Friday, January 31, 2014

The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder is a surprisingly good movie.  I say surprising because it was not at all what I expected it to be, which was a film about outlaw brothers and their mother sheltering them.  Rather, it was about four brothers, two with questionable backgrounds, who come together after their mother’s funeral and then find themselves, mostly through no fault of their own, in serious trouble.

Starring John Wayne as the oldest brother, John Elder, a gunslinger, and Dean Martin as Tom, something of a conman, The Sons of Katie Elder co-stars Earl Holliman as Matt, another brother.  He is quieter than the others and his character is not as fleshed out as the other brothers, but his voice is unmistakable and, since this movie was produced in 1965, he looks quite young.  The fourth brother, Bud, played by Michael Anderson, Jr., is much younger than the others and has come home from college; he looks up to John but has never really known him.

Paul Fix (Tom Hansen in The Day They Hanged Kid Curry, Clarence in Night of the Red Dog, and Bronc in Only Three to a Bed) plays Billy, a level-headed sheriff on good terms with John; their relationship is a highlight of the movie.  He reminded me a bit of Lom Trevors in that he respected John Elder yet did not put up with any nonsense from him, and that respect was reciprocated by the gunslinger.  Boyd "Red" Morgan (Augie Helms in The Fifth Victim) has an uncredited role and I did not recognize him in The Sons of Katie Elder.

Naturally, something crooked is going on that is impacting the Elder boys and John makes it his business to find out what.  All the townspeople apparently loved Katie Elder but the same can’t be said of her husband, who died under mysterious circumstances before her, nor of her sons.  Martha Hyer, who plays the owner of the boarding house in Clearwater, the Texas town that is the setting of The Sons of Katie Elder, clearly has conflicted emotions about John and their scenes together are enjoyable to watch.

Fast-paced and well-plotted, there is lots of good banter between the brothers, lots of action, a great climactic shootout, and a satisfying conclusion to The Sons of Katie Elder.  A few connections to ASJ: The funeral of Mrs. Elder, which occurs early in the film, reminded me of the first funeral in The Fifth Victim, when the preacher said many nice words about the deceased.  A scene in the town saloon in the second half of the movie was very similar to the walk-off scene in the Pilot.

The relationship that the brothers had with each other as The Sons of Katie Elder was made plausible by the excellent acting.  One conversation, which occurred shortly after the funeral—John was not with them at the cemetery but observed the proceedings from high on a hill—was, to me, reminiscent of the banter Curry and Heyes shared.  The three brothers are in their home discussing John, who has yet to make his presence known to them:
     Bud (the youngest son): “Is he as fast with a gun as everyone says he is?"
     Tom (the con artist): “Fast?  When he was a kid, he was the fastest.  When  I  was a kid, I was afraid to be in the same room as him.  But let me point something out to ya, kid.  That kind of work doesn’t pay too well.  If you’re lookin’ for a line of work to follow, I’d like to recommend mine.”
     Matt (Earl’s character): “Yeah, larceny.”
     Tom: “Well, the hours are better and you get shot up a lot less.”  

At one point in the movie, I thought I heard echoes of the music used in the Marlboro Man cigarette commercials on TV.  Upon investigation, I discovered that the composer of the score of The Sons of Katie Elder, Elmer Bernstein, also scored The Magnificent Seven and motifs from that movie were used for the TV commercials.

There are no bonus features but The Sons of Katie Elder is definitely worth watching and although it is 121 minutes long, it seems much shorter because it holds one's interest from start to finish.