Directed by Michael Curtiz and John Wayne (uncredited)
Cast: John Wayne as Jake Cutter
Stuart Whitman as Paul Regret
Ina Balin as Pilar
Nehemiah Persoff as Graile
Lee Marvin as Crow
Michael Ansara as Amelung
Patrick Wayne as Tobe
Bruce Cabot as Major Henry
Joan O'Brien as Melinda
Edgar Buchanan as Judge Bean
Guinn 'Big Boy' Williams as Ed McBain
Set in 1843, Texas Ranger Jake Cutter is on the trail of a gambler, Paul Regret, accused of murdering a judge’s son in a duel. Jake catches up to him on a riverboat where Paul has become enthralled with a strong, independent woman, Pilar. Jake is able to apprehend Paul, and is en route to Louisiana to turn Paul in when Paul escapes after whacking Jake over the head with a shovel. Jake returns to the headquarters of the Rangers to report his failure, and is given a new task, to go undercover and infiltrate a group of gun runners who are selling liquor and guns to the Comanche Indians. Jake goes undercover as Ed McBain, and makes contact with the liaison to the gunrunners, a mean drunk by the name of Tully Crow. Gambling with Tully, he runs into Paul again but he cannot take him into custody as it would blow his cover. However, Paul knows that he has something over on the undercover law man and sticks around, helping him when Tully threatens Jake, and Jake is forced to kill him. Once free from his undercover role, Jake takes Paul back into custody. Paul convinces him that he can help, and they team up to discover the gunrunner’s hide out. Once they discover the camp, they are shocked to find out that the Comanche’s leader’s daughter is none other than Pilar, the woman from the riverboat. Pilar’s father, Graile, is crippled and in a wheelchair, but he has patterned the Comanche’s as land-locked pirates. Pilar’s feelings for Paul are obvious, and she is the only thing that keeps Graile and his gang from killing the duo. Paul is able to talk Pilar into helping them escape, and get word back to the Rangers of the Comanche’s incoming attack. As a show of thanks to Paul for help on the mission, Jake allows him to leave with Pilar, forgetting the assignment to take him to Louisiana.
This was director Michael Curtiz’ last film. In fact he was very ill during filming and couldn’t finish the project. Wayne stepped up to finish directing, although his work is uncredited in the film.
Wayne’s character is repeatedly called Big Jake in the film, which happens to be the name of another John Wayne movie made 10 years later in 1971.
When Paul Wellman wrote the novel the film is based on, he envisioned Cary Grant in the role of Paul Regret, but by the time the movie was made, Grant was too old for the part.
The film was shot in Moab, Utah.
Writer Tom Mankiewicz, who would later to go to write several James Bond films, was working as a production assistant on the set, and one day made the mistake of wearing a political button in favor of John F. Kennedy. When John Wayne saw the button, he told Mankiewicz to remove it, remarking that they didn’t need any 'communists' on the set.
Harry Carey Jr. appears in the film, although his role is uncredited.
Although generally well received, the film has gotten a bad rap for being extremely loose with historical details. Among the gaffs are:
The characters in the film repeatedly use Winchester lever action rifles and Colt peacekeepers, 23 years before they were available.
The gunrunner Wayne goes undercover to apprehend is supposed to have stolen rifles from the Army base at Fort Sill, which was not constructed until after the Civil War, over 25 years later.
The territory Jake escorts Paul through on the way from Galveston, Texas, to Louisiana is depicted as desert, which is vastly different from the actual territory they would have been crossing. The Comancheros - Trailer