John (John Wayne)
Tom (Dean Martin)
Matt (Earl Holliman)
Bud (Michael Anderson jnr)
Morgan Hastings (James Gregory)
Dave Hastings (Dennis Hopper)
Curley (George Kennedy)
The opening credits has a train heading towards a station where three of the Elder brothers are waitng for the fourth brother John to arrive. And the soundtrack theme by Elmer Bernstein tries hard not to sound Magnificent Sevenish.
The only person to get off the train is Curley - dressed in black.
Still John, a known gunfighter, turns up for the funeral of his mother but hides in the rocks above and observes.
The main story, set in 1898, has a side issue to the central tale of greed by Morgan Hastings (it doesn't take long to suss out that this is the guy who shot the brothers' father Bass Elder in the back and robbed Katie Elder of her ranch with the claim that Bass had lost the farm to Hastings in a card game).
The west of the time was changing and expansion was on the cards. Hastings owns a gun store but has eyes on a get rich scheme and, indeed, there were those of similar ilk in real life.
Katie Elder is a respected character - the loss of the ranch had left her in poverty but she had the ability to provide for herself. Most of all she was proud of her sons who she loved with a passion - though, in truth, they neglected her. But Katie was determined to see that one of them, Bud, got a college education and make good.
Of the other three sons John is the gunfighter, Tom is a gambler wanted for a murder in New Orleans and Matt is a failed mercantile shopkeeper (and the only brother to get killed).
As the brothers delve into why their parents lost their ranch so Hastings begins to panic. He arranges for the Sheriff (Paul Fix) to get a copy of the Wanted notice on Tom and when he goes out to make the arrest Hastings shoots him in the back.
The Elder brothers are arrested and transported to Laredo. On the way they are ambushed by Hastings and Curley. At this point Curley and Matt Elder are killed and Bud wounded. The three remaining brothers return to town and hole up in the blacksmith's shop. Tom manages to kidnap Hastings' son, Dave, and Hastings kills his own son but does not prevent him from confessing to the Judge (the temporary law) about his father's guilt.
Cue the final shoot out.
On the whole there was a lot going on that just a superficial western - John Wayne played to type wearing the same clothes that he wore in most of his westerns. Still, he was a western icon and, until Clint Eastwood came along, stood tall above the likes of Randolph Scott and Audie Murphy.
The only time that the film jarred with me was the fact that the wagon drivers taking the the Elders and their escort to Laredo were all in Morgan Hastings pay. The intention was to say that the convoy had been attacked by the 'Elder Gang' and that the brothers had escaped. Flaw there is if that had been the case then those drivers would have been the first target. A minor point.
Still, I enjoyed this movie directed by Henry Hathaway and worth a visit. In a world driven by explosive gunplay and action it is nice to just sit back a watch how the west was once envisaged.
It is said that the movie has a basis in the true 1888 story of the Marlow brothers.