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John Wayne is Jacob McCandles, an ageing cowboy in an Old West that is on the verge of modernization. When his eight-year-old grandson is kidnapped by a violent gang led by the evil John Fain (Richard Boone), Jacob's estranged wife (Maureen O'Hara) enlists his help to rescue the boy. Jacob and his three sons (one of whom is portrayed by Wayne's real-life son Patrick) set out to bring the gang to justice.
This late-period Wayne western is characterized by a gritty realism not present in most of his earlier works. Something of a family affair, Big Jake features performances from younger sons, Patrick and Ethan. The film also marks the second time Richard Boone and John Wayne worked together, and the fifth - and final - time Wayne worked with Maureen O'Hara.