Chisum

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

John Chisum (John Wayne), a virtuous, patriarchal land baron, locks horns with greedy Lawrence Murphy (Forrest Tucker), who will stop at nothing to get control of the trade and even the law in Lincoln County, New Mexico.

Chisum is an aging rancher with an eventful past and a paternalistic nature towards his companions and community. Murphy, a malevolent land developer, plans to take control of the county for his own personal gain.

The story begins with Murphy’s men tipping off Mexican rustlers who plan to steal Chisum’s horses. Chisum and his sidekick Pepper (Ben Johnson) stop the bandits with help from a newcomer to the area, William Bonney (Geoffrey Deuel), also known as Billy the Kid. A notorious killer, Billy has been given a chance to reform by Chisum’s philanthropic neighbor, rancher Henry Tunstall (Patric Knowles). Billy also falls for Chisum’s newly arrived niece, Sallie (Pamela McMyler).

Murphy is buying up all the stores in town and using his monopoly to push up the prices. He appoints his own sheriff and deputies. He also brings in a lawyer, Alex McSween (Andrew Prine), whose principles lead him to switch sides and seek work with Chisum and Tunstall. The two ranchers set up their own bank and general store in town under McSween’s control.

Chisum’s land and cattle remain targets. Murphy’s men attempt to steal Chisum’s cattle before he can sell them to the Army. Chisum’s ranch hands are warned by Pat Garrett (Glenn Corbett), a passing buffalo hunter. Garrett agrees to help Chisum and soon befriends Bonney. Together they foil an attack by Murphy’s men on the wagons bringing in provisions for the new store.

Fed up with Murphy’s underhand activities, Tunstall rides off to Santa Fe to seek the intervention of Gov. Sam Axtell (Alan Baxter). On the way he is intercepted by Murphy’s deputies, who falsely accuse him of cattle rustling and shoot him dead. Chisum and Garrett hunt down the deputies and ride them back towards town for trial. Bonney, seeking revenge for the murder of his mentor, overpowers Garrett and shoots dead both deputies. Before Sheriff Brady (Bruce Cabot) can organise a posse, Billy rides into town and kills him too.

Murphy appoints bounty hunter Dan Nodeen (Christopher George) as the new sheriff, giving him orders to hunt down Bonney. Nodeen has a score to settle, as a previous encounter with Bonney has left him with a permanent limp.

Billy’s plans for revenge are only just beginning. He breaks into McSween’s store looking for dynamite. He is spotted by Nodeen, who gets Murphy’s men to surround the store. McSween comes out unarmed but Nodeen shoots him in cold blood.

Chisum is alerted by McSween’s wife (Lynda Day George) and rides into town. The main street is blocked, so Chisum stampedes his cattle through the barricades. He tracks down Murphy and takes him on in a fist fight which ends with both men falling from a balcony. Murphy ends up impaled on steer horns. With his paymaster dead, Nodeen flees with Billy in pursuit.

The film ends with Garrett taking over as sheriff and settling down with Sallie. It’s been learned that General Lew Wallace takes over as governor of the area. With law and order restored, Chisum can resume his iconic vigil over the Pecos valley.

REVIEW:

First off, let’s get the sophomoric, mind in the gutter jokes about the name/title of this film out of the way.

 

I’ll wait…

 

Everybody good now? I had to spew a couple of those out myself, so don’t feel bad if you couldn’t resist. So, things seem to be settling down and I am slowly, but surely, getting back to a regular schedule of film viewing. With Chisum, I happened to be standing in line and saw it in the $5 bin. The reason I picked it up was because it happened to be a double feature with perhaps my favorite John Wayne film of all time, The Cowboys. I had never seen this one, but as hard as it is to find that classic Wayne film without mortgaging a house and sacrificing your first-born, I couldn’t resist. Was this worth the price? Should I have left it in the bin? Perhaps it is just one of those accompanying discs that no one ever pays any attention to, other than to say it came as a package deal. Which will it be?

What is this about?

John Wayne stars as tough cattle baron John Chisum in one of his better late-era Westerns, directed by Andrew McLaglen. Chisum fights con artists, corrupt town officials (Forrest Tucker) — even Billy the Kid (Geoffrey Deuel) — in order to keep the peace and his cattle ranch intact.

What did I like?

Billy boy. One of the most infamous outlaws in the old west is Billy the Kid. When we meet him in this flick he has garnered a bit of a reputation, but is trying to go straight. As you can imagine, one does not put Billy the Kid into their movie without making him an outlaw, or at the very least, the sharpshooter that the history books tell us he was. While this wasn’t my favorite portrayal of him on the big screen, I did appreciate Geofrrey Deuel’s take on the character.

Real or not. It turns out that John Chisum was a real person. I should have guessed that since there is an entire school district in Texas named after him. As you can imagine liberties were taken, and you will be scratching your head as to what is real and what isn’t. That being said, for the purpose of making a film, I think what the filmmakers did was an excellent job. No, I wouldn’t show this in a history class, but sometimes it is ok to fudge the facts for entertainment purposes. Anyone remember Amadeus and how far removed it is from the truth?

Black and white. In today’s film, audiences don’t seem to be happy unless the hero and villain deal in shades of gray when it comes to their moral character. I tend to be a bit more old school and prefer the days when you knew who was good and who was bad. Hell, give me the day when the bad guy wore the black hat and the good guy wore the white hat. Well, maybe not (he says looking around at all of his black caps). I felt refreshed to go back to a simpler time and know that this villainous banker was the bad guy almost from the first time we meet him and Chisum is the good guy. The only grey area is with Billy the Kid, and we all know his tale.

What didn’t I like?

Womenfolk. Not to come off sounding like a male chauvinist, but what was the point of the women in the film? They weren’t the strong type, they weren’t in the kitchen cooking, and they weren’t damsels in distress. The two females in the cast were just there. Wait, let me take that back. The young lady that is Chisum’s niece served as some sort of love interest for Billy the Kid and subsequently Pat Garrett, but otherwise, she was useless other than looking pretty and buying a $100 horse as soon as she got off the train. The other lady, married to the lawyer, McSweeney, has one big moment near the end, but that was something that could have been done by anyone, so she was useless, as well.

I don’t like yer face. Motivation for this villain? Basically, he comes into town, learns that when Chisum moved out there he bought up everything and now he wants a piece of the pie, even though everyone is happy and prospering. In other words, he’s just an ass. No fancy word for that. People die all because this guy thinks he’s entitled to what Chisum worked for. Guess he never heard of the phrase, “the early bird catches the worm.

Showing his age. At this point in his career, John Wayne was filming his last few roles. Long gone are the days when he commanded the screen from the entire runtime of the film, but rather he shows up for a few scenes, and is gone for large chunks of the movie. I can only assume this was due to health reasons, but I could be wrong. It is always hard to watch a hero in his twilight. A video was posted not long after WrestleMania¬†showing the Undertaker, my all time favorite wrestler, coming out of the hotel and it nearly brought me to tears. It reminded me of the last days my grandfather spend on this Earth, after so many years as a strong, able-bodied man, to go out like that. With Wayne, it isn’t as severe as that, but it is disheartening when you compare this to his earlier films and notice the difference in screen time.

As far as westerns, and film for that matter, go, Chisum will go down as one the more entertaining, yet poignant pictures that I have seen. There is a lesson to be learned here about the law of the land, bits of comedy, romance, and the standard western shootout. Also, we get John Wayne punching a guy’s lights out. Is there anything else you need to see? I highly recommend this as a film you should see before you die, so go find it and watch ASAP!

4 1/3 out of 5 stars

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