Big Jake (1971)

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Released 3-Feb-2004

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Western None
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1971
Running Time 105:10
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (58:20) Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Programme
Region Coding 4 Directed By George Sherman
Cinema Center Films
Paramount Home Entertainment
Starring John Wayne
Richard Boone
Patrick Wayne
Christopher Mitchum
Maureen O'Hara
Case ?
RPI $24.95 Music Elmer Bernstein

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
German Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
English for the Hearing Impaired
German Titling
French Titling
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    The setting is 1909 and it's pretty much the end of the Old, Wild West as we have come to love it. Out East the trappings of civilised society are all the rage, but out West the habits of old are taking a bit longer to die. So it is that in a West where posses now head out in automobiles, the gang headed by John Fain (Richard Boone) are heading to the McCandles Ranch with mischief on their minds. There they manage to wreak havoc in the form of murder and kidnap - the hostage being Little Jake McCandles (John Ethan Wayne), taken from his grandmother Martha (Maureen O'Hara) with a million dollar ransom tag placed on his head. Knowing that these men are the epitome of the old ways, Martha also knows only one man can deliver the ransom and get her grandson back - one of the old breed himself, her estranged husband Big Jake McCandles (John Wayne). What follows is the chase for Little Jake, with a sideshow of the old West versus the new West for good measure. Now since this is a John Wayne film, we need not worry what the result is going to be - but who really cares? Along for the ride are sons James McCandles (Patrick Wayne) and Michael McCandles (Christopher Mitchum), themselves examples of the changing of the ways in the West.

    Unfortunately, the story is nothing more than run-of-the-mill stuff - but then again, would we expect much else from a John Wayne film at this stage of his career? He could play this role without any trouble at all, even given his lack of acting ability (which it might be added is well hidden here by the presence of Patrick Wayne). What makes a difference here is the presence of the "new technology", which is well shown as being of little use in the West. It adds a degree of minor humour to see the attempts to use this new technology, such as motorcycles and the new-fangled pistol with magazine. It does however also permit the low point of the film with the utterly pointless scenes of Michael riding his motorcycle to and fro through the ambush shootout whilst achieving nothing (not even advancing the story).

    The lack of characterisation amongst the main roles is also a problem with the film and leaves you pondering what the heck some of the motivation of the characters is. As much as the presence of the lovely Maureen O'Hara is welcomed, you have to wonder why she gets so little time on screen and exactly what is the nature of her relationship with Big Jake. They obviously are estranged yet the portrayal strongly suggests that the feelings between them are the exact opposite of estrangement. Obviously we are just expected to accept everything and just let The Duke do what he does...

    For all that is wrong with the screenplay and thus the film, it really matters not at all. It's a John Wayne film and so there are certain expectations, or lack thereof. One of those is nothing too extravagant in the story, plenty of opportunity for The Duke to strut his stuff and basically do what he normally does. In that respect, the expectations are well and truly met, and this is just a familiar matinee romp with the man. Everything else is just plain irrelevant in most respects.

    Whilst there is little here to recommend the film ahead of any number of others, it has to be said that the ilk of True Grit and Rooster Cogburn offer much more satisfying films in an overall sense. Still, as far as I am concerned you can never get too much of The Duke and if your tastes run the same then there is little to stop a recommendation for you to pick this one up.

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Transfer Quality


    The transfer is presented in its theatrical ratio of 2.35:1 and it is 16x9 enhanced. Overall it is not a bad transfer at all, even if prone to some minor shimmer that always seems to be threatening to break out into full blown aliasing.

    The transfer is certainly quite sharp and well detailed - although given the aliasing that is exhibited perhaps slightly less sharpness might have been advantageous. There is a bit of grain floating around, nothing really annoying although on occasions it does become more than a background issue. The overall clarity is very good nonetheless. Shadow detail is decent enough given the nature and age of the film, with just the odd instance where something better might have been nice.

    The whole transfer is quite vibrant and this really helps bring the best out of the colours. Whilst a little variable at times, with that dirty, pale look that we are quite used to in westerns, most of the time the colours are quite decently presented. A bit more saturation at times would have been welcome, but at others is just about spot on. There is nothing in the way of oversaturation or colour bleed to be seen here.

    The source material seems to have a slight problem with holding resolution in camera movement - mainly moderately fast pans - but no further problems are introduced in the MPEG compression process. The same cannot be said for film-to-video artefacts, with aliasing being a slightly more than minor issue at times. Just about any straight edge exhibits the problem at a very minor level but the likes of fences see the problems made more obvious (such as at 4:34 and 14:14). Other examples can be found in Big Jake's glasses at 24:47, in his hat at 28:10 and in the railing at 81:51. Considering the age of the film, there is relatively little in the way of obvious film artefacts to be seen.

    This is an RSDL formatted DVD and whilst I did not notice the layer change during playback, it is apparently located at 58:20. Obviously it is not at all disruptive to the film if I did not notice it.

    There is an absolute plethora of subtitle options on the DVD. The English efforts are very good and vary very little to the actual dialogue most of the time.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    There are five soundtracks on the DVD, with the main one as far as most are concerned being the English Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. The rest comprise Dolby Digital 2.0 efforts with the language options being French, Italian, German and Spanish. Purists will probably decry the fact that there is no original English soundtrack on the DVD (although there is plenty of space available for such), but the surround sound effort is not especially brilliant and is presumably very sympathetic to the original. Of course, I did not veer at all from the English soundtrack option.

    The dialogue comes up pretty well in the transfer, although there are some noticeable variations. At times, the dialogue level is a little lower and it is rather difficult to understand, whilst at times the style of the dialogue also varies. The scene inside the railroad depot for instance is very different in style to the rest of the film - presumably as it was recorded on a sound stage and not subjected to any ADR work. There did not appear to be any obvious audio sync issues with the transfer.

    The original music score comes from Elmer Bernstein but is hardly one of his most original works. Indeed, for much of the film I sat there thinking "I know that theme from somewhere". I could never positively say where but the music was always very reminiscent of something heard somewhere else. It certainly draws heavily on the sort of clichéd music found in many westerns, and so lacks anything in the way of distinction. Still, it does the job required of it, for all its lack of originality.

    The soundtrack certainly offers little in the way of surround sound. At best there is some ambience out of the front surrounds, but the rear surrounds offer little if anything. If there is little from the rear surrounds, that would probably still be more than what was offered by the low frequency effects channel, which seemed to be silent for much of the film. What all this does is really just take the soundtrack and give it a bit more presence than a two channel soundtrack would have done. There certainly is nothing wrong with it, especially as there appears to be little if any problem with any hiss or distortion, but you cannot escape the fact that something more dynamic would certainly have been welcomed.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


    Absolutely nothing.


    With so little to do, it is hardly worth having it either.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    Once again, we have a back catalogue release where Region 1 and 2 seem to be equally poorly served on the extras front, with rather similar transfers by the sounds of it. Definitely this is one DVD where the defining characteristic is probably how cheap it is.


    Whilst Big Jake is hardly likely to be confused with the very, very best in the John Wayne filmography, like many of his films (especially the later ones) it has a deal of familiarity to it that is rather appealing - and certainly still very watchable. Regrettably there is once again a complete dearth of extras on the DVD, which is becoming far too much of a characteristic of these back catalogue releases from Paramount in particular. I am no fan of extras, but surely a trailer could be dug up, perhaps some production notes, even a filmography or biography here and there? The video transfer is very reasonable but the audio transfer hardly gets the blood racing. Fans will probably find more here to enjoy than non-fans

Ratings (out of 5)


© Ian Morris (Biological imperfection run amok)
Monday, February 02, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-515, using S-Video output
DisplaySony Trinitron Wega (80cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationYamaha RXV-795
SpeakersEnergy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right C-2; rears EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL

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