The Elder boys return to Clearwater, Texas for their Mother\'s funeral. John the eldest is a well known gunfighter and trouble follows him wherever he goes. The boys try to get back their ranch from the towns gunsmith who won it from their father in a card game with which he was shortly murdered there after but not before getting through the troubles that come with the Elders name.
John Wayne ... John Elder
Dean Martin ... Tom Elder
Martha Hyer ... Mary Gordon
Michael Anderson Jr. ... Bud Elder
Earl Holliman ... Matt Elder
Jeremy Slate ... Ben Latta
James Gregory ... Morgan Hastings
Paul Fix ... Sheriff Billy Wilson
George Kennedy ... Curley
Dennis Hopper ... Dave Hastings
Sheldon Allman ... Harry Evers
John Litel ... Minister
John Doucette ... Hyselman
James Westerfield ... Mr. Vennar
Rhys Williams ... Charlie Striker
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.
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.
\"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.
* This picture marked the return of John Wayne to work after having a cancerous lung removed just four months earlier. He insisted on doing all his own stunts to show the public that the illness hadn\'t slowed him down.
* Michael Anderson Jr. replaced Tommy Kirk at very short notice.
* Despite this being a big budget movie with a large cast, Karl Swenson was utilized to play two parts. He played \"Doc Isdell\" and also the bartender in the scene where the Dean Martin character auctioned his eye. The bartender part actually had more lines of dialogue.
* John Wayne, aged 57, was 36 years older than Michael Anderson Jr., who played his younger brother Bud.
* Filming was due to begin in September 1964, but had to be delayed until January 1965 after Wayne was diagnosed with lung cancer.
* According to her tombstone, Katie Elder was 64 when she died. Her eldest son is played by 57-year-old John Wayne.
* When John Wayne is dragged into the river, you can hear a child calling out, \"Dad!\". This was his three-year-old son Ethan Wayne, who was watching off camera and knew how ill his father was.
* In western history, there is a famous Katie Elder: \"Big Nose\" Kate Elder, a prostitute and girlfriend of legendary gunfighter John \"Doc\" Holliday.