Wednesday 30 May 2007

The Sons of Katie Elder (1965) Henry Hathaway

The train's due to arrive in Clearwater, TX, and Dean Martin is waiting for it with a few others. They're not waiting for George Kennedy, who gets off it looking dubious; they're waiting for John Wayne who's expected in town for a funeral. Kennedy is looking for John Elder too, as it happens, though not for any happy reason, and the sheriff's keeping his eyes open as well. The funeral is in memory of the Katie Elder of the title and Wayne and Martin, along with Earl Holliman and Michael Anderson Jr, are her sons: John, Tom, Matt and Bud respectively. John is a gunfighter, not wanted for anything in Clearwater but a gunfighter nonetheless. Tom's a gambler, we're not sure what Matt is and Bud's the young 'un who Katie conned into going to college. However all four have been away from home, for some time, and plenty has changed since they were last in Clearwater.

There's a story in here that unfolds slowly but surely. Katie Elder was well respected by all and sundry, so respected that she comes across as some sort of saint, but it's done so sincerely that we can't help but believe everyone. In fact she's one of the most powerful movie characters we never get to see. However she lost her ranch and her 1,200 acres and everything else, even her husband who was shot in the back the night he was swindled out of it, apparently in a card game. All she had left at the end was a rocking chair and a couple of bucks owed her for teaching guitar lessons. There's a story with a lot of questions and not a lot of answers, leaving the four brothers to poke their noses in where it obviously isn't wanted.

John Wayne is exactly as you'd expect John Wayne to be, especially in a real 'man's gotta do what a man's gotta do' role, but there are others here that surprise a little. Dean Martin plays very much in the background for fully half the film before getting a showpiece scene in a bar running a con to turn a fake glass eye into a fake glass eye with money on the side for drink. My good lass knows James Gregory well, here as Morgan Hastings, the man who swindled Katie Elder and her husband, because he was a regular on Barney Miller, but I know his son a lot better. Nervous young upstart Dave Hastings is played by young upstart Dennis Hopper, right between career highlights Tarzan and Jane Regained... Sort Of and Queen of Blood. By 1967 though it was The Trip and Cool Hand Luke and on the way to Hang 'Em High, Easy Rider and True Grit and a real name for himself. Here he looks tiny compared to the Duke and comes across as nothing less than a paranoid Sean Penn.

I've heard of most of the later John Wayne movies but that doesn't mean I've seen them. I haven't seen most of them, though I'm catching up for sure. Here's another non-John Ford that I prefer above most of the John Fords; it's a Henry Hathaway film, and Hathaway would go on to film Wayne again more than once, most notably in True Grit. Every one of these John Wayne westerns not directed by John Ford that I see, the more I so need to see The Searchers.

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