Seen by Martin before? No
What did I expect? A typical John Wayne western.
What did I get? Chisum, a somewhat underdeveloped John Wayne western, is based on a true and oft-retold story in which John Chisum, verily the “1%” of 1878 Lincoln County, New Mexico, protects his vast holdings against unscrupulous newcomer Henry Tunstall. Chisum‘s deployment of the various obligatory classic western movie tropes is awfully complacent. It was a significant hit at the time, but no less a personage than President Nixon took time out of his busy schedule to observe that the movie was pretty ordinary). I’m with Nixon! I puzzle over its popularity as well.
To its credit — as Nixon also pointed out — Chisum has a strong theme typical of westerns, which is how do you establish a society without the protections of organized law? Wayne, who is given many pithy rejoinders and opportunities to display his trademark brand of gallant barbarousness, literally owns nearly everything in sight and is intended to be the sympathetic force of civilization and conservatism — not that I find him so!
As with Airport, it’s very interesting to watch a movie where the prevailing narrative codes have ceased to function. Contrast the Coen remake of True Grit, which I saw recently and which I am reliably assured is generally comprehensible to audiences today. I’m not even saying that True Grit is that much better; just that today’s audiences understand it, as the audiences of 1970 understood Chisum.
What here smacks of 1970? Very, very little. There’s a song about halfway through that seems a copy of “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head,” from the previous year’s Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. That’s about it.
IMDB score: 6.6
My score: 5
Director: Andrew V. McLaglen
Writer: Andrew J. Fenady
Starring: John Wayne, Forrest Tucker, Ben Johnson, Geoffrey Deuel, Patric Knowles, Bruce Cabot, Glenn Corbett
IMDB synopsis: As one of the founders of the town of Lincoln, John Chisum is increasingly worried as Lawrence Murphy moves in on the local stores, bank and land by questionable means. Chisum and fellow honest ranch owner Henry Tunstall try and use the law, but Murphy owns that too. Confrontation threatens and Tunstall’s man Billy Bonney is not slow to get involved.