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Cahill, United States Marshal (1973)

There is a certain amount of satisfaction in seeing Big John in command of things, brushing aside or shooting down the opposition, and in noting that Wayne hasn't lost his ability to say lines with profound feeling, whether explaining to his oldest son his reasons for being a bad parent or issuing warnings like that to a black to submit to being handcuffed or else. Cahill was obviously made with one eye on the children's market as The Cowboys had been. In fact, the film should really belong to Wayne's two sons in the film: twelve-year-old Billy Joe and seventeen-year-old Danny who, neglected by a father who is all too often away rounding up outlaws, help Abe Fraser (George Kennedy) and his men commit a bank robbery during one of their father's absences. Director Andrew V. McLaglen obviously recalled the famous graveyard scene from Great Expectations (1946) in a scene he directs with relish in which the grown-up robbers corner their youngest ally in the rainy dark and terrify him; and another scene with Wayne and his Indian sidekick (Neville Brand) deliberately frightening the boys in this film's graveyard also attempts to be powerfully subjective.

But the film's focus is split. It looks at Wayne head on instead of approaching him from the boys' point of view which might have reduced his footage but added considerably to his overall impact. Instead, there are typical moments for Wayne to establish himself as the invincible stuff of legend. We don't actually see villains quake at the very mention of his name but the effect is the same. In the opening, Wayne rides boldly up to a night-camp to arrest some men. Well aware of the two gunmen deployed to cover him from each side, he nevertheless shoots it out and manages to survive, an unusually sharp frozen frame catching him in a memorable shot from behind, his six-shooter blazing white flame, and serving as a background for the main title. Later, Wayne is bringing in some other prisoners and some stolen loot when he is confronted by a huge bunch of men on the trail who want to relieve him of the money he's carrying; his conversation with their leader makes him realize their lack of determination and he rides straight through them with an "Aw, hell, get out of the way!" Such moments are incredible, of course, as is Wayne's recognition of badman Abe Fraser's bluff when the latter pretends to be dead at the climax. The fact that Wayne usually ends up shot in the shoulder hardly affects his image of basic invulnerability. Yet this image is not reconciled with that of the bad father, nor are the more dramatic aspects of the film tellingly advanced.

During production, Cahill was known as Wednesday Morning, the title referring to the time when a band of robbers will be hung in error unless Wayne can catch the real villains. The film so clearly dissipates tension that the title was no longer appropriate once it had been edited, and the change enables the advertising to make use of a familiar treatment - "John Wayne IS Cahill" - which emphasizes that the film has to fall back on Wayne as its most effective element.


J.D. Cahill John Wayne
Abe Fraser George Kennedy
Danny Cahill Gary Grimes
Billy Joe Cahill Clay O'Brien
Lightfoot Neville Brand
Mrs. Hetty Green Marie Windsor
Strother Morgan Paull
MacDonald Royal Dano
Denver Denver Pyle
Charlie Smith Harry Carey Jr.
Old Man Paul Fix
Albert Hank Worden

Shooting from end November 13 to end of 1972 under title of Wednesday Morning.

Released circa July 1973 (U.S.); September 1973 (G.B.)

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