The Sons of Katie Elder

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

The four adult sons of Katie Elder – John (John Wayne), who is a famous (or infamous) professional gunman; Tom (Dean Martin), a professional gambler; Bud (Michael Anderson, Jr.), the youngest brother, still in school; and Matt (Earl Holliman), an unsuccessful hardware dealer – reunite in their hometown of Clearwater, Texas, in 1898 for their mother’s funeral, sharing regret that none of them has lived up to her high expectations of them.

The townspeople are unfriendly, to John and Tom in particular. Katie Elder was extremely well liked by everyone in the community, who were all aware of her honesty, her poverty and her undying love for the sons who neglected her. The brothers want to do something for Katie’s sake, and their plan is to send youngest son Bud to college, raising money through a sale of another man’s herd of horses, even though Bud wants to emulate his eldest brother.

Morgan Hastings (James Gregory), a gunsmith and rising entrepreneur, claims ownership of the Elders’ ranch, saying he won it from their father in a game of cards; Bass Elder afterwards was shot in the back, and the killer is still unknown. Hastings hides a hostile attitude towards the brothers and brings in a hired gun, Curley (George Kennedy), just in case. The Elders suspect foul play. Hastings claims Bass lost the ranch in a game of Blackjack, so John, in a ruse, states their father wouldn’t have been caught dead playing Blackjack.

When Hastings learns about the brothers’ investigations, he frames them for murder of the sheriff (Paul Fix). Then, not content with seeing them go to prison, Hastings arranges an ambush in which Matt is killed and Bud seriously injured. John and Tom take it upon themselves to avenge the family.

Tom manages to kidnap Hasting’s weak-willed son Dave (Dennis Hopper), although he is seriously injured in the process. Hastings shoots his own boy in an attempt to prevent him from testifying. In the presence of John Elder and the local judge, a wounded Dave manages to relate the tale of his father’s crimes before he dies. John takes up arms and sends Hastings to meet his maker inside his own gun store


Well, it is the last day of the year 2014. Guess I should end with something that should theoretically be a good watch, right? Since Netflix is forcing my hand and telling my that The Sons of Katie Elder will be leaving instant streaming tomorrow, I guess I don’t have much choice in the matter and need to get this film watched. What will the verdict on it be, though?

What is this about?

John Wayne stars as the eldest of four Elder brothers who reunite in Texas to bury their mother and investigate the death of their father. But a meddling sheriff and a rival gang have other plans for the brothers, and soon the air is thick with lead.

What did I like?

Brotherly love. Four brothers come together for their mother’s funeral. Given the circumstances in which the two oldest and the youngest left, it is no wonder that they are at each other’s throats. There is hurt there from feelings of abandonment, or maybe it is just sibling rivalry. At any case, the film does a great job of making these guys feel as if they really are brothers but, let’s face it, that is some age gap between John Wayne and the youngest. Not to mention who in the world would believe that Wayne and Dean Martin are brothers?

No shades of gray. It has been said that westerns, especially the spaghetti westerns, cloud the moral code to the point that you can’t tell who is the good and who is bad (or ugly, too?) It is pretty clear who is good and bad with this film. I would go so far as to say the good guys wear white hats and the bad guys wear black, but the sheriff is wearing a black hat. Still, the moral ambiguity that has become commonplace today is not on display. Instead we get characters that clearly portray to the audience whether they are right or wrong.

Scenic Clearwater. Westerns are underrated when it comes to scenery. I say this because most assume that all that can be seen is tumbleweed, dirty towns, and maybe a farm or two. With that said, there isn’t much in the way of a town to be seen in this film, but when they go out into the frontier, well, it is beautiful open space. The kind of land that we just don’t see anymore because America is so “developed”. One has to just take in the beauty of nature, if only for a few seconds.

What didn’t I like?

Just the facts. While this is loosely based on a true story, that is not my issue with the film, but rather the way no one would give our heroes any answers. They all seemed to either clam up or dance around the questions. Why is that? I cannot tell you, but it made for a good mystery. Thing is, this isn’t a mystery film, nor did it try to go down that route. However, going that way may have helped it, as it would have given us something new and different, rather than the same old stuff we typically get from films of this nature.

Little brother. Myself and many of my ilk seem to have a real issue with kids and teenager in today’s film, and society for that matter. They are annoying and disrespectful. I don’t know about you, but had I talked back and cussed out my parents, I’d have been slapped into the next millennium! Today’s kids can do that and if the parents do anything about it, they’re quick to yell child abuse. Ugh! What has our society devolved into? The youngest Elder son, while not that level of disrespectful, does seem to have a hint of it in him. I think this was done to give him some character, but he needs to respect his Elders more (see what I did there), as well as stop complaining about college and go.

Single white female. Aside from the red herring that is the deceased Katie Elder, the only female that is seen or heard from is Mary Gordon. Miss Mary is someone who had a close relationship with Katie and appears to have caught the eye of her eldest son. Thing is, though, she doesn’t serve any real purpose in the film other than to just be a female presence and cause some uncomfortable flirting from Wayne. Does she contribute to the plot in any way? No. Is she eye candy? Well, she’s not an eye sore, but I wouldn’t exactly call her eye candy, at least in this role. Like I said, she’s exists to exist.

The Sons of Katie Elder was quite entertaining and well-made, though I am starting to wonder if John Wayne can do anything other than play the tough guy in thee westerns. On the flip side, Elmer Bernstein provided a great score for this flick, very similar to his work in The Magnificent Seven. While there are better westerns out there, this is still a very good, quality film. For those that want to introduce the family to the genre, but are too scared of the violence, maybe this is one you should consider. Yes, there are fights, drinking, and gunfights, but compared to many of the other westerns, it is quite tame. So, do I recommend it? Yes, very highly!

4 1/3 out of 5 stars


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