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From the four winds four brothers came… Their eyes smoking and their fingers itching…
Nazi_Fighter_David20 April 2008
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 gun—when he has to be… Matt (Earl Holliman) is the quiet one… Nobody ever called him yellow—twice… 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…
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Getting Katie A Monument
bkoganbing1 August 2006
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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Good, well made Western, traditional and enjoyable
FilmFlaneur19 September 2002
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.
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A good traditional Western
JuguAbraham9 January 2004
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.
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Four brothers led by the Duke banded together and seek vendetta against nasty killers
ma-cortes2 December 2011
After their mother's death , four brothers are reunited . John Wayne is a gunslinger , Earl Holliman is an easy and silent young , Michael Anderson Jr. is a college graduate and Dean Martin is a drunk gambler. When they aware that her mother's death might have been killing , they come together to devise a a way to seek vengeance in the murderer , James Gregory , who hires an ominous gunfighter , George Kennedy , along with bullies and hoodlums . As the ranch owner Katie Elder's four sons determine to avenge the murder of their father and the swindling of their mother .But the marshal, Paul Fix, tells them to lay off .

This cultured actioner Western contains a wonderful friendship between brothers , thrills , dashingly violent action , rider pursuits , impressive attacks and loads of crossfire . In ¨The sons of Katie Elder" Hathaway does the human touch including lots of nice moments , it is a very fine picture that could become another western worthy of any anthology . This John Wayne movie is well in the tradition of classics as ¨The Magnificent seven¨, ¨Garden of evil¨ or ¨The searchers¨ . One of the Duke's most popular film of the 60s ,-in his first character following cancer surgery- as well as ¨¨The Alamo¨, ¨Rio Bravo¨, ¨El Dorado¨and ¨McLintock¨. In the film "The sons of Katie Elder" the spectator enjoys because it has a lot of issues that make it agreeable . Even the female character played by attractive Marta Hyer, reveals a woman who knows that she wishes and makes it irresistible . Large support cast formed by Western usual players as Paul Fix , James Gregory, Earl Holliman and special mention to big Dean Martin . Breathtaking and lively musical score by Elmer Berstein , one of the best of Western genre along with ¨The Magnificent Seven¨ and ¨Comancheros¨ soundtracks. Colorful and spectacular cinematography in Cinemascope and Techniclor by Lucien Ballard.

This well-paced in cracking style flick is stunningly directed by Henry Hathaway and usually works very well . He does the human touch and full of insight that accompanied him during most of his films and the story develops pleasantly in a large frame with an interesting plot and fully adjusted to the requirements of the action .The motion picture is professionally directed by Henry Hathaway with strong screen presence by John Wayne , both of whom collaborated in various Westerns , they included ¨Five Card Stud¨ , ¨North to Alaska¨ and Wayne's Academy Award-winning ¨True grit¨. Hathaway himself was only even nominated for an Oscar , but his movies themselves are testimony to his skills to heighten narrative tension and shoot action so exhilarating it made adrenalin run . Henry was a craftsman who had a long career from the 30s with successful films , and especially Westerns , as ¨Brigham Young¨ and ¨Raw Hide¨ . In his 60s Hathaway still got the vigour to make some fiery movies as ¨From Hell to Texas¨, ¨How the West was won¨, ¨Nevada Smith¨, and ¨Shoot out¨ . He was an expert on Western genre as he proved in ¨True grit , Five card stud , Nevada Smith ,How the West was won , Rawhide , Brigham Young , Buffalo Stampede, Garden of evil¨ and of course ¨The sons of Katie Elder¨. Rating : nice Western that will appeal to John Wayne fans.
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Entertaining Wayne Oater!
bsmith555217 January 2006
"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.
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Just Another Western
iquine2 June 2017
Warning: Spoilers
(Flash Review)

The plot had many good pieces, even John Wayne, but failed to truly intrigue. It had horse riding, saloon skullduggery, tough talking' and gun play so it checked all the boxes but never grabbed my emotions. Katie Elder, who just passed away, was a mother of 4 boys who she tried hard to provide a good life for them as a single mom. The boys come back for her funeral, to settle her debts and to understand why her ranch was taken from her. Wayne's character was known as a tough gunslinger and as they all ask questions trouble follows. Will they get her ranch back? How much trouble will ensue? Overall, it was OK but lacked thoughtful cinematography and intrigue.
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Another winner from the Duke.
SmileysWorld22 April 2002
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.
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The Sons of Katie Elder (1965)
WandrinStar16 January 2012
(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.
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The Magnificent Four!
Spikeopath4 December 2008
John, Tom, Matt and Bud, these are the Elder boys, who upon meeting up at the funeral of their recently deceased mother, find that their father may have been murdered over a card game. The boys must cast off sibling rivalries and find out just what has been happening in their childhood town of Clearwater, Texas.

Unfairly given harsh treatment upon its release by the critics and beset with behind the scenes problems, The Sons Of Katie Elder actually holds up rather well in this day and age. All the required traits are in the film to make it an oater of some worth, a splendid cast with as much macho beef as you can shake a stick at, a top Elmer Bernstein score, the wonderful use of the Casa Blanca location and a revenge driven plot of some note. So why is it hard to actually sell this picture to the staunch Western crowd? Well coming as it did in 1965 it certainly has something of a modern sheen to it, an uneasy bed fellow with the wild west theme of the picture. The casting of the brothers just about works, but Michael Anderson Jr (Bud) and Earl Holliman (Matt) do seem to be overawed by the presence of John Wayne (John) and Dean Martin (Tom), meaning as a foursome it never quite gets to being a tight acting unit. The length of the picture may also be an issue to some? Long periods of inaction work to me personally because the characters (family unit) are gaining much needed depth, but for those wanting guns a toting at frequent intervals are not exactly catered for.

Yet what action there is surely more than makes it worth the viewers patience? From the Duke swinging a nice piece of hickory to a wonderful riverside shootout, Henry Hathaway's Western is not found wanting for memorable sequences, in fact if you ask me then the mere sight of the Duke blasting away with a six shooter in each hand is a truly blood pumping joy, and don't get me started on a delightful Dean Martin scene as he raffles his glass eye! So all in all it's not without its itches, but as 60s Westerns go, The Sons Of Katie Elder is a hugely enjoyable picture to enjoy by the fireside on a Sunday afternoon. 7/10
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Learning to late of their mother's love...
honestashol18 February 2005
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.
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A largely mediocre western
MOscarbradley22 August 2008
Despite all the talent involved this is, for the most part, a largely mediocre western, albeit a very handsome one, (any film photographed by Lucien Ballard you could guarantee would be handsome). There is one marvellous sequence involving an ambush on a bridge but otherwise the plot is flimsy and the classic elements we expect of a good western are mostly absent.

This time round, instead of one hero we have four, the Elder Brothers, representing some serious miscasting between the youngest, Michael Anderson Jr, and the oldest, John Wayne. The others are Dean Martin, giving the film's best performance, and Earl Holliman, underused as ever. They've returned for the funeral of their mother, the titular Katie Elder, (but not the Katie Elder of legend), only to find their pa has been murdered and their ranch purloined by villain James Gregory. There isn't anything new in the picture and it's bereft of action until past the midway point. It's reasonably entertaining in an undemanding kind of way but from Hathaway you expect better.
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One of the last great Wayne films
MartinHafer24 January 2006
Other than El Dorado and The Shootist, this is probably the last great John Wayne film. Apart from these, he made a long string of pretty forgettable films late in his career. They aren't so much bad, but they have nothing new to add and seem to be more "by-the-numbers" films than anything else.

The only reason I don't score it higher is because of ridiculous casting. The 4 sons of Katie are probably close to 40 years apart by age--plus, the 4 look NOTHING like each other. I think Woody Strode would have been almost as convincing as one of John Wayne's brothers as the 3 they chose.

So what was so worth watching? Well, the acting is great. Wayne and Martin is a good pairing and the plot of sons seeking revenge is quite compelling. Although not exactly "high brow", I also like the scene between Wayne and the blacksmith--now THAT'S the way to get some answers when the guy doesn't want to talk!
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Even With Only One Lung, The Duke Succeeds
virek21322 January 2014
A lot can be said about what John Wayne was becoming in the 1960s: old-fashioned; rampant, unquestioning patriot; militant right-winger, etc., etc. But there was something else that he still was: a Hollywood presence like few others before, and even fewer since. He was also undergoing a stark change in his life, one that can be seen to some extent in the film he made early in 1965 with old friend Henry Hathaway (NORTH TO ALASKA) in the director's seat—namely THE SONS OF KATIE ELDER.

Wayne, Dean Martin (reuniting with The Duke from RIO BRAVO), and relative greenhorns Earl Holliman and Michael Anderson Jr. are four brothers who have returned to their former hometown of Clearwater, Texas to pay their respects to their mother Katie Elder, only to find that their family's ranch has been bought off under mighty peculiar circumstances, namely (and supposedly) a card game that their father lost, and was shot and killed for. The four brothers' reputations as overgrown juvenile reprobates (even Wayne), however, precede them; nobody's talking, not even the local sheriff (Paul Fix, of "Rifleman" and TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD fame); and Fix's deputy (Jeremy Slate) has a lot against them. Then the four have it out with the man (James Gregory, who had played the manipulated politician in THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE) who bought their family's ranch out in that suspicious way that he has, along with a beefy gunslinger (George Kennedy), and Gregory's vicious but none-too-sharp kid (Dennis Hopper).

What was notable about KATIE ELDER was that it was the first film Wayne had done after having had one of his lungs removed (in late 1964) because of all the smoking and boozing he had done throughout his life. This required him to carry an oxygen tank with him on the set; and he had to use it a lot since he not only did a fair amount of his own stunts, but also because much of KATIE ELDER was filmed in the rarefied high-altitude air of Durango, Mexico. It didn't seem to affect his performance adversely, though; he was still doing his particular thing, being The Duke as he would be for practically every Western he did from this point forward (even in his Oscar-winning role as Rooster Cogburn in TRUE GRIT in 1969). He also was so taken with the scenery in Durango (and the cheap Mexican labor there) that a lot of the Westerns he made between this one and 1973's THE TRAIN ROBBERRS would be made in that locale.

Even with Wayne's stoic presence here, he doesn't overshadow his co-stars too much. Martin, looking fairly sober, does his turn as the card-shark brother; and Gregory, Kennedy, and Hopper make for a trio of nasty villains. There is also the reassuring presence of Strother Martin in one of his many character roles; the great cinematography of Lucien Ballard; and a rousing score by Elmer Bernstein, with the title song done by the legendary Man In Black himself, Johnny Cash.

While both the film and its Big Star may seem quite dated in a lot of ways, as an old-fashioned, traditional Western opus, THE SONS OF KATIE ELDER delivers the goods in ways that you would expect any John Wayne film, especially one directed by Hathaway, to do. No one will mistake it for the more radical films that would soon alter the Western (THE WILD BUNCH; ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST; BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID); but for what it is and what it intends to do, one could do far, far worse.
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A noble western...
wreww17 September 2005
I don't agree with opinions who don't see the depth of this movie. I think it's an noble western with wonderful heroes. Every single character which is represented by the four sons is able to sum up the whole evolution of Hollywood westerns. But every single hero is broken by Texas because Texas is the destiny that stole their dreams and at the end their souls. Every existence that is shown is terribly failing. OK, this is a very pessimistic but also realistic view on the "birth of a nation". There is the gun hero John Wayne, the gambler Dean Martin, Earl Holliman as the failed burgeois scrap-dealer and the demotivated collage-kid. I like the creation of suspense as a rocking chair with the precision of a sharp shooter rifle. Another wonderful aspest of this film are the great playing supporting actors. Everybody is inspired by the young dennis hopper, the middle-aged george kennedy and the impressive dean martin. But John Wayne remains to be the king of unwritten rules of this genre. At the end the showdown causes the incarnation of dramatic, tragic, the frontier-conflict between savageness and civilization with a rousing happy-end. So, it's a b-movie of highest quality and finest gun-power. Rio bravo light maybe...
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"Now who do you think was the stinkin', dirty low down rat that killed our Pa?"
classicsoncall24 May 2015
Warning: Spoilers
Though I enjoyed the picture well enough, I kept getting sidetracked by events in the story that managed to distract. The main one had to do with the ages of the Elder Brothers, particularly John (John Wayne). The family Bible had a notation that Katie Elder married in 1850, so even if she were pregnant with her oldest son at the time, and John Wayne looking every bit of his fifty seven years, the story would have taken place around 1907!

That certainly wouldn't have been the case, so let's say John Elder was in his forties. A reference was made by youngest son Bud (Michael Anderson Jr.) about the Dalton Gang, saying he wanted to ride with brother John and become famous just like them. John's response was intended to give Bud pause, stating that the Dalton's were hung. But that wasn't correct either - Grath and Bob Dalton were killed during an attempted bank holdup in Coffeyville, Kansas in 1892 (another hint about when this story took place). Emmett Dalton was captured and sentenced to life in prison, though he was pardoned after fifteen years in 1907 (about the time John Wayne's character would have been fifty seven). So again, some simple math works against the picture if one wants to get technical.

Be that as it may, there's something to be said about the basic premise of the picture. The recently departed Katie Elder must have been a saint of a woman as every resident of Clearwater, Texas held her in the highest regard. On the flip side, three of her four sons wound up on the questionable side of the law, and Bud was headed that way if his siblings didn't send him back to college. But first, things have to be set right regarding the death of Bass Elder and the loss of the Elder ranch to Morgan Hastings (James Gregory).

What one might not expect in a film like this is the number of scenes written for humorous effect. The argument the brothers had about the Katie Monument was pretty comical, and Dean Martin's glass eye raffle was a hoot. It seemed only appropriate that Strother Martin would be the winner.

Probably the film's biggest missed opportunity came when gunman Curley (George Kennedy) was killed in the ambush at the bridge. His character was introduced as the antidote to gunfighter John Elder's presence in Clearwater, hired by Morgan Hastings in case the brothers got too close to the truth about their father's death and the ranch's new ownership. So the expected showdown that was suggested never became a reality. On top of that, Curley wasn't curly, and if I had to guess, a screen writer who saw this movie might have been inspired to give the same name to the Jack Palance character in "City Slickers".
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Traditional and Routine Western.
rmax30482311 September 2009
Warning: 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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The Battle with Hastings
jimbo-53-18651130 June 2018
Four brothers arrive back in town initially to pay their respects to their mother who has died recently, but the plot thickens when they learn that their father died in a rather unscrupulous card game. The brothers are suspicious about what has happened in their absence and are determined to seek the truth out...

The set-up of the story (involving four brothers grieving the loss of their mother is touching) and I suppose this can extend two-fold in respect of their father, but the truth is that The Sons Of Katie Elder is so boring that any aspects that set the story up seem to almost burn into insignificance...

Yes I'm sorry, but I'm prepared to go on record and say that this film is boring and that almost nothing happens; John Wayne and his brothers swagger around from place to place seemingly creating incidents, but little seems to exist to advance the story leaving this film feeling a little boring. John Wayne himself is terrible and like with any of his other films one can only take him seriously ironically; i.e 'Hey you know what'...RIDICULOUS PAUSE... I genuinely think'...RIDICULOUS PAUSE... that it is hard to take me seriously.. He is bad here, but almost in a way that makes it fun. Perhaps less so is the guy that plays the younger Elder Bud; his acting wasn't great and he became annoying the longer the film progressed.

Aside from the terrible acting, the film seems to have no real point; George Kennedy is established as the antagonist earlier on, but does very little of significance in any part of the story (and makes very little impact throughout). Although to be fair he does his best with what he has to work with. There's no real tension or suspense throughout the film and it seems to just coast to its safe and inevitable conclusion.

That's about all I can say I'm afraid, it's got a great cast but it's a fairly crappy western that I couldn't possibly recommend to anyone.
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good ol' duster
hawkeye567 February 2004
John Wayne in a stereotypical role as a tough, no nonsense cowboy, Dean Martin as the fun loving, drinking brother, a very young Dennis Hopper, and I swear Robert Loggia as the blacksmith. some stale acting, but a fun old duster. the way they used to make 'em.
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Perhaps the book had more point.
chaswe-2840216 November 2017
Warning: Spoilers
Talbot Jennings is reputed to have been known for his strong narrative skills. On the other hand, somebody is said to have said westerns are really only about the scenery and the gun-play. Otherwise this film is completely without meaning or purpose. What happened to the two hundred horses ? Looked more like five hundred to me, all bought on credit from a funny looking guy who dropped in from Idaho and then disappeared, just like his horses. Difficult to think of four more unlikely looking brothers, ages ranging from 16 to 60, give or take a year or so. Dean Martin ? John Wayne had the weirdest walk. Four worthless sons of a paragon mother, who sold a blind horse. This film passes the time in a totally aimless sort of way, if you've nothing better to do. Don't bother, unless you really can't think of anything else, which happened to me. I won't be watching it again.
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Poor Example of the Genre
joepolach25 May 2018
It tries everything to win the viewer over, all of the typical western tactics and tropes, but a western with a vapid story line, basic acting, and too many improbable and poorly edited shoot 'em up moments cannot be rescued, no matter how many whiskeys and cowboy antics are thrown in, even with a star-studded cast.
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The Duke With One Lung
JVIRT9926 March 2000
I don't usually comment or review any John Wayne movies because of the strong personal bias I have in favor of this great American and great actor!

However the other day I watched The Sons of Katie Elder for the 50th. time.... or was that the 55th. time.... or perhaps the 60th. time for all I know. It's one of those rare movies that I can personally watch every six months and not be bored.

A few of those other highly "watchable" John Wayne features are Donovan's Reef, In Harm's Way, and El Dorado. Most of the Duke's movies I consider easily viewable every 12-18 months under normal "Duke-view" conditions.(LOL)

Sorry folks, they just don't make movies like this any longer. Some may say thank God, but I say why not! Movies/films are suppose to be above all about pure entertainment value. Movies aren't suppose to be reality based but should have a strong surrealistic nature to them with some fantasy overtones. FUN! That's why it's called acting.

In this movie John Wayne is well, John Wayne! his best! Dean Martin plays a very low-key but important part. James Gregory, Paul Fix, Jeremy Slate, Dennis Hopper, George Kennedy and the rest of the cast are all at their best in this real good Henry Hathaway minor western classic.

It was also the first movie John Wayne completed starring-in following his cancer surgery that removed one of his lungs. You will notice him "huffing and puffing" at certain times during many of the movie scenes. Especially when the script called for him to ride a horse and/or get active with other cast members. An oxygen tank followed the Duke wherever he went during filming for obvious reasons. The scene under the bridge when the brothers are being fired on by the bad guys, was a very demanding physical point for John Wayne in the movie.

At times no one thought the Duke would ever finish this film. As Ethan Edwards said, "That'll be the day!"...pilgrim!
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Watch this movie if only for one brutal shot
chez-326 August 1999
This is one of John Wayne's best films. He has a strong supporting cast with him and a great musical score.

But there is one moment I must note for you. There is a scene that has to be seen to be believed. George Kennedy ( as a bad guy) is dunking the head of an innocent man into a barrel. Wayne comes over, grabs a piece of wood that resembles a bat, and cracks Kennedy right in the face. It's a moment that causes the viewer great pain as he laughs at how real it looks. The timing is precise here and looks very painful.

So by all means watch this film if only for that scene. But you will be well rewarded if you stick it out.
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Four Brothers without a good story!
gazineo-120 August 2002
Four brothers (Wayne, Martin, Holliman and Anderson) teams up after their mother death just to figure out that the bad guy of the city (Gregory) murdered their father and robbered their ranch. So, the adventure begins. Unfortunately, this movie is a dissapointing example in Wayne's career and Hathaway (a regular director) gives a peasant treatment to the narrative that made this one a boring exercise. I give this a 5 (five).
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Solid 60's John Wayne Offering
doug-balch18 June 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Very nice movie, typical of the many entertaining, solid Westerns John Wayne made in the 1960's i.e. McCLintock, Chisum, El Dorado

Here's what I liked:

  • Wayne and Martin make a very good team. Nice to see them together again after "Rio Bravo".

  • I usually don't pay much attention to musical scores, but this one stood out as very good.

  • Good story. The characters were all believable (with certain exceptions listed below) and I cared about everybody at the end.

  • Nice supporting cast. Martin is excellent. I always like Earl Holliman. Paul Fix is solid. Very nice work by George Kennedy as the henchman. James Gregory is appropriately slimy and devious as the heavy. Interesting appearance by Dennis Hopper as his sniveling son. Even a short bit by my fave Strother Martin.

  • This was a typical "town" Western. Town Westerns are usually very restricted in their use of dramatic Western scenery and landscapes. "Shane" solved this problem by placing the town right at the foot of the Grand Tetons. I liked the way this movie used a couple of subplots to get out into the country for some scenes. i.e. the Elders' horse drive and their later prisoner transfer to Laredo.

  • The plot was pretty clever regarding the timing and place of Paul Fix's murder and the Elder's trip to Pecos to pick up the horses.

Here's what dragged the movie down:

  • Wayne's just way too old for his role. He was 57 when he made this, but was coming off of a major lung operation, making him look much older. It appears Katie Elder gave birth to her youngest son at age 50 or older!!

  • It's especially ridiculous for him to have a romantic interest. I believe this may have been his last quasi romantic lead role before moving on to more appropriate parts as a father and grandfather.

  • The basic plot is confusing. Bass Elder was murdered six months before Katie died, yet the sons only returned for Katie's funeral? The script waxes romantic about Katie almost endlessly. Perhaps the boys didn't care for their father? Then why do they risk their lives to avenge his death?

  • The actress who played the female romantic interest was horrible and her part was gratuitous and creepy, given her flirtation with a man almost old enough to be her grandfather.
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