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When his grandson is kidnapped by the scurrilous John Fain, Big Jake sets out to deliver the $1 million ransom. On the off-chance that there'll be gunplay, Jake brings along his sons James and Michael.
For more about Big Jake and the Big Jake Blu-ray release, see Big Jake Blu-ray Review published by Martin Liebman on June 14, 2011 where this Blu-ray release scored 2.5 out of 5.
Starring: John Wayne, Richard Boone, Maureen O'Hara, Patrick Wayne, Christopher Mitchum, Bruce Cabot
Director: George Sherman
» See full cast & crew
Big Jake Blu-ray Review
Big Jake's iffy lossless soundtrack and lack of extras offer little reason to buy.
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, June 14, 2011
Dead? Next man says that I'm gonna shoot, so help me.
There's something fundamentally gratifying about the Western, and it's that the genre is so audience-accessible, generally thematically sound, emotionally satisfying, and almost always clear-cut between good and evil that it's withstood the test of time and endured as the great American cinematic landscape. Big Jake is almost as prototypical of the genre as they come, a movie that pits good guys against bad guys and constructs a deliciously entertaining tale of high frontier adventure along the way that sees family come together after years apart as they journey to save one of their own across the harsh and still-unsettled and western lands. Superficially, there's no mistaking the movie for anything but a nuts-and-bolts genre experience, from the beautifully captured scope widescreen presentation to Elmer Bernstein's triumphantly big genre-typical score and from the bigger-than-life stature of John Wayne to the rough-and-tumble cowboy action that plays out along the way. But Big Jake does manage to be a little different. The movie plays out a few years ahead of the usual post-Civil War era for a turn-of-the-century setting which allows for both a bit of lighthearted fun and a few new twists into the old genre without sacrificing those core fundamental motifs that earned the Western countless fans and spawned numerous classic pictures over every decade since the medium of film was introduced with The Great Train Robbery in 1903, coincidentally (wink wink) the same year in which the movie takes place.
By the turn of the 20th century, the United States was a nation on the move but one still very much separated between the high society of the East coast and the relatively untamed rough-and-tumble frontier of the West. Though innovations encroached further westward, criminals still used the trustworthy old-fashioned technologies and sensibilities to their advantage, ganging up on innocents to pillage, murder, and exploit to their benefit. One such raid occured in 1903 when the sprawling McCandles ranch -- owned by the wealthy divorcee Martha McCandles (Maureen O'Hara) -- was sieged by a group of ruffians who murdered several of the family and servants and kidnaped Martha's grandson Jake, leaving behind a ransom note demanding a cool one million dollars in exchange for his safety. Following the raid, Martha calls upon her estranged husband "Big Jake" McCandles (Wayne) to oversee a group of Texas Rangers and his two grown sons (Christopher Mitchum, Patrick Wayne) to transport a secured chest containing the money to an exchange point where one false move could spell the end of the McCandles family line.
Big Jake is a uniquely entertaining movie that updates tried-and-true genre elements with a sprinkling of newfangled technologies that aren't normally associated with the traditional genre timetable, using them to enhance and forward the story without altogether cannibalizing it. Big Jake remains firmly entrenched in the classic Western style but introduces motorcycles and cars to go alongside trains and horses. It prominently features autoloading pistols and scoped bolt-action rifles that fight alongside those genre mainstays the six-shooter and the lever-action carbine. The new dynamics are most welcome, but the core of the story remains soundly fixated on traditional structural and thematic ideals. The change of pace is inviting and gives the movie a little bit of character, more than it might have earned were it just another 100% drop-in-the-bucket Western. Still, the movie is centered on a relatively generic little tale of good clashing with bad with the fate of an innocent held-for-ransom child hanging in the balance. The basics of the plot are in no way lessened or enhanced by either the introduction of nontraditional Western elements or the influx of light humor and heavy violence which make the film something a little different than the prototypical John Wayne film; they simply give the movie a slightly different feel than is generally associated with the genre, ultimately leading to a more noteworthy, but not necessarily better or worse, movie.
Despite some differences that give the movie a unique chronological -- not necessarily emotional or thematic -- feel, Big Jake enjoys all of those traditional Western elements that have made such pictures stalwarts of cinema. While the film in no way approaches the level of "spectacle" or even "classic," it does do a fair job in recreating the dangerous but at the same time visually spectacular Texas-Mexico borderlands backdrop. Director George Sherman's camerawork smartly balances the purely visual and the purely structural, both reinforcing the story while allowing the actors and the plot to dominate the film but not completely overwhelm the intangibles that carry it towards the genre's upper crust. John Wayne is excellent as the stalwart, somewhat disillusioned, and tough but tender former family man who might not have seen his children grow up but still cares enough to cherish the time he had with them and his ex-wife, whose picture he keeps with him at all times. Wayne plays a character that's familiar and, frankly, one who could have come out of many other similar pictures. Jake doesn't enjoy much of a unique personality when compared to several other Wayne characters, but The Duke nevertheless builds the character to the point that the story certainly benefits by the mere presence of Wayne in the leading role. The surrounding actors are hit-or-miss, but Wayne is big enough to shoulder the load, particularly in terms of his raw physical size which allows him to dominate the screen. Big Jake is rounded into form by a not-quite-memorable but certainly genre-traditional score courtesy of famed composer Elmer Bernstein.
Big Jake Blu-ray, Video Quality
Big Jake rides onto Blu-ray with a strong, sometimes stunning, and never terrible 1080p Blu-ray transfer. Of Paramount's trio of Father's Day-geared Western releases -- Big Jake, Rio Lobo, and A Man Called Horse -- Big Jake is easily the finest looking of the bunch. Fine detail is quite strong throughout; whether the crisp sandy and pebbly frontier terrains, warm interior McCandles ranch odds and ends, or the usual clothing and facial textures, the transfer crisply and efficiently shows off all of the intricate details the movie has to offer. Colors are splendidly steady. Though dominated by unassuming earthen shades, splotches of reds; greens; blues; and other assorted, more vibrant colors are expertly revealed. Black levels are a bit inconsistent, appearing far too absorbing in one scene but well-balanced and playing nicely with fine shadow details the next. The image does suffer through some unsightly flickering, a few smeary streaks across the top of the frame, and a handful of spots and scratches, but none of these issues represent debilitating problems. Big Jake's 1080p transfer is rounded into form by the retention of a fine layer of natural grain, which does messily spike in a few instances but generally remains light and unobtrusive, accentuating the picture to help give it that finished cinematic texture.
Big Jake Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Big Jake features an accommodating but far-from-expert DTS-HD MA 5.1 lossless soundtrack. The material certainly feels cramped from start to finish, with both music and sound effects often gasping for breath and begging for a more pronounced and sprawling presentation. Elmer Bernstein's score is nicely clear but lacks volume while yearning for more energy. Spacing isn't an issue, but the music seems somehow not quite allowed to reach full potency. The same may be said of sound effects, most of which are shallow and unassuming, whether horses galloping through knee-deep waters or gunshots that ring with some clarity but lack volume and raw power. Fortunately, dialogue is center-focused and exceptionally clear. Big Jake's soundtrack plays awfully little, but it's at least fundamentally competent.
Big Jake Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
No supplements are included.
Big Jake Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Big Jake does a few things differently when compared to the average Western -- new technologies and innovations play a large part in the film, and there's a bit more violence and a touch more levity -- but it's still a bare-knuckles, go-get-'em Western in the classic John Wayne style. The picture is purely exciting and well-paced, not to mention smartly directed, nicely scored, and acted well enough to the point that Wayne's sheer presence counters any less-than-stellar supporting efforts. It's not the best John Wayne movie and it's certainly not exactly the prototypical Western, but Big Jake is a solidly enjoyable all-around performer that should satisfy hardcore genre fans and those who only occasionally dabble in Westerns alike. Paramount's Blu-ray release of Big Jake yields a fine 1080p transfer, a shallow lossless soundtrack, and no extras. It's a far cry from even approaching what would be considered a perfect release for a title such as this, but potential buyers will have to decide whether the quality of the film and the strength of the transfer outweigh the limits of the soundtrack and the absence of extras.
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Big Jake Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Paramount Announces Western Blu-ray Wave, Including Once Upon a T... - March 21, 2011
Paramount Home Entertainment has announced no fewer than four western movies from its late-60s and early-70s catalog for Blu-ray release on May 31, in time for Father's Day: Big Jake (George Sherman, 1971), A Man Called Horse (Elliot Silverstein, 1970), Once Upon ...
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