CAHILL: U.S. MARSHALL (1973, Andrew V. McLaglen)
An odd western with Duke as an aging Marshal whose sons go astray because daddy isn't home enough. They absolutely want his attention and therefore make some 'bad friends' and get involved in a bank robbery. As you might have expected, things go terribly wrong: nobody was supposed to get hurt, but one of daddy's friends even gets killed, and instead of bad friends, the bank robbers turn out to be real mean bastards.
It has been suggested that Cahill, U.S. Marshal was intended as a movie about a cop and a widower, more busy with his job than with his two growing up kids (*1). Cop thrillers were in the air - thanks to Clint Eastwood's portrayal of Dirty Harry - but apparently it was decided in the last minute to put Big John back in the saddle, where he belonged. Cahill is definitely a 'post-True Grit' movie: like the more successful Big Jake (1971), it plays with the new persona Wayne had adopted in his Oscar winning role: a living anachronism, a man who had outlived his time, but had not yet lost his touch. But, like John Wills has stated in his study, in True Grit and Big Jake Wayne's persona was presented as a remnant of some older order, brought back for a limited mission in 'modern times' (*2): the sly fox was asked to do some dirty work younger generations were unable to handle. The role fitted the aging Duke like a glove.
In Cahill things are a little different. Wayne plays an aging widower who has two young boys back home but prefers to spend his days out there, tracking down bad guys. The subject must have been very dear to his heart: like J.D. Cahill, the actor John Wayne had often been an absent father to his children, always moving on to the next movie. His autobiographers Randy Roberts and J.S. Olsen go as far as to describe the movie 'close to biographical'. This might also have been the reason why John Wayne wasn't happy with the finished movie: in an interview he declared that the movie had "a good theme" but "wasn't a well-done picture, because it needed better writing and a little more care in the making." (*3) Cahill U.S. Marshal is not a bad film, it's rather slow-moving and the action scenes are sparse, but they're well-crafted and the finale - daddy saving his kids by blowing the baddies to hell - is surprisingly violent. Cahill is entertaining enough; the problem is that there seems to be a better movie lurking underneath.
John Wayne was sixty-five when Cahill, U.S. Marshal was filmed and had already a cancerous lung removed. He was suffering from shortness of breath and had difficulty mounting his horse. Filming must have been quite an ordeal but he saves himself with his usually bravura and looks remarkably comfortable in the role of the sly fox. George Kennedy (as the leader of the boys' 'bad friends') and Neville Brand (as a half-breed tracker who assists Cahill on his quest), are also quite good, but this 'good theme' of the unsound family relations is treated too superficially.
Dir: Andrew V. McLaglen - Cast: John Wayne, Neville Brand, George Kennedy, Gary Grimes, Clay O'Brien, Dan Vadis, Denver Pyle, Jackie Coogan, Harry Carey Jr. Walter Barnes, Marie Windsor, Morgan Paull - Music: Elmer Bernstein
* (1) Ivan Scheldeman, De Films van John Wayne, Antwerp 1979, p. 33
* (2) Gary Wills, John Wayne's America, p. 289* (3) See: http://tonymacklin.net/content.php?cID=194