Monday, August 20, 2012

DVD Review:The Sons of Katie Elder (1965)

The Sons of Katie Elder (1965)

(Released: 2011 by CBS Paramount Home Entertainment) 
Another looong DVD Review by Joe Torcivia
SUMMARY:  Respect your “Elders”… Or, there must be an easier way to honor your mother, that doesn’t involve gunshot wounds and jail time!   

Texas is a woman she [Katie Elder] used to say... A big, wild, beautiful woman. You get a kid raised-up to where he’s got some size… and there’s TEXAS, whisperin’ in his ear, smilin’, sayin’ ‘come on out with me, an’ have some fun’. It’s hard enough to raise children ANY place, she’d say, but if ya gotta fight TEXAS… a mother hasn’t a chance!”

It’s the late 1890s, and Katie Elder is dead.  So dead, in fact, that she never appears in the film.  Her four distinctly different sons, previously scattered to the four distinctly different winds, have returned to Clearwater, Texas for the funeral. 

John Elder (John Wayne): A gunfighter and, as you would expect, one of the best.
'Nuff said!

Tom Elder (Dean Martin): A gambler and, when necessary, a con artist.  Though the biggest con-job of all might very well be convincing the viewers that John Wayne and Dean Martin could actually be BROTHERS… from the same set of parents.  (At least BONANZA’S Little Joe, Adam, and Hoss Cartwright had different mothers!) 
Dean Martin scams Strother Martin!

Matt Elder (Earl Holliman):  Er, Um… Well, I don’t think we ever find out exactly WHAT Matt does.  He’s more of the “quiet type”, you know. 
So, what DO you do, Matt?

Bud Elder (Michael Anderson, Jr.): The “baby” of the family, and the one Katie wanted to see go to college.  Unfortunately, Bud hates college, and wants to be a gunfighter like his big brother John.  …Unfortunately, that is, for poor, pestered John. 
"Bud-dy the Kid?

Even more unfortunately, for ALL the Elder Boys, during their absence, their previously-dead drunken father “Bass” gambled and lost the Elder Family Ranch (under suspicious circumstances) to rich, corrupt, and villainous gunsmith Morgan Hastings (James Gregory) and his somewhat reluctant son Dave (Dennis Hopper). 
It's Hastings!  Boooo!

After Bass’ death, from being shot in the back just after losing the ranch, Katie lived a life of poverty – in a shack pretty much “donated” by the local banker (…Imagine a banker with a HEART!), and looked after by some of the townspeople.  In particular, a young lady named Mary Gordon (Martha Hyer), who runs a local boarding house. 

An additional “guest” in town for the funeral is “Curley” (George Kennedy), another gunfighter of considerable note, hired by Morgan Hastings to keep John Elder at bay. 

The Sons investigate these suspicious events, are framed for killing a sheriff, have lots of fist and gun fights… and everything else you’d expect to happen “When John Wayne Comes Back To Town”! 

In one respect or another, ALL John Wayne westerns have something great to recommend, and “The Sons of Katie Elder” is no exception.

Beyond the usual action, and bad guys getting their comeuppance, we have the marvelous interaction among the Sons. 

The Sons observe the former Elder Family Ranch, now in the possession of Hastings

MATT:  Boy, everything sure has changed, hasn’t it?  Remember when we used to fool around on that big ol’ barn?” 

BUD:  Hey, Tom… I was only a kid the time you fell from the loft an’ broke your leg.”

TOM:  You weren’t even born yet!  Besides, I didn’t fall… I was PUSHED!  Somebody always kept PUSHING me out of that loft!” 

JOHN:  That’s ‘cause you BOUNCED so good!  Everybody in the family kept BRAGGING about how good you BOUNCED!” 

The Sons discuss a monument for Katie…

MATT:  Listen, I’ve been thinking about somethin’.  I think we ought to get a NICE STONE for her grave.  I mean a BIG stone with some nice WRITIN’ on it.  What ‘cha call a… a…”

BUD:  A monument!  You think so, John?”

JOHN:  I believe she’d LIKE a monument.”

TOM:  Why spend MONEY for a hunk of STONE?”

MATT:  Because she LIKED it here, and people liked HER!  Now, it seems to me there ought to be something to remember her by, right?”

BUD:  The Ritters got their mother a MARBLE ANGEL, with her finger pointing.” (Gestures UP, toward Heaven.)

TOM:  At WHO?”

BUD:  NOBODY!  Pointing UP… like THIS! (Gestures again.)

MATT:  All right, then… a MARBLE ANGEL!”

TOM:  Does it HAVE to be an ANGEL?  I don’t have too much IN COMMON with ANGELS!”

BUD:  Besides, take the Ritters’ angel… Some kid shot her FINGER off – an’ after that, it just looks like she’s SHAKIN’ her FIST!”

MATT:  How ‘bout a LAMB?  A marble lamb!”

TOM:  How about a HORSE?”


MATT:  For a GRAVE?!” 

TOM:  Well, Ma LOVED horses!” 

MATT:  Well, she didn’t love ‘em THAT much!  How’d you like to have a HORSE on top ‘o you for the rest of eternity?!” 

…How do you not love stuff like this!

Also, unofficially, this may be where the “Older John Wayne” begins (He would have been approximately 57-58)… the John Wayne of such ‘60s and ‘70s films as “The War Wagon”, “True Grit”, “The Train Robbers”, “Big Jake”, “The Cowboys”, “Rooster Cogburn”, and “The Shootist” – the “John Wayne” I like best!   

As is our custom in these reviews, we’ll break it into CONS and PROS.  


Extra Features:  John Wayne films tend to be either "Feast or Famine" in the area of DVD Extra Features.  Some sport an embarrassment of riches, like  “True Grit”, “The High and the Mighty”, "Stagecoach", "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance", and “The Cowboys”.  We’ll be getting to those last three someday. 

Others, such as “Big Jake” (reviewed HERE) and “Red River” (also coming someday), inexplicably offer not even a TRAILER! 

As I've often expressed, my standard for a movie DVD's Extra Features is the inclusion of a theatrical trailer for the film, a commentary track, and "making-of" or background featurette.  At least “The Sons of Katie Elder” offers a Theatrical Trailer. 

The PROS: 

The Film:   It’s John Wayne, Dean Martin, and an all-star cast in 02:01:39 of widescreen western glory!  The kind of visual “glory” that sixties TV could not match, even as it moved into full-color. 
This is WHY you went to the movies.  (…Or, maybe it was to be in the dark with your gal – who knows!)  In the coming years, Hollywood films would enjoy increased liberation in language, subject matter and the like, but “The Sons of Katie Elder” is still more reflective of those good old ‘50s values we know and love. 
I'll Drink to those Values! 
Picture Quality:   The picture quality of this “Standard Definition” release is simply great on a widescreen HD TV.  It’s the real “widescreen” and not “letterbox”, as was another Wayne favorite of the period “The War Wagon” (1967). I notice that a number of John Wayne films are now receiving Blu-ray releases – darn the luck, not long after I began stocking-up on the SDs. But, if all SDs looked as great as this one, there’d be no need to “double-dip”! 

The Cast: 

·         John Wayne as “John Elder”. 

·         Dean Martin as “Tom Elder”. 

·         Earl Holliman as “Matt Elder”.

·         Michael Anderson, Jr. as “Bud Elder”   

·         Martha Hyer as “Mary Gordon”. 

·         James Gregory as “Morgan Hastings”   

·         George Kennedy as “Curley”.    

·         Jeremy Slate as “Ben Latta”.    

·         Dennis Hopper as “Dave Hastings”.    

There’s also a passel of supporting players not only notable for western roles – but for various appearances in Irwin Allen’s Sci-Fi TV shows of the period (talk about “cross-over appeal” for me):

Paul Fix as “Sheriff Billy Wilson”.  Longtime John Wayne supporting player in such films as “Red River”, “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon”, “The High and the Mighty” and many more – as well as Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, The Time Tunnel, and two episodes of Land of the Giants as kindly Dr. Brulle.  He was even in the "William Shatner pilot" for Star Trek, as the ship's doctor!
Paul Fix

James Westerfield as “Banker Vennar”.  Also in “True Grit” as well as Lost in Space and The Time Tunnel.
James Westerfield

Strother Martin as a patsy, scammed by Dean Martin’s Tom Elder.  Best known for “Cool Hand Luke” and was one of my most favorite guest stars on Lost in Space:  “…a Suuu-per Nooo-va!”.
Strother Martin (at right): Pass the Cosmonium!
Percy Helton: Nervous, short, high-pitched, older actor – also appeared in Land of the Giants “Ghost Town”, one of that series best.
Percy Helton

All this adds up to one great big treat of a film for a Western / ‘60s Sci-Fi fan like me! 

The Extra Feature (Singular): Theatrical Trailer for “The Sons of Katie Elder”:   (03:13) 

…How I wish I could have written some of these! 

Cue the usual on-screen hype:

TEXT: "From the four winds they came... Four brothers... Their eyes smoking and their fingers itching!" [ JOE’S NOTE:  Have they considered eye-wash and soap?  …Just sayin’!]  Four Brothers… sworn to right whatever wrongs still raged!”

Hal Wallis’ production of “The Sons of Katie Elder” in Technicolor and Panavision. 

[We get lots of action scenes – both rollicking and deadly – over a western music score.]

Starring John Wayne, Dean Martin, Michael Anderson, Jr., Earl Holliman, …and Martha Hyer as Mary Gordon” – who delivers the “Texas” quote that opens this review.

VOICE OVER: “The Sons of Katie Elder: Led by Big John – The eldest, the gunslinger, the toughest! [ JOE’S NOTE:  No Sheep, Sherlock! …It IS John Wayne, ya know! ] 

"Tom – The gambler, who would play any game at any odds. 

"Matt – The quiet one, the dangerous one. 

"Bud – The Kid who had to be taught what it means to be an Elder – and a man. 

"Mary – The woman who tried the impossible, taming The Sons of Katie Elder!

The Sons of Katie Elder – set up for paid deputies who put them in chains, before they dared to kill them in ambush!”

TEXT: "Four brothers who met gunfure with gunfireIn the fighting tradition of the Gunfight at the O.K. CorralThe Sons of Katie Elder!”

See the Movie!  Read the Comic!


Directed by Henry Hathaway (later of “True Grit”), “The Sons of Katie Elder” is a film you can’t help but enjoy – if you crave your entertainment Western Style.  Its star power is undeniable – and the role players shine just as brightly as the greats. 

In its tone, it is more evocative of sixties television, than films would soon be – yet there is a grandeur in its visual scope (Cinemascope? Panavision?) to remind you of what the Big Screen then did far better than the small screen.  When “The Movies” was still an exciting place to go – and different from what you got at home.   

The lack of Extra Features for this set is unfortunate.  John Wayne’s films deserve better treatment than this!  Some are done well, but why not ALL of them?   

“The Sons of Katie Elder” is recommended for fans of John Wayne, Dean Martin, the Western film genre, and the mid-sixties era of entertainment in general.


Chris Barat said...


THE SONS OF KATIE ELDER was the movie that John Wayne made immediately after his first cancer surgery, and he found it very rough going indeed. Henry Hathaway refused to baby Wayne and, as a result, you can hardly tell that Wayne had recently suffered a near-fatal illness.


Anonymous said...

The synopsis in the book "The Films of John Wayne" by Mark Ricci and Steve and Boris Zmijewski said that Tom Elder dies near the end of the movie. (In the early 1970s edition that I had, anyway. Don't know if it was changed in the 1980s edition.) But when I saw it on TV, the conversation between Wayne and Martha Hyer in the last scene implies that Tom and Bud are both expected to recover. Maybe Dean's character died in the original script (on which the synopsis was based?) but the ending was changed at the last minute. We don't see Dean again after he passes out, which makes me wonder if that closing scene was revised and tacked on. Maybe a preview audience disliked the original ending.

Anonymous said...

I think Paul Fix may have held the record for appearances in movies with John Wayne.

Joe Torcivia said...


All I can say is that Wayne sure doesn’t look as if he’s come off cancer surgery. That may have been wise on Hathaway’s part for the PICTURE. For Wayne? Who knows?

Did Hathaway push him through “True Grit”, I wonder? There, he looked much worse – and I don’t think it was all make-up.

Joe Torcivia said...


Personally, I would have regarded it to be a REAL downer if Dean Martin’s “Tom” had died – and I doubt audiences in general would have felt any differently. So, I’d certainly give credence to your theory.

“Tom said it’d take more than one bullet to kill him!”, says Mary in the scene you reference. …But, I must add, if Tom the fraudulent scammer’s word is as good is it’s cracked up to be, maybe he buys it, after all!

…Say, if I’m intentionally vague and waffling, does this count as a spoiler? :-)

As for Paul Fix, I never counted but, if it wasn’t him who most frequently appeared with Wayne, it would have been Ward Bond or Harry Carey, Jr. Fix is a good bet!

Fix took an interesting little side trip into ‘60s Sci-Fi-Land for a short while. Your comment caused me to recall that he was also a twice-appearing character on Land of the Giants, and the original “doctor” on Shatner’s Star Trek pilot. I’ve amended the post to include those credits for Fix.

John Agar, who debuted in John Wayne’s “Fort Apache”, and appeared in some other Wayne pictures, took a similar detour into ‘50s sci-fi films – and, in them, became a leading man!

“Revenge of the Creature” (my favorite), “Tarantula”, “The Mole People”, “The Brain from Planet Arous”, etc. But, he managed to reunite with Wayne for “Chisum”, and “Big Jake”. I’ll have to do something about Agar, someday – or maybe just review the excellent “Creature from the Black Lagoon” Legacy Collection set!

…So many topics, so little time for Blogging!

Chris Barat said...


I'm not aware of any health problems with Wayne at the time of TRUE GRIT. He was simply a few years older. Plus, he was coming off the grueling task of directing and starring in THE GREEN BERETS the year before.

Joe Torcivia said...

I thought his cancer had become more severe by that time.

dino martin peters said...

Mr. Torcivia, what a outstanding review of "The Sons Of Katie Elder." Dino and the Duke are the best together...they have real chemistry when it comes to westerns. Know that your review has been shared at the Dean Martin blog, ilovedinomartin. Thanks again for your massive effort to review this classic film.

Anonymous said...

My understanding was that Wayne had surgery to remove one lung and was cancer-free after 1964. Of course, after the surgery, he had severe shortness of breath, and the action scenes must have been rough going. He developed stomach cancer in the late 1970s and died in June 1979. As for Hathaway, from what I've heard, he pushed everyone hard. The story goes that Mia Farrow turned down the part of Mattie in True Grit because of Hathaway's reputation as a slave-driving taskmaster.

Joe Torcivia said...

Dino Martin Peters:

Thanks for both the kind words and the extra exposure on your great Blog. And, thank you for a truly unexpected pleasure in Blogging! Nice surprises like this are what make it all worthwhile!

Everyone reading this: If you’ve ever had even a shred of interest in the great Mr. Dean Martin, this is the Blog for you! Go check it out!

Repeating my comment left on Dino’s Blog: In the late ‘60s / early ‘70s, Thursday was my favorite night of TV… with Ironside, Dragnet, and good ol’ Dino! …That’s when NBC *REALLY WAS* “Must See TV”!

…Someday I’m gonna have to review “Rio Bravo”!

Joe Torcivia said...

Anon writes:

“Of course, after the surgery, he [Wayne] had severe shortness of breath, and the action scenes must have been rough going.”

That’s what I recall hearing about his experiences on “True Grit” – maybe it was on the DVD features for that film. Can’t say for sure. But that’s what formed the basis for my earlier comments. I did not know that about Hathaway’s reputation, though. Very interesting stuff!

dino martin peters said...

Hey pallie, likes Mr. Joe the pleasure is all all mine...and thanks ever so much for puttin' a plug in for the ol' Dino-blog. Will be lookin' forward to more reviews from you..'specially of some of our most beloved Dino's other big screen efforts..likes "Rio Bravo."