
The climactic fist-fight between Duke and Forrest Tucker is everything you would want in a John Wayne cowboy film, making “Chisum” a very respectable entry in Duke’s late career Western vehicles.
There’s even more icing on the cake for JW fans as it was on this film that the actor agreed to record a set of patriotic poems written by one of his co-stars, John Mitchum, brother of Robert.
The result, released in 1973, was called “America, Why I Love Her”, an album of spoken-word songs that no self-respecting admirer of John Wayne should be without. It was even nominated for a Grammy, making “Chisum” the gift that just kept on giving.
We’ll be returning to the subject of Andrew McLaglen and his Western films in particular at some time in the not-too-distant future.