The “Big Jake” Killcount: “I thought you were dead!”

By on July 15, 2015

As you no doubt know if you’ve been checking out some of these supercuts we’ve posted before, we here at Night Flight love it whenever like-minded cinéastes and cinefiles take it upon themselves to mash-up movies they love (this one’s great too), cut together some of their favorite movie scenes or combine movies based on themes or, in this case, count up the number of kills, especially if the film happens to be one of our favorites too.

Eric Zaldivar is one of these so-called cinéastes, and he’s also an actor and producer, and has already appeared in a handful of films that we enjoy here at Night Flight HQ, including Mike Malloy’s documentary Eurocrime! The Italian Cop and Gangster Films That Ruled the ’70s (2012), which we’ll be telling you about soon. Zaldivar has also appeared in The Scarlet Worm (2011), and High School Gig (2010).

He’s made a few of these killcount vids before and posted them to his Youtube account, and this is the second western he’s featured (check out “The Scarlet Worm killcount” when you go here). He’s already done a few of these killcount vids for some of our favorite films, like El Topo, The Shining, Alien… here’s one he did for one of our favorite British imports, Get Carter:

If you’ve never seen the 1971 revisionist western Big Jake, let us provide you with a little background — the story takes place just after the turn of the century, in 1909, and the wild west is on the verge of modernization. John Wayne plays this crusty old tough-as-nails rancher guy, Jacob “Big Jake” McCandles, and at the beginning of the movie, he’s estranged from his wife Martha (Maureen O’Hara) and the rest of his family. He’s living on his own — well, he’s also got a dog with him (named “Dog”) — somewhere out in the wilderness on the sprawling McCandles ranch property that is probably supposed to be a huge piece of land in Texas (the filming was shot on location in Durango, Mexico, during the last three months of 1970).

A gang of outlaws ride onto the ranch early on, each of them just about as mean and ruthless as you could ever expect to see, a real wild bunch, like something out of a Sam Peckinpah movie. There’s a lot of violence and bloodshed right away as John Fain’s gang coldbloodedly murder ten people, and abduct Martha’s eight-year-old grandson, Little Jake. One of the bad guys even rides a horse straight up the stairs inside the McCandles’ ranchhome, and the eldest McCandles son, played by Bobby Vinton (!), is shot and injured during the kidnapping.

Before the gang ride off, Fain (Richard Boone) leaves a ransom note demanding one million dollars. Martha initially declines the help of the Texas Rangers and the military when they offer to the McCandles cash (it’s kept in a locked strongbox), and she subsequently decides to turn to her estranged husband Big Jake for help.

Everyone seems to think that Big Jake was dead, or he should be six-feet under (“I thought you were dead” is a running line throughout), which might be one reason the Fain gang thought they could get away with their kidnapping plan.

Jake takes possession of the strongbox and agrees to deliver the ransom money after learning he has a grandson named after him, and all this causes a lot of conflict because his two grown sons (James is played by his actual son Patrick Wayne, and son Michael by Robert Mitchum’s son Christopher Mitchum) are still pretty pissed that their dear old dad abandoned them (Patrick Wayne’s character keeps using the term “Daddy” when talking to Big Jake, showing about as much disrespect as he can, and he ends up getting his ass handed to him a few times).

Accompanying them is an Indian scout and sharp-eye named Sam Sharpnose (Bruce Cabot) and they all form a posse and go off to find the Fain gang and rescue Big Jake’s grandson. There’s an added wrinkle in that ol’ Jake is pretty set in his ways, and he’s pretty resistant to anything new-fangled and strange, and since the movie is set in the early 1900’s, he’s exposed to a lot of things he doesn’t particularly like, including these new contraptions called automobiles and his son Michael is is possession of what must be one of the first automatic handguns (a great scene).

Big Jake spends most of the movie lecturing his grown sons that the old way is never wrong, that age should be respected, and even though it sounds pretty cut n’ dry, this movie has a lot of twists and turns, and there’s a great bloody shootout towards the end (probably the most violent climax in a John Wayne film to this point).

Big Jake (originally titled A Million Dollar Kidnapping) was the last movie John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara appeared in together and was actually written by the same couple who wrote the über-violent revenge flick Dirty Harry — Harry Julian Fink and Rita M. Fink — which was also released in 1971, so expect some memorable banter and one liners from Big Jake too if you’ve never seen it.

About Eric Zaldivar

Eric Zaldivar is a filmmaker, screenwriter, researcher and Spaghetti Western film historian. He co-wrote the original screenplay for Django Lives! and remains involved on the project as a producer (writer/director John Sayles is also now involved). He also co-produced The Scarlet Worm (the world's first "abortion Western"), assisted on the documentary about Dennis Hopper's The Last Movie, and was the second-unit director on Mike Malloy's Eurocrime! The Italian Cop and Gangster Films That Ruled The 70s documentary. Zaldivar has also penned film reviews for Spectacular Optical and other cinema publications. He lives in Miami, Florida.