There are still a few John Wayne Westerns I’ve yet to see and Chisum has been at the top of that list for a while. Would it be a disappointment like some of Wayne’s final films or could it be a late-career gem like Big Jake and The Train Robbers? The answer is more the latter than the former.
What Chisum has going for it is a large, impressive cast and a big scale. Wayne and Ben Johnson anchor the picture. Both Western icons may not be at their best but they certainly deliver the goods. On the villainous side, Forrest Tucker does a fine job of being that rare thing: a viable foe to Wayne. Along his side are Richard Jaeckel (wonderful as always) and Christopher George (good but maybe a little underused here). Also worth mentioning is Glenn Corbett who steals every scene he’s in as Pat Garrett. Unfortunately, the female characters are poorly cast and their presence, along with a terrible mid-picture song, is the weakest part of the picture.
Director Andrew V. McLaglen had a skill for making vast, epic pictures. Some of them like The Way West are mostly worth watching for that expanse and are otherwise weak on story and dialog. Thankfully, Chisum has sharp script by writer/producer Andrew J. Fenady who gives all the characters great lines with plenty of subtext to play with. Back to McLaglen, could this be his greatest epic? From the astonishing landscapes to the breathtaking finale, his talent for making a “big” picture is undeniable. The last twenty minutes is non-stop action, truly one of the best Western climaxes ever put on screen. It gets violent as many of the late-career Wayne films sometimes do, a trait that some traditional Western fans might dislike but that I find quite effective.
Chisum isn’t as good as Big Jake but it holds its own and remains one of Wayne’s most successful final films.
Watched on Tubi