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It's hard to believe that the song "Big Bad John" dates back only to 1961, when it stayed at the top of the charts for five weeks. Jimmy Dean's ballad of the big, quiet man with a murderous past who sacrifices himself to save his fellow miners has the mythic quality of a folktale.
In the movie version Dean himself has a starring role, not as Big John but as a retired sheriff, Cletus Morgan, in the Louisiana swamp country. He is visited by his erstwhile deputy Jake Calhoun (played by Jack Elam) and an old nemesis Charlie Mitchelle (played by Ned Beatty), the latter of whom married Dean's ex-wife (now deceased) and raised the sheriff's daughter as his own, Marie Mitchelle (played by Romy Windsor). Jake and Charlie are the bearers of disturbing news: that "big ol' boy" John Tyler (former Detroit Lion Doug English) has killed a local bully named Mahoney in self-defense and fled with Marie. The local police aren't too concerned, but Cletus sets out after John, armed with a monster shotgun and accompanied by his deputy Jake. Unknown to the Cletus and Jake, Charlie contacts an ex-con named Lester (played by Bo Hopkins), the vengeful brother of the dead man. Charlie is paying him to follow Cletus and Jake and to kill John, the ex-lawmen, and Marie. With his stepdaughter out of the way, Charlie will be able to sell the family estate to interested oil companies. The story turns to John, who, as it happens, is not a bad guy at all. In fact, he's brought Marie with him to save her from Charlie's beatings. John has kinfolk in Colorado, so he and his lady love travel there and are married. A nearby non-union mining operation is in need of workers, and John signs on. The action cuts back to Cletus and Jake, just arrived in Colorado, hot on the trail. Another of the dead man's brothers shows up and warns Cletus of Charlie's treachery. Nevertheless, Cletus and Jake walk into Lester's ambush, and a shootout ensues...The rest of the story will be saved for your viewing pleasure.
Despite Jimmy Dean's prominence here, he does not perform "Big Bad John" on the country & western soundtrack; that honor falls to the Charlie Daniels Band, with an assist from the Oak Ridge Boys. Other songs include "Little Bits and Pieces" (Shelby Lynne), "Poncho and Lefty" (Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard), "Stay Out of My Arms" (Jim Lauderdale), "Big City" (Haggard), "Redneck Riviera" (Danny Steagall), "Houston" (Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers Band), "Every Road You Take Will Bring You Home" (Steagall), "Uncle Pen" (Ricky Skaggs), "Life Turned Her That Way" (Ricky van Shelton).
Jimmy Dean ... Cletus Morgan
Ned Beatty ... Charlie Mitchelle
Doug English ... Big Bad John Tyler
Jack Elam ... Jake Calhoun
Romy Windsor ... Marie Mitchelle
Jeff Osterhage ... Alvin Mahoney
Ned Vaughn ... Billy Mahoney
Bo Hopkins ... Lester
Buck Taylor ... Bob Simmons