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Directed byAndrew V. McLaglen
Produced byAndrew J. Fenady
Written byAndrew J. Fenady
StarringJohn Wayne
Forrest Tucker
Ben Johnson
Geoffrey Deuel
Narrated byWilliam Conrad
Music byDominic Frontiere
CinematographyWilliam H. Clothier
Edited byRobert L. Simpson
Distributed byWarner Bros.
Release date
  • June 24, 1970 (1970-06-24) (Premiere)
  • July 29, 1970 (1970-07-29)
Running time
111 min.
CountryUnited States
Budget$4 million[1]
Box office$6,000,000 (rentals)[2][3]

Chisum is a 1970 American Western film by Warner Bros. starring John Wayne in Panavision and Technicolor. The large cast also includes Forrest Tucker, Christopher George, Ben Johnson, Glenn Corbett, Geoffrey Deuel, Andrew Prine, Bruce Cabot, Patric Knowles, and Richard Jaeckel. Directed by Andrew V. McLaglen, it was adapted for the screen by Andrew J. Fenady from his short story Chisum and the Lincoln County Cattle War.

Although this movie is historically inaccurate in many details, it is loosely based on events and characters from the Lincoln County War of 1878 in the New Mexico Territory, which involved historical figures John Chisum (1824–1884), Pat Garrett (1850–1908), and Billy the Kid (1859–1881) among others.


In Lincoln County, New Mexico, John Chisum, a kindly and successful land baron with a patriarchal view towards his workers and the local community, is faced with a problem when the amoral Lawrence Murphy and his business partner James Dolan begin buying up all the land and stores they can. Initially, Chisum gives Murphy the benefit of the doubt, but allows forced-out ranchers to use his own land for watering their herds. Murphy, meanwhile, has used his influence to get corrupt William J. Brady appointed Sheriff, and his own men appointed deputies. They bribe a rustler to steal Chisum's horses; hearing of this, Chisum and his sidekick James Pepper stop the rustlers, assisted by Billy Bonney, who is a newcomer to the area. A notorious killer, Billy has been hired and given a chance to reform by Chisum's philanthropic British neighbor, John Henry Tunstall.

Murphy hires Alexander McSween as his lawyer. McSween and his wife Sue arrive on the stage along with Chisum's niece Sallie, whom Billy begins to court. During Sallie's welcome party, Murphy sends Jesse Evans and his bandits to stop some of Chisum's men, who are taking beeves to the United States Army to be fed to the Native Americans on the local reservation. A wandering Pat Garrett warns Chisum's men of the approaching riders; during the subsequent shootout, one of Chisum's men dies, and the cows stampede away. Chisum sends for Justice J. B. Wilson to try Murphy's men for murder, but the damage is done and the Army starts buying its beeves from Murphy instead.

McSween, not liking Murphy's methods, switches sides, joining Tunstall and Chisum in opening a new store and bank to combat Murphy's monopoly. Billy, Pat, and several of Chisum's men go to Santa Fe to get supplies to stock the store; Murphy has Evans attack the wagon train as it is returning to Lincoln, and Billy is nearly killed in the ambush. In response, Tunstall determines he will go to Santa Fe himself and ask Gov. Sam Axtell to intervene in the land war. He is intercepted by deputies William "Billy" Morton and Frank Baker, who falsely accuse him of rustling, and shoot him dead before fleeing.

Justice Wilson arrives in time to see Tunstall's funeral; as Brady refuses to go after his own men, Wilson deputizes Chisum and Garrett instead, and they track down and capture the fugitives. Billy, wanting revenge for his friend and mentor, and skeptical that justice will be done in Lincoln, knocks out Garrett and guns down Morton and Baker. Before Brady can organize a posse, Billy rides into town and shoots him, too.

Murphy convinces Governor Axtell to fire Justice Wilson, and that the new sheriff should be bounty hunter Dan Nodeen, who harbors an old grudge against Billy. Billy, meanwhile, allies with Charlie Bowdre and Tom O'Folliard and breaks into McSween's store to get dynamite to attack Murphy's bank. Murphy and Nodeen's men surround the store, and a firefight ensues. Unarmed and wanting no part of the battle, McSween bargains for him and his wife to be allowed to leave. Sue is allowed to leave, but Murphy lets Nodeen shoot McSween in cold blood. As the firefight continues, Sue flees to inform Chisum, who gathers an army of his men and rides into town. Seeing Murphy has put up a barricade, Chisum drives Murphy's own cattle through it. Murphy's men are defeated, with Billy personally pursuing and killing Evans, and Chisum gets into a fistfight with Murphy. Both end up falling from a balcony, and Chisum survives, but Murphy is impaled on a steer's horn.

Nodeen, his paymaster dead, flees the town with Billy in pursuit. Garret marries Sallie and is appointed Sheriff. New Governor Lew Wallace declares amnesty and ends the land war, leaving Chisum free to resume his patriarchal vigil over the land.



The film was based on a screenplay by Andrew J. Fenady called Chisum and the Lincoln County Cattle War.[4][5] It was originally set up at 20th Century Fox but moved to Warner Bros.-7 Arts in August 1969 as Wayne wanted to make the film that year but Fox's production schedule would not allow.[4][5][6] Michael A. Wayne, executive producer, took on the project of making Chisum because he felt the story summed up well his father's political views. The sizeable cast is packed with familiar faces from earlier John Wayne films, including several from Sands of Iwo Jima including Wayne, John Agar, Forrest Tucker and Richard Jaeckel. It was Wayne's 200th starring role in feature films.[5]

It was filmed in 1969 in Durango, Mexico.[7][8] The picturesque vistas of the area were captured by cinematographer William H. Clothier.

John Wayne was on the set of Chisum when he heard of his nomination for an Academy Award in 1970 for True Grit.

During filming, John Mitchum, brother of Robert, introduced John Wayne to his patriotic poetry. Seeing that Wayne was greatly moved by those words, Forrest Tucker suggested that the two collaborate to record some of the poetry, which resulted in a Grammy-nominated spoken-word album, America: Why I Love Her.

The song "The Ballad of John Chisum" was narrated by William Conrad, the song "Turn Me Around" was sung by Glen Campbell.

Box office and reception

The film premiered in Dallas, Texas on June 24, 1970.[9] The film grossed $6 million at the box office.[3]

U.S. President Richard Nixon commented on the film during a press conference in Denver, Colorado, on August 3, 1970. In doing so, he used the film as a context to explain his views on law and order:[10]

Over the last weekend I saw a movie–I don't see too many movies but I try to see them on weekends when I am at the Western White House or in Florida–and the movie that I selected, or, as a matter of fact, my daughter Tricia selected it, was "Chisum" with John Wayne. It was a western. And as I looked at that movie, I said, "Well, it was a very good western, John Wayne is a very fine actor and it was: a fine supporting cast. But it was just basically another western, far better than average movies, better than average westerns."

I wondered why it is that the western survives year after year after year. A good western will outdraw some of the other subjects. Perhaps one of the reasons, in addition to the excitement, the gun play, and the rest, which perhaps is part of it but they can get that in other kinds of movies but one of the reasons is, perhaps, and this may be a square observation–is that the good guys come out ahead in the westerns; the bad guys lose.

In the end, as this movie particularly pointed out, even in the old West, the time before New Mexico was a State, there was a time when there was no law. But the law eventually came, and the law was important from the standpoint of not only prosecuting the guilty, but also seeing that those who were guilty had a proper trial.

Andrew McLaglen called the film one of his favorites. "I wanted Billy the Kid to just be Billy the Kid, a human being, not a bad little boy. Fenady was sort of a scholar about the Lincoln County Cattle War, which was a conflict over water and cattle—trading cattle—and John Chisum actually became a very powerful landowner. It was an American story."[11]

Home media

Warner Home Video released Chisum on Blu-ray on June 7, 2016.

See also


  1. ^ Warga, Wayne. (May 10, 1970). "Galley a Philosopher-Realist: Warners' Philosopher-Realist Warners' Philosopher and Realist". Los Angeles Times. p. c1.
  2. ^ ""Big Rental Films of 1970". Variety. January 6, 1971. p. 11.
  3. ^ a b "Chisum, Box Office Information". The Numbers. Retrieved May 26, 2012.
  4. ^ a b "John Wayne's 'Chisum' Goes From Fox to W7". Variety. August 20, 1969. p. 6.
  5. ^ a b c Chisum at the American Film Institute Catalog
  6. ^
  7. ^ "John Wayne Finds Home in Durango". Los Angeles Times. Oct 29, 1969. p. g13.
  8. ^ "DUKE". Los Angeles Times. 25 Jan 1970. p. n6.
  9. ^ "WB Sets Dallas As 'Chisum' Preem Site". Variety. June 17, 1970. p. 5.
  10. ^ Richard M. Nixon (3 August 1970). "Remarks to Newsmen in Denver, Colorado". University of California, Santa Barbara: The American Presidency Project. Retrieved 28 December 2009.
  11. ^

External links

This page was last edited on 26 February 2021, at 17:57
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