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"They wanted gold. He gave them lead instead!"
—from the promotional material
A 1971 Western movie starring John Wayne, Richard Boone, and Maureen O'Hara. In 1909, a gang of brutal ruffians led by John Fain (Boone) violently kidnaps the grandson of Martha McCandles (O'Hara), who runs a large and lucrative cattle ranching operation. When the thugs demand a ransom, Mrs. McCandles decides it is time to call in her long-lost husband, Jacob McCandles (Wayne)- a rough and unpleasant man, to do a rough and unpleasant job.
Not one of The Duke's most famous Westerns, it is an interesting treat for dedicated fans. Made relatively late in the careers of most of those involved, Wayne and his colleagues brought their many years of experience in making Westerns to bear on Big Jake, resulting in a competently-made, easygoing, consistently entertaining film. In addition to older, experienced Western actors, the film also featured two of John Wayne's real-life sons, as well as the son of Robert Mitchum. The score was pretty good too.
Set in 1909, rather than the 19th century, like most Westerns, Big Jake deals tangentially with the closing of the American West and the end of the age of cowboy heroes like those played by John Wayne throughout his career. Automobiles, motorcycles, oil wells, and semi-automatic pistols all make appearances, and Jacob McCandles (as well as his Indian companion, Sam) are both old and grey, worn out by years of hard living.
- Affably Evil: A rare example that manages to combine this with Complete Monster. Richard Boone's character is happy to have a nice, polite, friendly conversation with you... right before pulling out a gun and murdering your children in cold blood without even flinching.
- Ape Shall Never Kill Ape: When Sam asks Jake what they were hunting, Jake says "men". Sam then explains that he refuses to kill Apache (he has no problem killing other kinds of men if need be). Upon hearing the situation Sam is willing to jump aboard. He does not ask if any of the kidnappers are Apache; perhaps he thinks any who might be have disqualified themselves.
- Apron Matron: Martha McCandles
- With more then a bit of Iron Lady as well.
- Badass Boast: Several, but one in particular sticks out-
O'Brien: "They tell me you killed two good men in a fair fight tonight. That true?"
- Badass Family: The McCandless' are tougher then the Texas Rangers apparently
- Badass Grandpa: Jacob McCandles.
- Batman Gambit: Big Jake needs to convince one of the kidnappers that one of the members of the ransom party has died, even though he is still alive. When the kidnapper demands to see the body, Jake tells him it is sitting in the jailhouse, with all the other dead bodies, knowing that the kidnapper (a career criminal) will be highly averse to going anywhere near a jailhouse.
- Big Damn Heroes: The party that comes to ransom Little Jake instead just kills the kidnappers and takes him back without paying.
- Can't Bathe Without a Weapon: There's a shower scene, and Jake knows someone's after him, so he keeps a shotgun in the shower. When the guy comes in to kill him, Jake has the shotgun in his hands and uses it to shoot through the thin wooden door of the shower stall.
- Chekhov's Gun: Two actual guns, in this case- Michael's telescoped long-distance rifle, and the semi-automatic pistol he gives to his brother, both of which are featured more as novelty items early in the film.
- Chekhov's Skill: Several. Michael's sharp-shooting, James' constant quick-draw practice, and others.
- Complete Monster: Several of the kidnappers fall under this.
- Cool Old Guy: Jake McCandles is one, his Indian companion, Sam, is another. Both of them suffer from poor eyesight, fading hearing, and slower reflexes than they used to have, but they make up for it with skill and experience.
- Crowning Music of Awesome: The score is classic Western-movie stuff, by the great Elmer Bernstein.
- Deliberate Values Dissonance: An inn at a town they are passing says that Jake's friend cannot come in because he is an Indian. Also at the McCandle ranch a number of the servants were black. This is more subtle, as there is no reason a free black cannot have a job as a domestic and the servants are well treated. But it does seem disproportionate.
- A Dog Named "Dog"
- Every Car Is a Pinto: At least one automobile explodes abruptly into flames.
- Evil-Detecting Dog: Jake's dog, simply named "Dog".
- Friendly Sniper: Michael. The oldsters look skeptically at his gun and think they have their prejudices confirmed when he proves incompetent. Except that it's a pistol he's bad with. With his rifle he can perform feats that amaze them.
- Gory Discretion Shot: Several, particularly involving the machete.
- Heroic Sacrifice: Sam and Dog.
- Hot Grandma: Maureen O'Hara.
- I Just Shot Marvin in the Face: Big Jake casually sticks a derringer pistol into the front of his pants, pointing straight down to his groin. It probably wasn't loaded, but he doesn't actually bother to check. There is also a scene in which Michael McCandles' fancy new semi-automatic pistol fires wildly out of control, causing all of the other members of the ransom party to dive for cover.
- I Have No Husband. Said by Martha McCandles at one point... just before she decides to call on her husband.
- I Have Your Grandson.
- Kansas City Shuffle: Big Jake doesn't tell anybody that the strongbox containing the "ransom money" actually contains nothing but newspaper clippings. His sons are rather miffed when they find out. The kidnappers have rather a different reaction..
- Kensington Gore: The blood in this film is bright red, and doesn't seem to come from any obvious wound.
- Kick the Dog: Several. In one instance, a member of lynch mob gratuitously kicks a young boy, prompting Big Jake to get involved in the situation, when previously he had viewed the situation as Somebody Else's Problem. There are also several examples involving the gang of kidnappers, the most egregious of which belong to the machete-wielding overweight kidnapper. One of these involves an actual dog.
- Let's Fight Like Gentlemen: O'Brien has his gun pointed at James' back, but instead of just shooting him, he lets James turn around so they can have a quick-draw contest... to the death.
- Machete Mayhem: By the most odious and Obviously Evil of the kidnappers.
- Made of Iron: The machete-wielding kidnapper is attacked by an angry dog (twice!), shot with a pistol (also twice), stabbed in the stomach with a knife, and finally dies after being stabbed in the stomach with a pitchfork.
- Memetic Badass: It has been years since anyone heard of Jacob doing anything, let alone being badass. On discovering who he is, nobody ever takes the chance that he might not be anymore.
- Moral Event Horizon: The gang of kidnappers cross this at the very beginning of the movie, when they murder two children in cold blood, not to mention half the staff of the McCandles ranch.
- Only a Flesh Wound: Many, many times. The only really realistic example is when Jacob's son James takes a barrel full of buckshot in the arse.
- Papa Wolf: Big Jake.
- Parental Abandonment: Big Jake abandoned his wife and children many years before, and his son James is still sore about it.
- Phrase Catcher: "I thought you was dead". Possibly alluded to by Escape from New York, made about 10 years later.
- Rancher: The Mc Candles ranch is run over by a gang of cutthroats.
- Retired Badass: Jake McCandles appears to be this, though what, exactly, he is doing before his wife calls on him is not made entirely clear.
- Somebody Else's Problem: "I haven't interfered in anybody's business since I was eighteen year old... and it damn near got me killed".
- Thicker Than Water: When little Jake is kidnapped, his grandfather and two of his uncles are the ones to come rescue him.
- Throw-Away Guns: Big Jake does this at one point, but it is probably justified- out of ammo, he was aiming for his assailant, hoping to slow him down in a life-or-death situation and thereby buy himself enough time to finish the guy off. He would have been easily able to retrieve it, once the assailant had been dispatched.
- Twilight of the Old West: Takes place in 1909 when automobiles are used to chase the bad guys.
- Underestimating Badassery: Like nearly everybody else in the movie (see Phrase Catcher above), the kidnappers assume that Jacob McCandles is dead. It naturally never crosses their minds that he might be the one coming after them. Had they known he was alive, it's very likely they would have kidnapped somebody else's grandson. This may be a piece of Fridge Brilliance, actually, since it isn't until the very end that John Fain confirms that he, too, thought McCandles was dead.
- You Said You Would Let Him Go: Actually inverted in this case.