The Sons of Katie Elder (1965)
The ‘60s was Wayne’s decade for making fun films, even when not out-and-out comedies like McLintock! his westerns, with the exception of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, had a easy going sense of fun that is hard not to like.
This tale of four brothers looking to avenge their father's murder is an action-packed ride from start to finish. With thirty-odd years separating Wayne and youngest “brother” Michael Anderson Jr. this doesn’t win any awards for believability, but the banter between Katie Elder’s offspring and the sense of camaraderie between the actors allows the viewer to put logic aside.
Wayne and Dean Martin are the eldest of the Elders (pun intended) and the stars of the film. Playing the sort of tough but good-humoured character that typified many of his films over the ‘60s and ‘70s, Wayne isn’t stretched at all as John Elder. It’s the sort of performance that came easily to him, so much so that he hardly seems to be acting at all.
Dean Martin, reunited with Duke after the success of Rio Bravo, plays professional gambler Tom Elder. Like Wayne, his acting muscles don’t get much of a workout and he breezes through on star charisma and charm alone. His standout moment is the glass eye scene, a piece of showmanship that never fails to make me chuckle.
As the other two brothers Matt and Bud, Earl Holliman is solid but unexceptional and if Michael Anderson Jr. overacts at times, such exuberance is easy to understand when playing opposite stars like Wayne and Martin.
James Gregory is the brothers' nemesis Morgan Hastings and he’s a cunning and intelligent bad guy, hiring a gunman but not afraid to get his own hands dirty. As the hired gun, George Kennedy is a suitable imposing physical challenge to Wayne although he’s far better used in Cahill U.S. Marshal (1973).
Also worthy of mention are a young Dennis Hopper, convincing as Hastings sniveling son and Paul Fix as Sheriff Billy Wilson, a part not a million miles away from Marshal Micah Torrance, the role he played in the successful Rifleman TV series. Fix was probably the actor who worked with Wayne the most, with the pair making 27 films together between 1931 and 1973. He played everything from an explosives expert in Tycoon (1947) to a Chinese elder in Blood Alley (1955) but the easy going sheriff he portrays here suited him the best.