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Beset by production difficulties and largely ignored by critics upon
release, this is a film that, like its star, has grown better with age.
Director Hathaway's open-air style perfectly suits the expansive nature
of the material, which by today's standards seems almost leisurely. In
fact Sergio Leone acknowledged this fact when he greatly reworked the
opening station scene as the beginning of Once Upon a Time in The
West/C'era una volta il West (1969). (He also had his heroine arriving
at his own Clearwater station later.) Elmer Bernstein's score is a
standout, recalling his achievement on The Magnificent Seven (1960).
There are several scenes which gain immeasurably from his masculine
music, which ranges from the grand celebratory mode of the main theme
to some suitably subdued and menacing cues for the final showdown.
A convalescent Wayne plays the returning gunfighter John Elder, summoned by the death of his mother. Bewigged, paunchy, and slightly wheezy, the recently de-lunged actor still acts an imposing head of the Elder clan. He finds himself leading a dysfunctional family, united at first by grief, then the clumsy depredations of Morgan Hastings (an excellent James Gregory) who has swindled his way into possessing the family land. Together with memories of the late Katie Elder herself, like an American monument, Wayne's presence dominates the film. Recognising this, Hathaway uses it to great advantage with the first view of his star, perhaps Wayne's most impressive screen entrance since that in Stagecoach of 26 years earlier. As Katie is buried, in long shot, we take in an overview of the cemetery with its cluster of mourners, A massive rock formation overshadows the land. After a few seconds, a small detail catches the eye high up in a cleft. The camera cuts closer, and we think we recognise the figure. Cut again, and it is shown to be the watching John, irresistibly solid and still. At this stage in his career Wayne so easily assumes the permanence and grandeur of landscape that the iconic nature of this moment is accepted by the viewer without question.
This is last time in his career that Wayne is so emphasised. Twice in Katie Elder the director takes the opportunity to film his star 'doing the walk' his tall frame strolling purposefully towards the camera, intent on action. In later films (such as Hathaway's own True Grit (1969)) such virile ruggedness is replaced by hard-bitten cantankerousness, more in keeping with the actor's advancing age. It was more the rule too, in Wayne's later career, for seriousness to be replaced by knockabout humour, reaching a zenith in the boisterous McClintock! (1963). In Katie Elder, many of the interior scenes between the brothers are marked by such elements of genial horse play, culminating in a fist fight in which John Elder crashes through a door. Outside they present more of a unified force, optimistically dubbed by Hastings 'the Elder Gang'. Showing this is more difficult than it seems, and fortunately Hathaway keeps matters under control. Moments of broad comedy, like Tom (Dean Martin) auctioning off his glass eye, are not too distracting and often provide a contrast to more serious moments (Curley threatening Matt with gunplay). The banter between the Elder sons also serves to unify the siblings in the most natural way, and establish relationships, even if some of the camaraderie is hard won. In particular one wishes that the two older brothers had more to say to each other, or shared some scenes alone - especially given the on-screen rapport Martin effortlessly created a few years earlier when he worked with Wayne in Rio Bravo (1959).
As the villain of the piece, Hastings has an emphasised affinity with a special firearm. His armament enthusiasm recalls some of the baroque arsenals appearing in some spaghetti Westerns of the time, where the traditional six shooter was replaced by ever more fancy weapons. At the start of the film Hastings has already hired Curley, a heavy dressed all in black in very traditional fashion. This range thug is played well by George Kennedy, and the scene where he is clubbed in the mouth by Wayne is often cited by viewers as one of the most memorable. In fact, so effective is Curley's suggested brutality that one wishes more could have been made of a man who says ominously 'I don't care what I have to do, as long as I get my money'. Curley and Wayne needed more of a showdown to make their moral antipathy pay dividends, and the viewer is disappointed that this doesn't eventually occur. It is one of the weakness of the film that the villain meets his demise so casually, a victim of crossfire rather than a deliberate showdown. As Hasting's son Dave, Dennis Hopper performs adequately. One feels he would have been better cast as the younger Elder brother, with more to do. In contrast to Kate's oft-stated warmth towards her absent sons, Hasting's treatment of his sibling is cold and uncaring. If the less experienced face of Jeremy Slate had been cast as his son, the gun lover's cruelty would have been even more damning. As it is, Hastings' attitude towards Dave is left largely unexplained, although predictable enough.
Apart from the casting and music, much of the pleasure of the film springs from the mise-en-scene familiar to those who enjoy the big 50's and 60's Westerns. The geography of Clearwater for instance, so effortlessly established in the early scenes; the interior of Katie's pioneer cabin, or the gunfight by the river. It is also a reminder of a lost time in Westerns, when an ever reliable Wayne confronted frontier trouble, with none of the moral complications suggested by the contemporary work of a Peckinpah or Leone. Like the simple pleasures Mrs Elder found in her beloved rocking chair, this is a production which has been continually revisited by fans since the initial release, and will continue to be so.
Katie Elder bore four sons
The day she was buried they all return to
the Texas town of Clearwater to pay their last respects
John (John Wayne) is the oldest, the toughest, the gunfighter Texas, its bigness and its violence echoes in his empty soul Tom (Dean Martin) is a different breed of hombre He is good with a deck of cards and good with a gunwhen he has to be Matt (Earl Holliman) is the quiet one Nobody ever called him yellowtwice Bud (Michael Anderson, Jr.) is the youngest, but he is the rebel one...
At the funeral are Sheriff Billy Wilson (Paul Fix) and his grim young deputy, Ben Latta (Jeremy Slate) who's real conscientious about his job Also at the burial, in addition to many townspeople, is the young Mary Gordon (Martha Hyer), the woman who tries the impossible
Mary visits the four brothers, brings them food, and is sardonic about their desertion of their mother Only Bud, who has been going to college, shows a possibility of becoming a fine, respecting young man
As the brothers investigate into the past and present circumstances of their mother's life, they find the old place is no longer hers and that she was penniless
John discovers that his father supposedly gambled away the ranch when he was pretty drunk and that on the same night he was shot in the back The only witnesses are Morgan Hastings (James Gregory) and his son Dave (Dennis Hopper) The sheriff warns the Elders to stop digging around and to stay out of trouble
Realizing that the only tribute to Ma Elder would be for Bud to finish college, the brothers pledge themselves to that cause Yet they feel the loss of the ranch was under peculiar circumstances, they decide to find out the truth
Henry Hathaway was one of the great versatile directors whose Westerns have been as variable in quality as his other films
Hathaway's strong points were atmosphere, character and authentic locations In "The Sons of Katie Elder" he took particular care with locations, proud of the fact that he is one of the few directors who handle their own second-unit work, and when this element combines successfully with the other two the result can be impressive indeed
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,
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.
I just saw this movie some 30 years after my first viewing of the film--and
surprisingly I found it to be a lot more entertaining than my first
recollections of the film.
It's a traditional Hollywood western: good wins over evil, the hero gets the girl, and law is maintained. It has no complications. Even the Mexicans are shown squatting at the funeral far apart from the others only getting up to bury the body. That was how most Westerns were made...So what's good about the film?
Elmer Bernstein's music is as good as his music in 'The Magnificent Seven', if not better. The range of actors: a believable John Wayne, an entertaining Dean Martin with "third-eye" act, a menacing George Kennedy, a "likable" Strother Martin in a brief role as the winner of the third eye, and a fine performance by young Dennis Hopper makes the film above average viewing.
The real hero of the movie is "Katie Elder" dead when the film begins, respected as the film unfolds, and never seen on screen. Everyone seems to remember her with awe. She is epitomized by the empty rocking chair (final shot) and a Bible she leaves behind.
Henry Hathaway's westerns will not be reflective ones as are later Westerns such as "Will Penny", "Tell Them Willie Boy is Here" or "Monte Walsh"--his movies tend to affirm the status quo of typical Hollywood westerns with a heart (good Christian values, strong connection with nature and animals--horses in this movie--as he did in "How the West was Won") and no mind (insensitive to Mexicans and Red Indians). The Christian values in the film are fuzzy, e.g., fool some poor gullible guys at a bar and emerge a hero, or sell a blind horse to gain money and remembered for it at your funeral, etc. This film of Hathaway, ably supported by Bernstein's music and Lucien Ballard's camera, is a great movie for an audience that wants to see a traditional western unfold--and but not be asked to think beyond what is shown.
The first scene I think of when I think of this film is the sight of John Wayne belting George Kennedy in the mouth with a 2 by four.It hurts my jaw just to look at it,or even think about it.He deserved it,by the way,as John Wayne once again takes on the bad guys,this time with the help of three brothers,played by Dean Martin,Earl Holliman,and Michael Anderson,Jr.They are not perfect,themselves,mind you,but they feel they, as well as their late parents,were done wrong and set out to make things right again.As for Katie Elder,we never get to meet her,as the film begins with her funeral,but we are told so much about her,that by the end of the film we have painted a pretty vivid picture of her in our minds.This movie is very adventurous,as most Duke films are,sad at times and even takes the time to be comical in places.The film also makes me sad for the Duke personally,because,as some of you may know,that on a break from filming this movie,Duke discovered he was sick with cancer for the first time.This movie is indeed a must have for any John Wayne fan.
"The Sons of Katie Elder", though not one of John Wayne's best
westerns, is very entertaining nonetheless. Director Henry Hathaway
keeps the story moving providing us with breathtaking scenery and a
rousing finale. We are also treated to another rousing score from
composer Elmer Bernstien.
The story has the four Elder brothers, John (Wayne), Tom (Dean Martin), Matt (Earl Holliman) and Bud (Michael Anderson Jr.) returning home to Clearwater, Texas for their mother's funeral (the "Katie" of the title). It seems that Katie had been held in reverence by the townspeople while eking out a living to enable the youngest, Bud to attend college.
Their father had also died six months earlier and had apparently lost the family ranch in a poker game. Further investigation reveals that he had been murdered by being shot in the back.
Number one suspect is the town gunsmith Morgan Hastings (James Gregory). Hastings it seems, has acquired the Elder ranch and lives there with his spineless son Dave (Dennis Hopper). Hastings has also hired gunfighter Curley (George Kennedy) to help him get rid of the Elders.
When town sheriff Billy Watson (Paul Fix) is murdered Deputy Ben Latta (Jeremy Slate) immediately blames the Elders and arrests them. While transporting his prisoners to another venue they are ambushed and.......
This was the first film for Wayne following his surgery for cancer. You'll notice that he wears a large bandanna over his neck, presumably to hide the scars and/or the jowls. He was now beginning to show his age and the fact that at nearing age 60, he was still playing a character presumably much younger, kind of detracts a little from his credibility in the role. But hey its John Wayne. Who really cared?
As in most of Wayne's films, the cast includes a roster of recognizable faces. Martha Hyer provides window dressing as Wayne's potential love interest. Also in the cast are John Qualen as the jailer, John Litel as the minister, John Doucette as the undertaker, James Westerfield as the banker, Karl Swenson as the bartender, Rhys Williams as Striker the horse rancher, Strother Martin as the guy who "wins" Martin's glass eye, Percy Helton as the storekeeper and Rudolfo Acosta and Chuck Roberson as contends.
The two plus hour running time goes by quickly. Don't miss the scene where Wayne cold cocks Kennedy or the final shootout.
John Wayne as the weathered, weary gunslinger determined to give his
mother a better legacy; Dean Martin as the lovable, harmless con
artist; Earl Holliman as the wild west version of the middle child;
Michael Anderson, Jr. as the baby whose full of p**s, vinegar and
gunfighter worship and tired of living by everyone's rules. Watching
these four "express their opinions" is enough to make anyone want front
row seats to the next reunion.
James Gregory as Hastings, the new man determined to have the town in his pocket; Dennis Hopper as his son; George Kennedy as the hired gun who really, really enjoys his work. Martha Hyer as the mother's friend who's tired of the violence. All wonderfully written characters and fleshed out believably.
While I do agree that this movie has a varied pace that drags at times and the music is distractingly close to "The Magnificent Seven" I still see the story of four sons who never realized the value of their own mother until her death.
The opening scene at the railroad depot sets the underlying tension and up until the cattle drive, all the supporting characters are walking on eggshells. Whether the townsfolk refuse to speak of the father's death or they berate the sons for their treatment of, or lack of, their mother, the sons receive no breaks throughout the film.
Regardless of the music, the direction and writing are at times both sufficient and excellent. With the town's protection of the deceased mother and scornfull arguments to the sons, as well as the relationships of the brothers themselves, this entire story is fleshed out no better than our own actual lives. Since when do brothers need an excuse to wrestle? Also, who would you rather spend ten years away from if not your family?
All told, the movie and story reflects the family dynamic and its affect on its surrounding, how the family extends to include neighbors as well. Basically, I'm glad I bought it.
(8/10) Without a doubt one of Duke's most underrated Westerns. The fact that the four main stars are so unbelievable as brothers is shadowed by the acting and charm that each character brings to the screen. Dean Martin follows up his Rio Bravo performance with another gem cementing his place as one of the supporting stars working alongside Wayne. George Kennedy makes an intriguing antagonist but was underused. Wayne's romance with Martha Hyer and was pointless and a waste of time; the film should have devoted the attention to better build up the relationship among the brothers. The film tends to drag on towards this is a fun movie even non- western fans can enjoy. Excellent score.
Well this film is perhaps not in Waynes top 20 it remains very watchable and can be veiwed on many occassions.Katie Elder had 4 sons it is asking a lot to accept the age range but it works well.Dean Martin gives a good performance as Tom and Duke is John the other brothers play their parts well but are dwarfed by the two stars.Hathways direction is tight and tho a bit on the slow side you can't switch off once watching.Filmed justt after Waynes lung had been removed you can see its importance in his career,the action scenes took a lot out of him but being the man he was he got them done with help from an oxygen mask,and many of the crew were impressed by his professionalism and bravery.A box office succes,it kept Wayne in the publics mind.So not quite a classic but worth watching for the two stars and the bravery of John Wayne no one else has ever filled the screen like the Duke.7/10
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The writers borrowed heavily from a few earlier Westerns that had been
success, especially "Rio Bravo," but the results look like the
imitations that they are.
John Wayne is the eldest of four brothers of the recently deceased Katy Elder, who died alone and in poverty, darning socks and doing laundry to put one of her sons through school. The others haven't been around for years. Wayne is a hired gunfighter, Dean Martin a card shark, Earl Holliman a hardware store owner, and Michael Anderson is a kid away at college. The four sons return for Katy's funeral.
In brief, they discover that Ma had been cheated out of her land by Hastings, James Gregory, and his gang, which includes the hired cut throat played by George Kennedy.
To get them out of his hair, Hastings frames the Elders for the murder of the decent Sheriff, Paul Fix. It takes the rest of the film for the sons to clear themselves and reveal the machinations of Hastings.
It's strictly routine. It's packed with fights and shoot outs, but there's nothing to distinguish it from dozens of other movies with less expensive stars and lower production values. It might have provided a plot for one of Wayne's Westerns from the 1930s.
There's one amusing scene, built around a fist fight between the brothers. The dialog has lines like, "I don't like it . . . too quiet out there." Martha Hyers has a role. She was a beauty queen from Texas and a staggering burden to any film she appeared in. Wayne was getting to be too old for these kinds of part but he walks through it in a soldierly manner. Dean Martin was a good counterpart to Wayne in "Rio Bravo," so he's back again. Earl Holliman was a journeyman actor whose appeal has continued to elude me since I first saw him on screen.
Now, that's all pretty bad stuff that I've just written, I know, and there are probably many people who will enjoy this as a reassuringly familiar movie with good guys and bad guys, with actors in roles that fit them comfortably because they've played them so many times before. And it is, after all, John Wayne here -- his heft, his bulk, his very John Wayneness making up for some of the deficiency in the character. When Wayne was willing to challenge his screen persona, he could do a fine job. Seven or so years after this mediocre entry in the Wayne ouevre, the same director, Henry Hathaway, would guide him through a far more challenging part in "True Grit." However, "The Sons of Katy Elder" was one of a string of Wayne Westerns in which his stereotyped character appeared with few variations. He kept marketing the same John Wayne for years in forgettable efforts like "The Train Robbers." One can't help wishing he'd had more confidence in himself and his public.
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