Directed by Howard Hawks
Based on the novel The Stars in Their Courses by Harry Brown
Screenplay by Leigh Brackett
Starring: John Wayne, Robert Mitchum, James Caan, Ed Asner
Cole Thornton (Wayne) has earned his living as a hired gun. When he turns down a job for Bart Jason (Asner), Thornton finds himself taking sides with the other people in the fight. The MacDonald family is trying to protect their water rights from Jason and his gang. To help him fight, Thornton has enlisted Mississippi (Caan), a young wanderer. He’s also got to sober up his old friend J.P. Hara (Mitchum), who also happens to be the town sheriff. Along with these men and an old Indian fighter, Thonrton needs to settle the score against Jason and his talented hired guns.
This is another fun Western featuring the legendary actor, John Wayne (The Big Trail). This time Wayne is joined by Robert Mitchum (Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison). The two worked together on The Longest Day in 1962. The cast of this film also includes James Caan (The Godfather) and Ed Asner (Elf). The movie is based loosely on the novel The Stars in Their Courses by Harry Brown (Ocean’s Eleven), and was adapted by Leigh Brackett (The Big Sleep). Hollywood legend Howard Hawks (His Girl Friday) took over as director of this movie. Critics and fans alike enjoyed this movie making it a box office success and a classic Western.
The writing in this one is really wonderful. The movie has a serious backbone, but works in comedy in a way that really makes this easy to watch. The script provided the stars with great dialogue that seemed to be built for the actors. In particular, Robert Mitchum and John Wayne seemed to have roles that complimented one another. The exchanges between them create a wonderful friendship and some of the better comedic moments. This is not a comedy Western. It’s important to note that the comedy is not a major part of the movie, but when it’s used it seems to be timed nicely. Overall, this has some nice twists and turns that have kept this watchable after almost 50 years.
The acting in this one benefits from good writing and the right choice of actors. Robert Mitchum was cast in a role that required someone who could share the screen with John Wayne as an equal. For most of Wayne’s roles he is the main attraction. Luckily, Mitchum was up to the task and really does a lot to making this more than a John Wayne film. James Caan is also good in one of the earlier roles of his career. Ed Asner is also great in his role in this one. In an interesting twist, these two men would make another movie together in 2003 when they were both cast in Elf. This movie features a number of nice performances by several supporting characters as well. Overall, this is a great movie from an acting point of view.
This is a good movie from the technical aspects as well. The camera work and visual design of the film are really good. The overall execution of the film also bears the stamp of Hawks, who had a distinct way of working when it came to Westerns. If you’ve seen Rio Bravo or The Big Sky you’ll see the techniques duplicated in this one. This was the second to last film for Hawks, who would direct John Wayne again in 1970 in Rio Lobo. The movie only shows its age when it comes to the stunt work and special effects. The movie seems to sometimes try things that end up being a bit cheesy, although this is coming from a viewer who has an additional 48 years of movies to compare it with. Overall, this is a nicely made movie from the technical side of things.
If you’re a fan of Westerns, this is one you need to see. I would recommend this to fans of Wayne, Caan, Asner, or Mitchum. I would also suggest this to someone who might be unsure about Westerns. This has a great blend of action, drama, comedy, and adventure that still work today. This isn’t a cliffhanger, so be prepared for a pretty straightforward film. I give this one 4.3 out of 5 stars.