AFI Catalog of Feature Films
Movie Detail
Name Occurs Before Title Offscreen Credit Print Viewed By AFI
Big Jake
Alternate Title: The Million Dollar Kidnapping
Director: George Sherman (Dir)
Release Date:   Jun 1971
Premiere Information:   New York opening: week of 27 May 1971; Los Angeles opening: 1 Jun 1971
Production Date:   early Oct--early Dec 1970 in Mexico
Duration (in mins):   109-110
Print this page
Display Movie Summary

Cast:   John Wayne (Jacob McCandles)  
    Richard Boone (John Fain)  
    Patrick Wayne (James McCandles)  
    Christopher Mitchum (Michael McCandles)  
    Bruce Cabot (Sam Sharpnose)  
    Bobby Vinton (Jeff McCandles)  
    Glenn Corbett (O'Brien)  
    John Doucette (Buck Duggan)  
  And Maureen O'Hara (Martha McCandles)  
    Jim Davis (Head of lynching party)  
    John Agar (Bert Ryan)  
    Harry Carey, Jr. (Pop Dawson)  
    Gregg Palmer (John Goodfellow)  
    Roy Jenson (Maurader in shower room at barbershop)  
    Virginia Capers (Delilah)  
    William Walker (Moses Brown)  
    John McLiam (Colonel)  
    Bernard Fox (Scottish sheepman)  
    Don Epperson (Saloon bully)  
    Jim Burk (Trooper)  
    Dean Smith (Kid Duffy)  
    Ethan Wayne (Little Jake McCandles)  
    Hank Worden (Hank)  
    Tom Hennesy (Saloon brawler)  
    Chuck Roberson (Texas Ranger)  
    Robert Warner (Will Fain)  
    Jeff Wingfield (Billy Devries)  
    Jeff Gatlin (Stubby)  
    Everett Creach (Walt Devries)  
    George Fenneman (Narrator )  

Summary: In 1909 New Mexico, ruthless outlaw John Fain and his gang attack the opulent McCandles ranch. Because most of the hands are on a roundup, those who remain are easily overcome. More than ten men, women and children are killed or seriously wounded, including Jeff McCandles, whose nine-year-old son, Little Jake, is kidnapped. As the gang rides off, Fain throws a ransom note to Martha McCandles, the strong-willed family matriarch, demanding one million dollars. Family friend Buck Duggan, head of the Texas Rangers, does not want Martha to pay the ransom and suggests trailing Fain into Mexico, but she refuses, convinced that the job calls for a particularly unpleasant and harsh sort of man, her long-estranged husband, Jacob McCandles. After receiving an urgent note from Martha, Jake and his dog arrive at the McCandles train station, where he is greeted enthusiastically, except by his son James, who resents his long-absent father and sarcastically calls him "Daddy," precipitating a fistfight. Despite their long-held animosity, Jake and Martha still love each other, and Martha gently tells Jake about his grandson, whom he has never seen. She then shows him a trunk filled with one million dollars, and he agrees to handle things as she wishes. They soon begin to bicker over details, though, and each remembers how stubborn the other is. Minutes later, their youngest son, Michael, arrives at the station on his motorcycle, informing them that he has seen the gang while reconnoitering, and that Little Jake is alive. He then suggests a plan whereby the Rangers would drive automobiles ahead to a spot where they could ambush the approaching gang. Jake is adamant that the plan will not work and refuses to go along with it. Although Martha endorses Michael's proposal, she agrees to let Jake try doing things his way, as a backup plan. Jake then sets out on his horse, accompanied by his dog and four pack animals, at first riding parallel to the Rangers’ automobiles, but gradually lagging further behind. The next morning, Jake is joined by his old friend Sam, an Apache tracker. Meanwhile, Michael, who has been riding his motorcycle in front of the convoy of automobiles, circles back to tell them that he has seen the outlaws. Driving ahead, the party sees what they think is a perfect place to ambush Fain’s gang. Unknown to them, Fain and his men have their own ambush plan and attack the convoy from hiding places in the surrounding hills. During the ambush, the automobiles are incapacitated and several of the Rangers are killed or wounded. Michael furiously rides his motorcycle around the gang to distract them, then loops close by their horses, making Fain realize that they must leave immediately. Grabbing Little Jake, who has been hiding, Fain and his men then ride off. In the midday sun, just as buzzards are circling the stranded Rangers, Jake and Sam arrive. Buck apologizes for his mistaken judgment, but Jake cannot take the wounded men back to town. Instead, he and Sam, now accompanied by James, who had been with Buck, and the trunk of money, continue following Fain’s trail. A short time later, they see Michael’s motorcycle and what appears to be his body down on a cliff. When Jake discovers that Michael is alive but was just pretending to be dead in case the Fain gang was approaching, he knocks him down for frightening him and for risking his grandson’s life with his ambush plan. Michael then continues with Jake, despite a buckshot wound in his posterior. When they camp for the night, James, who chafes under his father’s orders, confronts him about why he left the family, suggesting that Jake had “a weakness for the ladies.” Jake refuses to discuss it, then roughly removes the buckshot from Michael’s backside. With Sam’s scouting, they know that the Fains are only about three or four hours away. At a stop on the trail, Michael tells Jake that he is an excellent rifle shot, but when he tries to shoot a new type of weapon, a semi-automatic pistol, he cannot control it and forces everyone to dive for cover. That night, as James customizes his holster so that he can quick draw the semi-automatic pistol, Fain rides up to camp, saying he is a messenger. He tosses Little Jake’s underwear to Jake, who pretends merely to be a hired hand. Fain says that they should go to Escondera and wait, then warns that others have heard about the trunk full of money, but no matter what happens, he must bring the one million dollars or the boy will be killed. After Fain rides out, Sam tells Jake that two men are close enough to camp to have heard everything. Jake orders them killed, but one escapes. The McCandles arrive in the booming oil town of Escondera during a fiesta. After they check into a hotel, Jake devises a plan to have Michael hide in the room while James creates a distraction for Sam secretly to return. Later, as James drinks and flirts with dancehall girls in the saloon, Jake goes to the barbershop to take a bath. At the appropriate moment, James starts a fight that spills over onto the street, enabling Sam to sneak back their hotel room undetected. At the barbershop, one of Fain's men tries to kill Jake in the shower, but Jake shoots him first and kills him. Meanwhile, when men break into the hotel room to steal the trunk, Sam and Michael kill them. When Jake and James return, his sons see that the trunk contains only newspaper and assume that Jake has stolen the money. Michael and James then fight with their father but are both knocked out by him. After Jake revives them, he reveals that he and Martha had secretly decided that they would not reward the kidnappers, who had already killed many of their ranchhands. As they are talking, Pop Dawson, one of Fain's men, comes to their room and reveals the details of exchanging the money for the boy, telling Jake that there will be a sharpshooter keeping Little Jake in his sight for an hour after the exchange to ensure that nothing goes wrong. When alone, Jake tells Michael that his job is to kill the sharpshooter, then goes with Sam and James to meet Pop. Pop is suspicious that "the fourth man" is not with them, but Jake tells him that he was killed and his body is at the jail. Although skeptical, Pop does not want to go to the jail to check the story. Unknown to Pop, Michael is trailing behind as the men ride off. At a deserted hacienda outside town, Pop tells Jake to go inside with the trunk. After Fain greets him, Jake tells the other members of the gang to come out where he can see them. Fain then tells Jake to open the trunk, but Jake refuses until he sees Little Jake. When the boy appears, Fain warns that Little Jake's head will be shot off by his brother Will if anything happens. Jake then throws the trunk’s key to Fain, who is momentarily stunned when he sees that the trunk only contains newspaper, enabling Jake to draw his gun. Fain yells to Will to shoot Little Jake, but Michael kills him first, enabling Little Jake to run away. In the melee that follows, all of Fain's gang members are killed, as is Jake's dog, who, in trying to save his master's life, is brutally killed by a machete wielded by one of Fain's men. Fain himself is mortally wounded by Michael, after which the McCandles family head for home. 

Production Company: Batjac Productions, Inc.  
  Cinema Center Films (Columbia Broadcasting System, Inc.)
Distribution Company: National General Pictures Corporation  
Director: George Sherman (Dir)
  Cliff Lyons (2d unit dir)
  Newton Arnold (Asst dir)
  Joe Lauth (Asst dir)
Producer: John Wayne (Exec prod)
  Michael A. Wayne (Prod)
Writer: Harry Julian Fink (Wrt)
  R. M. Fink (Wrt)
Photography: William H. Clothier (Dir of photog)
  Dave Sutton (Stills)
  William Dodds (Cam op)
  Richard Barth (1st asst cam)
  James Glennon (2d asst cam)
  Karl Reed (Grip)
  William Tharp (Grip)
  Jim Vaiana (Gaffer)
  Robert McCarthy (Best boy)
  Frank Visconti (Crane op)
  Alexander Klein (Cam mechanic)
Art Direction: Carl Anderson (Art dir)
Film Editor: Harry Gerstad (Film ed)
Set Decoration: Ray Moyer (Set dec)
  Ray Thompson (Property)
Costumes: Luster Bayless (Ward)
Music: Elmer Bernstein (Mus)
Sound: John Ferguson (Sd)
Special Effects: Wayne Fitzgerald (Main title des)
  Howard Jensen (Spec eff)
  Albert Whitlock (Spec photog eff)
Make Up: David Grayson (Makeup)
  Whitey Snyder (Makeup)
Production Misc: Lee Lukather (Prod mgr)
  Joseph C. Behm (Unit mgr)
  Charlsie Bryant (Scr supv)
  Hoyt Bowers (Casting)
  George Coleman (Transportation coord)
  Ted Bonnet (Unit pub)
  Edward Arnold [Auditor] (Loc auditor)
  Ruth West (Accountant)
  Robert Shuman (Accountant)
  James Brubaker (Driver)
  J. W. Coffman (Driver)
  Robert Conte (Driver)
  Rex Schroetter (Driver)
  Robert Goodrich (Driver)
  Joseph Wolfe Jr. (Driver)
  Charles Hauer (Driver)
  Richard Seay (Driver)
  Jean Spray (Driver)
  Bobbie Green (Driver)
  John Corwin (Driver)
  Frank Austin (Driver)
  Ralph Volkie (John Wayne's trainer)
  William Jones (Head wrangler)
  Gordon Jones (Wrangler)
  Wayne Cutlip (Wrangler)
  Robert Weatherwax (Dog trainer)
  Martin Roosendahl (Dog trainer)
  Paul Schori (Gen op)
  Dawn Forrester (Prod secy)
  Carole Steller (Prod secy)
  Jeanne Bodson (Prod secy)
  Alice Moriarty (Prod secy)
  Alice Moriarty (Prod secy)
  Tom Kane (Liaison)
  Barney Fotheringham (Catering chief)
  Heinz Hagin (Cook)
Stand In: Cliff Lyons (Stunt coord)
MPAA Rating: GP
Country: Mexico and United States
Language: English

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
Batjac Productions, Inc. 24/5/1971 dd/mm/yyyy LP43470

Physical Properties: Sd:
  col: Technicolor
  Widescreen/ratio: Filmed in Panavision

Genre: Western
Subjects (Major): Fathers and sons
  Long-lost relatives
Subjects (Minor): Ambushes
  Apache Indians
  Baths and showers
  Mexican-American border region
  Sheep ranchers
  Trunks (Luggage)
  United States--History--Social life and customs

Note: The film's working title was The Million Dollar Kidnapping , and some news items referred to it simply as Million Dollar Kidnapping . Maureen O'Hara is listed last in both the opening and closing cast credits. The opening credits read "And Maureen O'Hara as Martha," while in the closing credits her character name is listed as "Martha McCandles."
       Throughout the opening credits, which are interspersed with photographs depicting famous persons, places and events from the early twentieth century, an off-screen narrator describes the contrasting history of the East and the West. The segment also includes a brief sequence from the popular 1903 film The Great Train Robbery (see below). The narration continues past the opening credits as "John Fain" and his gang ride toward the McCandles' ranch. The footage gradually changes from a sepia tone to color, then each of the gang members is introduced by the narrator.
       In a running joke in the film, when various characters discover "Jake McCandles'" identity, they say "I thought you were dead." At the film's climax, when the dying Fain asks the question, Jake finally answers "Not hardly." According to the film's pressbook and reviews, it was shot on location in Mexico, primarily in and around Durango. Other locations mentioned in the pressbook include Los Organos, where the ambush sequence was shot, El Saltito, the site of a waterfall that was used as a backdrop to another sequence, Las Huertas, La Punta, Lerdo de Tejaca, El Pueblito and El Arenal.
       As noted in the pressbook, Big Jake marked the acting debut of John Wayne's son Ethan (also known as John Ethan Wayne), who portrayed "Little Jake McCandles." Some sources refer to him as John Ethan Wayne. John Wayne's adult son Michael produced the film, and his other adult son, Patrick, portrayed "James McCandles." Actor Robert Mitchum's son, Chris Mitchum, portrayed "Michael McCandles." Although the film was not the first for singer Bobby Vinton, who portrayed "Jeff McCandles," it marked his first of only two non-singing film roles. His final dramatic role was in the 1973 Batjac production The Train Robbers , which also starred John Wayne.
       According to a DV news item, Trinidad Villa, the son of early twentieth century Mexican revolutionary and bandit Francisco "Pancho" Villa, was cast in a small role, but his appearance in the released film has not been confirmed. Modern sources add Jerry Summers to the cast, include Chuck Hayward and Buddy Van Horn as stunt men and credit 'Chema' Hernandez as the film's the livestock coordinator and Dan Wallin as the music mixer.
       Big Jake marked the final of five films in which O'Hara and Wayne appeared together, and the tenth and final collaboration between Wayne and George Sherman, who had directed several of the actor's "Three Mesquiteers" Westerns for Republic Studios in the late 1930s. Big Jake also marked Sherman's final feature film as a director. 

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Daily Variety   29 Sep 1970.   
Filmfacts   1971   pp. 184-87.
Hollywood Reporter   1 Oct 1970.   
Hollywood Reporter   16 Oct 1970   p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter   22 Oct 1970.   
Hollywood Reporter   4 Dec 1970   p. 9.
Hollywood Reporter   26 May 1971   p. 3.
Los Angeles Times   1 Jul 1971   Section IV, p. 13.
New York Times   27 May 1971   p. 33.
Time   21 Jun 1971.   
Variety   26 May 1971   p. 20, 23.
Village Voice   1 Jul 1971.   

Display Movie Summary
The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
Advanced Search
Support our efforts to preserve hisotory of film
Help AFI Preserve Film History

© 2017 American Film Institute.
All rights reserved.
Terms of use.