Sunday, August 13, 2017


So I watched the movie Chisum when TCM ran it yesterday as part of their salute to John Wayne in Summer Under the Stars. I knew that TCM had put it on one of those four-film box sets, although that set is apparently out of print. However, there is a stand-alone DVD or Blu-Ray available, and not particularly expensive.

I didn't know going into the movie that it's based on a real person, John Chisum. The movie Chisum, played by John Wayne, has him in 1878 New Mexico (still a territory), where he's owned almost an entire county for 15 years, having been one of the early pioneers west from Texas. Here he raises cattle for the military. However, in the movie there's a malevolent presence in L.G. Murphy (Forrest Tucker), who is starting a whole bunch of businesses, as well as buying out those that would otherwise be competing with him. So you know you're going to get the stock story of the old-time rancher up against the newcomer, with one side being obviously good and the other side obviously awful.

As for John Chisum, he's welcoming his niece Sallie (played by Pamela McMyler) from back east, and works with fellow rancher Tunstall (Patric Knowles; also a real person in case you're wondering how an Englishman wound up in New Mexico) to deal with the depredations of Murphy. Tunstall has hired William Bonney (Geoffrey Deuel), better known as Billy the Kid. Murphy has brought Alex McSween (another real person, played by Andrew Prine) to be his lawyer, but McSween is one of those rare honest lawyers, so he winds up working for Chisum.

Much of the movie deals with the speculative nature of what Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett did as their part of the Lincoln County War. Billy was certainly involved, and a lot of the events in the war are portrayed in Chisum are based on real events from the Lincoln County War. However, the real aftermath of the war seems to be more ambiguous than the one in the movie.

As for the movie, I was left underwhelmed by it, although would raise my assessment a bit now that I know it's based on a true story. Part of the problem I had is that it came across as formulaic, and the other huge problem I had was the music. It starts with the awful song playing over the opening credits, and there are one or two other songs in the middle that grind things to a halt. Oh, and there are also the zooms that were a thing back in the late 60s and early 70s.

But anybody who's a fan of John Wayne will probably like this one. It's more than competently made, and the story really doesn't have much wrong with it other than the fact that we all know the formula having seen a hundred similar movies about ranchers vs. settlers.

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