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The Elder boys return to Clearwater, Texas for their Mother's funeral. John the eldest is a well known gunfighter and trouble follows him wherever he goes. The boys try to get back their ranch from the towns gunsmith who won it from their father in a card game with which he was shortly murdered there after but not before getting through the troubles that come with the Elders name. Written by
Christopher D. Ryan <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Feisty Katie Elder has passed on and her sons have arrived in Clearwater, Texas for her funeral. Katie's four sons are played by John Wayne, Dean Martin, Earl Holliman, and Michael Anderson, Jr. and three's a certain amount of hostility directed towards them from some quarters. And a bit of fear evident in the town's people. It also turns out that their father had been murdered a few months before that and their ranch now belonged to James Gregory. When questions are asked, trouble starts.
One thing is clear though, none of her kids has quite turned out the way she hoped, but the three oldest are going to see that young Anderson becomes some kind of success in life.
Despite some glaring plot weaknesses The Sons of Katie Elder is a film that is sold by the sincere playing of its leads. I'm not quite sure why the Elder boys didn't come back with the news of their father's death and settled things back then. Or why Michael Anderson was so resistant to some higher education.
This was a special film for John Wayne, the first post cancer operation film he made. And he did it and all his subsequent films with essentially one lung. One thing about Duke was that he really loved MAKING movies. I've always thought on some level he wanted them to make money because that way he could make more of them. Wayne just loved being out on location, working all day and partying all night, this was him. Although his health gradually deteriorated and he became more testy and irritable and he had more and more need of an oxygen tank as years past, he wouldn't give it up until he HAD to. For John Wayne it really was a labor of love.
Wayne surrounded himself with a good cast of familiar players for the most part. This was his second film with Dean Martin who after completing this film started on his highly acclaimed variety show. And his guest on his first show, John Wayne to plug the upcoming release of their film. They are an interesting pair of older Elder brothers. Wayne who lives by a strict code and Martin who gets by on his wits and a larcenous streak. Still the affection the two had for each other in real life comes forth on the screen.
Dino has a real moment to shine when he sneaks out and brings Dennis Hopper back to the stable where Wayne and a wounded Anderson are holed up. One of his best acted scenes from any of his films.
George Kennedy plays a menacing gunman that James Gregory hires and he also gets quite a clout from John Wayne with a two by four after Kennedy was bullying John Doucette. It's a great cinematic moment from a Wayne film, but afterwards you can't find any trace of injury on Kennedy for the rest of the film. I remember in Joe Kidd when Clint Eastwood gave Don Stroud a similar clout, Mr. Stroud looked every bit the injured party for the rest of that film.
Though we never see Katie Elder we get quite the picture of the uncomplaining pioneer mother through the townspeople that knew her and their sons. I'm still also not sure though why Earl Holliman was supposed to be such a bad role model, he's a hardware merchant in another town. Still the other three Elder boys want Anderson to aim higher than that.
Elmer Bernstein's musical score is one of the best that is featured in a John Wayne film. Wayne films were always distinguished by good use of music, something the Duke learned from John Ford. Bernstein and the Duke first worked together in The Comancheros and this one is every bit as good as that rousing score.
The action sequences are the best part of the film and the last half hour with the ambush on the bridge by Gregory's men right up to the explosive climatic battle with Wayne and Gregory, the excitement doesn't let up for a New York minute. No western fan should miss it.
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