BIG JAKE. Batjac/CinemaCenter Films, 1971. John Wayne, Richard Boone, Maureen O’Hara, Patrick Wayne, Christopher Mitchum, Bruce Cabot, Harry Carey Jr, Hank Worden, Glenn Corbett, Jim Davis, and John Agar. Narrated by George Fenneman. Written by Harry & Rita Fink. Directed by George Sherman.

   George Sherman’s final feature film makes an altogether fitting end for a career that stretched back to the Three Mesquiteers: just as silly, just as vigorous and just as much fun.

   That’s not to say Big Jake is a very good movie – it ain’t. The first half is barely tolerable, what with “trendy” borrowings from Butch Cassidy and a story that slows to a grind in order to bring on the Duke and show us how tough he us. Duke’s acting here is painfully self-indulgent, and despite plenty of dramatic potential (an estranged father must work with his two sons to rescue his kidnapped grandchild) the screenplay goes out of its way to avoid anything like emotional conflict.

   But that’s just the first half. Once Duke and his party reach the rendezvous point, where Richard Boone waits with a small army of bad guys, Big Jake turns into a real scrapper. I particularly enjoyed the diminuendo effect of the final set-to, so let me see if I can explain that.

   In Laurel & Hardy Movies, action moves to a crescendo. The boys start out spilling coffee on someone and end up demolishing his car in a series of comic escalations. But Big Jake’s climactic battle opens with phalanxes of warriors, armed with shotguns, machetes, high-powered rifles and a semi-automatic pistol, then grinds them down till by the ending, the combatants are throwing lanterns and popping derringers at each other.

   Add to this that in Richard Boone, John Wayne finds an adversary worthy of him, and you get a movie that is, finally, enjoyable on the level of the old Republic B-Westerns. No more, but certainly no less.