Based upon historical fact, this film follows the famous range war in which Billy the Kid made his name, but chiefly from the viewpoint of aging cattle baron John Chisum (Wayne in the title role). It's 1878 in New Mexico Territory, and Chisum rides into the local town of Lincoln to meet his niece Sallie (Pamela McMyler) off the stage. His foreman and long-time Good Right Hand, Pepper (Ben Johnson practically stealing the movie--he should have been nominated for Best Supporting Actor), remarks upon the many acquisitions being made by would-be real-estate magnate Lawrence J. Murphy (Tucker in a cheerfully malevolent role), but Chisum isn't looking for trouble. Still, he is inexorably drawn into the escalating situation when lawyer Alex McSween (Andrew Prine), whom Sallie befriended on the journey, finds it impossible to turn a blind eye to Murphy's machinations, and helps stake the idealistic Easterner to a store to run in competition with the one Murphy bought out from under its original owner. Not until his friend and neighbor, Britisher Henry Tunstall (Patric Knowles), is murdered on the road by two deputies of Murphy's hand-picked sheriff (Bruce Cabot), does Chisum's temper finally come unglued, and the story continues through the siege (canonical) of the McSween store by Murphy's forces, the shooting down of McSween in the street, and at last a classic brawl (in an ultimately burning building) between Chisum and Murphy that always reminds me of two old range bulls butting heads. As always, the supporting cast adds immeasureably to the movie: Geoffrey Deuel as Billy Bonney; Christopher George (who also played a villainous role in the Duke's "El Dorado") as his old enemy, gimpy, half-crazy bounty hunter Dan Nodeen; Richard Jaeckel as Jess Evans, with whom Billy once rode; Glenn Corbett as Billy's friend (and future killer) Pat Garrett. The mild liberties that are taken with history (such as Sallie's attraction to Billy) only serve to fill out the characters better. There's plenty of classic Old West action and a good score (Merle Haggard's vocal, "Turn Me Around," should be released on a retrospective of his songs), and Chisum is portrayed as a decent man who loves the land and wants the best for the people who live on it (interestingly, he isn't expected to carry a romantic relationship at all, though it's strongly hinted that he came close to marrying Sallie's mother). A solid entry to the Wayne oeuvre and one well worth your time.
I've always loved John Waynes westerns of the 60's and 70's. Even in older age he was a commanding presence on the screen. Chisum tells the story of the real-life Lincoln County war between John Chisum (wayne) and L.G. Murphy (Forrest Tucker). Chisum is a cattle baron who has settle this area of New Mexico long ago and a well-respected man of the Community. Murphy is the newcomer. A rich man bent on taking over Lincoln County by buying up everything he can and puttin any competitors out of business. This puts him into direct conflict with CHisum. Chisum soon uses his considerable funds to back a store and bank of his own to compete with Murphy.
Chisum is friends with another rich cattleman, a Northeasterner Henry Tunstall. Tunstall just happens to employ a certain young man named Billy Bonney AKA Billy the Kid. Tunstall is a man of God who tries to get Billy to change his lawless ways. Billy finds himself at odds with Chisum due to a romantic interest that forms between he and his niece Sally. EVentually a couple of crooked deputies kill Tunstall claiming he pulled a gun on them. Billy in turn kills the town sheriff setting off an all out war between the various factions leading to a climactic fight between Chisum and Murphy.
The movie does play quite loose with the various facts of the real life Lincoln County war especially with Kid's relation ship with Pat Garrett. The cast was very strong in this film and includes old Wayne co-hort Ben Johnson as "pepper", Chisums friend who mutters his opinion just under his breath all the time. Glen Corbett is the blue steel-eyed Pat Garrett, and Geoffrey Duel is Billy the Kid. Another of the Duke's old pals Bruce Cabot plays the Sheriff, and Chris George is along as the new sadistic Sheriff Nodeen.
The movie has all the hallmarks of Waynes westerns. Gorgeous scenery, plenty of action, and a good dose of humor. Among the memorable scenes is when Murphy's men have the town barricaded against Chisums arrival so the Duke sends a stampege of bulls plowing into the town. The DVD version I have comes with a commentary track by director Andrew McLagen.
on October 8, 2004
Next to Big Jake, this was Wayne's best film in the 1970s. By this time, the Duke was so at home in front of a camera that he could do roles like this in his sleep.
Ben Johnson steals the show as James Pepper, his sidekick who has been with him through thick and thin. Two classic examples are when Chisum prepares to ride down to the river to retrieve his horses from the thieves. He says, "I'm going down there. The rest of you cover me with your long guns." As he starts down, Pepper is right behind him, and as Chisum starts to talk, Pepper responds, "I heard you Mister Chisum, but I ain't the rest of 'em," indicating he wasn't just another hired hand.
Another example is when Pepper says, "Would you like to hear my opinion Mr. John Simpson Chisum?" Wayne replies, "Nope," and Pepper never checks up, "Well, my opinion is. . ." He knew he could speak his peace and get away with it. And, as it turns out, his opinion was right on the money.
Wayne and Johnson had known each other for so long and knew their roles that their chemistry on screen was just plain natural. Several times in the movie, Pepper is mumbling about something, and Chisum is always on his case.
The script gives Wayne plenty of chances to express himself as only he could do through the years. When the head of the horse thieves says, "There must be some mistake," Wayne replies, "You made it." And when the thug asks if he brought gold or silver to buy the horses back, Wayne simply replies, "Just lead."
And don't forget when Lawrence Murphy said he felt like Chisum was threatening him. Wayne promptly decks him and says, "Wrong word! Fact!"
Wayne's facial expressions and demeanors as each situation developed in the movie are classic, showing how he had spent 40 years perfecting his craft. Anyone saying John Wayne couldn't act is a fool.
The climatic cattle stampede and fight scene at the end of the movie to break up the gunfight in town was a rousing finish to a solid Duke effort. Not his absolute best, but definitely in the Top 10 of a long career.
on June 18, 2016
'John Chisum' (John Wayne) since moving to Texas in the late 1830's had built up a vast ranch after claiming territory alongside the
'Pecos-River' he'd become a wealthy cattle-baron.
Down the years with the help of friend and right-hand man 'James Pepper' (Ben Johnson) they have fiercely defended the lands from
rustlers and Indians down the years
However, there is always a threat to the status-quo it's the way things are in the 'West'
;Lawrence Murphy' (Forrest Tucker) who had only relatively recently moved into the local town had already started to build himself an
empire, taking-over many businesses including the 'Bank' - he also has the town Sheriff in his pocket.
'Chisum' along with local land-owner 'Henry Tunstall' (Patric Knowles) who has the trigger-happy youngster 'William H Bonney' - known
as 'Billy the Kid' (Geoffrey Deuel) in his employ ('Tunstall' had helped 'Billy' follow a better path) set up business in direct competition to
Meanwhile 'Chisum's' niece 'Sallie' (Pamela McMyler) had invited herself to stay at the ranch, worryingly for 'Chisum' she has an eye for
the young 'William H Bonney'
'Murphy' who had now turned his attention to the cattle business as well wan't going to take competition well, and with the help of hired
guns and the law of the town on his side try's to change the course of events.
These actions would lead to the 'Lincoln County War'
'Chisum' with former buffalo-hunter 'Pat Garrett' (Glen Corbett) and 'Billy' in tow along with his own men and legal guidance from 'Alex
McSween' (Andrew Prine) will stand up to the land and business-grabbing 'Murphy'
Though these days 'Chisum' will try to do things the right way a time will surely come when he has to do things the 'old-way'
This, a very enjoyable John Wayne western which along with plenty of action has a good-story line which flirts a little with historic events
of the late 1870's.
The Blu-ray upgrade is good.
Commentary by Director Andrew V McLaglen
Vintage Featurette John Wayne and Chisum
on March 16, 2000
CHISUM is the kind of good, tough, old-fashioned western that Hollywood has apparently forgotten how to make. This film focuses on the Lincoln County land wars in New Mexico, featuring a look at the involvement of Billy the Kid. The performances are strong down the line, most notably John Wayne as John Chisum and Christopher George as "Sheriff" Dan Nodeen. Although the historical aspect of the film is dubious, and the plot is a patchwork rehash of many "B" westerns (with implied references to several of Wayne's previous westerns), the film is most enjoyable. Andrew V. Mc Laglen (the poor man's John Ford) does a commendable job of directing this ensemble of veteran and up-and-coming actors. While CHISUM does not rank among the BEST of the John Wayne westerns (such as The Searchers, Red River, etc...), it's still VERY entertaining and well worth watching.
on October 2, 2004
"Chisum", starring John Wayne as New Mexico cattle baron, John Chisum, uses many of the Duke's tried-and-true western movie staples - that being the larger-than-life hero (Wayne), the handsome young gun (Geoff Duell as Billy the Kid), the reliable side-kick (Ben Johnson) and gorgeous scenery and cinematography.
Fans of John Wayne will see quite a few similarities between "Chisum" and some other Duke westerns from the 50's & 60's, notably "Rio Bravo", "Red River", and "El Dorado". One big difference exists in this film though, Wayne doesn't dominate the screen as he does in the others, but instead is more of a member of an ensemble cast.
Members of that ensemble include the aforementioned Ben Johnson as "Pepper" who's great as Chisum's trusty righthand man, and old reliables from other Wayne movies, Forrest Tucker as L.G. Murphy, the evil threat to Chisum's empire, Bruce Cabot as the corrupt sheriff, and Christopher George as a deranged bounty hunter out to get Billy the Kid. Rounding out the cast are Glenn Corbett as Pat Garrett and Andrew Prine as Andrew McSween. (Lovely Linda Day is found in a throwaway role as McSween's wife.)
"Chisum" is based on the Lincoln County Wars of the 1870's in the New Mexico territory. Chisum, the largest land owner in the territory is challenged by L.G. Murphy for supremacy of the area. Murphy wants to ruin Chisum and will stop at nothing to do so. While the writers and director have taken some poetic license with the facts from this historical event (especially with the depiction of the relationship between Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid), as near as I can tell, there's more fact than fiction in the telling of the story of the life and times of John Chisum and the good folks of Lincoln County, New Mexico.
The acting is somewhat stilted, but the action and beautiful scenery more than make up for some stiff lines and awkward pauses and inflections. If you're a fan of any of the aforementioned movies, then you will want to add "Chisum" to your collection. The DVD doesn't add much in the way of extras to the film, but that's not the real reason why one would buy this movie anyway.
RECOMMENDED FOR ALL JOHN WAYNE FANS
on January 1, 2008
The setting of this western is New Mexico in the 1870's. John Chisum (John Wayne) describes his flight from Texas following a period of poverty caused by the war (Civil War), and how he had built up the area, acquired a large herd of cattle, and made the area civilized enough that women would want to live there. He respects the local Indian chief, and calls the Comanches a Nation.
Chisum constantly has to fight against interlopers who try to steal his cattle. These include not only petty thieves but also those who think that they OWN the law (in contrast to Chisum, who simply respects the law).
William Bonney (Billy the Kid) arrives, and Chisum, fully aware of his past, nevertheless welcomes him. For a time, it seems as though Billy has turned over a new leaf. He settles down to a regular job, and expresses a desire to shed his murderous reputation. He even reads the Bible, though ostensibly to maintain what little reading skills he has. But then his friend is murdered, and, instead of waiting for the judicial process to run its course and for the perpetrators to be hanged, he shoots them himself. Even then, Chisum takes no action against him, only asking him to leave the area and never return.
In those days, some people used to say that you can always travel somewhere in the West where there is no law, and where even God cannot be found. Chisum comments to the effect that the law eventually reaches everywhere, and, wherever you may go, you will find that God was already there.
While Chisum is away, Billy the Kid sneaks into town at night to see a girl he loves (Chisum's niece). He gets cornered. The local sheriff wants him dead. Billy and a group of his men manage to escape into a building, where they hole themselves up. Dawn comes, and there is a long shootout. Chisum gets summoned. But will he return in time to diffuse the situation? Will Billy the Kid meet his end? Or will he get away again?
Chisum is a cowboy movie in the old style. It stars John Wayne, as the New Mexico cattle baron, John Chisum, has Forrest Tucker as a greedy merchant, and has Billy the Kid, , and many others in it. Recommended for fans of John Wayne, Forrest Tucker, and cowboy movies.
Gunner April, 2008
on September 10, 2007
I thoroughly enjoyed seeing this classic piece. Being made at the end of the Cowboy Movie era it was less corny than the older ones can be, and had some good, insightful human dramas in it. A good script, well acted and well directed. John Wayne is not the sole notable character in it with a wealth of other strong characters, particularly that of Geoffrey Deuel playing a sensitively scripted Billy the Kid.
I strongly recommend it.
Ok, so the historical aspect is questionable, so what? This is classic John Wayne, good guys against bad guys, and predictably great until the final reel. I always felt they left the door open a little for a sequel, or moreover that this was placing a John Wayne bootprint on the story behind the story of the Lincoln County War. Whichever way, I thoroughly enjoy this every time I see it. Probably not one of the "GREAT" John Wayne westerns, and I'm being a little generous with 4 stars, but the transfer quality to DVD makes it worth it, although there isn't any extra stuff. Just under two hours, and a little violent for very young children, otherwise Enjoy