Pros: John Wayne, Ben Johnson, Supporting Cast Cinematography, Story
Cons: Forgettable score
Towards the tail end of his career, with John Ford no longer making westerns, John Wayne released Chisum working with director Andrew V. McLaglen, son of Waynes frequent co-star Victor McLaglen (The Quiet Man).
Gone was the distinctive visual style brought to the genre by John Ford, yet the collaboration between Wayne and McLaglen brought forth several memorable westerns including McLintock!, Cahill US Marshall, and the subject of this review, Chisum.
John Wayne portrays John Simpson Chisum the richest man in New Mexico in a variation of Hollywoods on-going love affair with the legend of Billy the Kid. Chisum owns a gigantic spread but ends up locking horns with ambitious Lawrence Murphy (Forrest Tucker - Sands of Iwo Jima), a man who is buying up the town of Lincoln, putting the careers of all the townsfolk in jeopardy. Chisum decides to stake Alex McSween (Andrew Prine - The Devils Brigade ) to run a store in competition with Murphys.
Things come to a head when Murphys thugs kill Chisums neighbor Henry Tunstall, mentor to Billy the Kid (Jeffrey Deuel), and lay siege to McSweens store, thus setting off the Lincoln County War. Of course, John Wayne is the good guy, and the good guys always win.
By this stage of his career, John Wayne was a western icon, having portrayed the principled cowboy many times; always willing to stand alone, if necessary, to defend his beliefs. This heroic figure is what audiences had come to expect and Wayne delivers in spades.
In Chisum, Wayne has no family, just a couple million acre spread, seized from the original inhabitants. His niece (Pamela McMyler) comes to stay with him and she provides a bit of love interest for Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, who are not the main focus of the film. Wayne is, and delivers up a good bit of action, ably supported by veteran character actor Ben Johnson, as the crabby sidekick similar to the character Walter Brennan served up in Waynes classic Rio Bravo .
Chisum benefits from a fine supporting cast including Forrest Tucker, Christopher George, Lynda Day, Bruce Cabot and quite a few more familiar faces. The script is good, with plenty of action, comic relief, and excellent dialog exchanges. Christopher George chews the scenery as the villainous Dan Nodeen -
Sheriff: Hes deader than a can of corned beef. You just had to kill him, didnt you?
Nodeen: Whole lot less trouble that way.
Pepper: If you want my opinion -
Victor McLaglen directed and used the formidable talents of cinematographer William Clothier (The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance ). Music was by Dominic Frontiere, who made his mark mainly in television.
The Warner Bros DVD is presented in 2.35:1 theatrical format, in color. Chisum is in color and runs 112 minutes. There is a commentary by director Andrew V. McLaglen and subtitles as extras.
Chisum will appeal to John Wayne fans and fans of westerns with traditional values.
More John Wayne films that I recommend include:
Watch a good movie tonight!