Cahill's Criminal Children
Say what you like but John Wayne made some great westerns, those which helped build the genre and pave the way for other actors to establish themselves as western stars. And yes he also made some pretty poor movies and for that matter some seriously poor movie choices but for the most his movies worked, they may have seen Wayne delivering the same sort of performance in a familiar character but they entertained. That is very much the case of "Cahill U.S. Marshal" as it is not a great John Wayne western but through it's story, one which features a moral dilemma, and a comfortable performance from John Wayne it entertains.
J.D. Cahill (John Wayne - The Train Robbers) is a legendary lawman, a Marshal whose name strikes fear in those he attempts to bring to justice, but his dedication to his work also causes problems especially for his two sons who feel like they have no father due to his absence. It is because of this that his sons Danny (Gary Grimes) and Billy Joe (Clay O'Brien - The Cowboys) end up in cahoots with a couple of criminals and together rob the towns bank. But when people get killed and the boys discover that their partner Fraser (George Kennedy - Fools' Parade) is a back stabbing nasty piece of work they get nervous and must find away of sorting out their mess in the hope that their father won't suspect them of being involved.
For the most you have to say that "Cahill U.S. Marshal" is a very familiar western especially with John Wayne playing J.D. Cahill the legendary Marshal who everyone fears. And the character of Cahill is not the only familiar element as it is full of not only standard western scenes and characters but various actors who had worked with John Wayne over the years. So on one level "Cahill U.S. Marshal" feels like any other western with good guys and bad guys who end up in gun fights.
But get beyond that initial familiarity and there is a more interesting side to the movie as we have Cahill's sons aiding a couple of criminals in robbing a bank and quickly discovering that robbing a bank is not as clean cut as they expected when two people get killed. The interesting part comes from how will the law abiding Cahill deal with his sons being criminals as normally those who robbed and killed would either end up shot in a gunfight or hung. And so we wonder how all of this will pan out and whilst there is no real emotional depth to all of this it adds a different angle to make all the various western standards a little more interesting.
Talking of western standards well alongside John Wayne there are a lot of familiar faces such as George Kennedy who shows up as main bad guy Fraser and Harry Carey Jr. who once more crops up in the back ground. All of the performances, with the exception of Gary Grimes and Clay O'Brien who play Cahill's sons, are what we have seen countless times before and so in the case of John Wayne we have this legendary lawman who fears no one or anything including a knife through his shoulder. Whilst all the performances are pretty much what you expect Neville Brand who plays Indian tracker Lightfoot manages to bring a touch of humour to things even if he does end up over acting when it comes to his more dramatic scenes.
And that leads me on to the fact that "Cahill U.S. Marshal" is not in anyway a master piece and has the feel of a western which was pushed out relatively quickly. And as such there are flaws on many different levels from Cahill barely blinking when a knife ends up in his shoulder through to how he goes from appearing to be unaware of his sons involvement in the robbery one minute to being fully aware the next. But the most significant flaw is that the way everything ends up being resolved and whilst it is a nice way it also feels surprisingly wrong and out of character.
What this all boils down to is that "Cahill U.S. Marshal" is entertaining and has a nice story angle but pretty much ends up a very familiar standard western. There is a certain amount of comfort from the various traditional western scenes which get served up by director Andrew V. McLaglen but they are also flawed by various scenes which end up being ever so fake. And so whilst not a bad John Wayne movie "Cahill U.S. Marshal" is not a good one either, just very average.