Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Law of Average: "Cahill: U.S. Marshal" (1973)

In 1973, John Wayne continued making safe, similar westerns that really did nothing to change the genre, except for his final film "The Shootist." "Cahill: United States Marshal" falls into this sure category.

Wayne is the title character, a tough U.S. marshal who is gone from home a lot, letting his sons Gary Grimes and Clay O'Brien fend for themselves. In order to get back at their dad, seventeen year old Grimes and eleven year old O'Brien join with a gang led by George Kennedy to rob the town bank. The group has a foolproof plan- get themselves locked in jail, escape, rob the bank, then lock themselves up again with a perfect alibi. The bank is robbed, but Kennedy's empty promises about no one getting hurt are broken as the sheriff and a deputy are killed. O'Brien is told to hide the loot, and Grimes and his brother are threatened if they ever talk.

By this point, Wayne has returned to town, and takes Grimes to go track the imaginary bank robbers. They do stumble upon a group of outlaws, and these men are arrested and sentenced to hang. Grimes and O'Brien must now work to get the hidden loot to Kennedy, save the four innocent men, and look over their shoulder as their father becomes more suspicious of their weird behavior. People begin dying as the truth is slowly uncovered.

I have always liked John Wayne. He had huge screen presence that has never been equalled. The voice, the stance, you know right away when he is onscreen. Say what you want about the bad film choices he made, and he made some doozies, even his mediocre films are better than some of the cow plop Hollywood passes out today.

"Cahill" is a good film, despite some flaws. There is never a scene where Wayne finds out the truth about his criminally inclined children, one second he doesn't know, the next second he does. I would have liked to see him figure it out and react. Also, some of McLaglen's action sequences are just plain stilted. Watch the scene where Wayne catches a knife in his shoulder, barely wincing, and knowing that the knife was already there when the scene began. Same for the ridiculous owl-scares-kids scene, with a large fake bird on some string.

Neville Brand, a name you may not know, but a face you have seen in films before, is excellent here as Lightfoot, a half Comanche tracker who fancies himself a great warrior. Denver Pyle, Jackie Coogan, Royal Dano, and Paul Fix are all well known film veterans, but are given just one or two scenes each and just a handful of lines. Some of the gun scenes are bloody, but the gore looks like bright red paint and is not convincing.

"Cahill: U.S. Marshal" rests on John Wayne's shoulders, and he is up to the task. He is very watchable, and does a good job in a role he could have sleepwalked through. (* * *) out of five stars.