This will be a personal series this month as it will focus on some of the films from John Wayne. Why John Wayne? I hear you ask. Well, it just so happened that he was one of my dad’s favourite actors. So it seemed like a nice little tribute to him since he passed away in December after a short illness. So buckle in as the first choice in this series, maybe a left-field one with 1963 Western Comedy… McLintock!
Rancher George Washington “GW” McLintock (John Wayne) lives a comfortable life as he watches over his vast land and wealth. While estranged from his wife Katherine (Maureen O’Hara), McLintock has to handle the ever-growing list of people who want a piece of his property. While he battles from all sides, Katherine returns to town to take their recently returned college daughter Becky (Stefanie Powers), back East with her for good.
Without a doubt, this is a dinosaur of a film. From the story to the subplots and the overall themes. McLintock is a film that was made for a specific era but is still enjoyable for those who watch it. When greedy Governor Cuthbert H. Humphrey (Robert Lowery) decides to grab every piece of land around McLintock, a rivalry is duly started. By forcing the Native Americans away from their rightful land, McLintock decides to take immediate action. All the while having to handle the returning Katherine. With the hurricane of emotions that she evokes out of him to the table.
While we see GW battle everyone for his land and we see the emergence of Wayne’s true leanings on subjects such as politics and wealth. We also see his opinions on things such as education. GW has a mistrust for those who have studied academia, none more so than his daughter’s suitor Matt. He does not approve of his Harvard ways, and how they conflict with his feelings of what it is to be a man.
GW cannot accept that his daughter would feel something towards this man and instead actively engages in forging a relationship between Becky and one of his young live-in employees Devlin. Someone who GW (and perhaps Wayne) views as someone more suited to his daughter as they are a younger version of himself (the fact that Devlin is played by Wayne’s son Patrick cannot be lost here.).
At the end of the toing and froing, we get to our entertaining climax with the mud fight and the wait for it was worth it. This is not a scene that you would likely forget and one that surprises you for how slapstick it is for a John Wayne film. McLintock is a film that had a few things to say about society at the time (for better or worse on the views being highlighted). We are given an easy watch here by the filmmakers and sometimes that is enough for a comedy.
Much like the cliché’d story that we encounter, McLintock is rife with one-dimensional characters that you will double take from a large amount of John Ford flicks. Wayne purposely hired a lot of actor friends from those films to fill out his quite large cast. For the most part, this is a three-person show with Wayne, O’Hara, and Lowery dominating the film. Happily, this is a purposefully cast ensemble that knows how to make sure that their characters are remembered after the credits.
With Wayne, while he brings a more comedic nature to the role, the stereotypical cinematic character that he had curated for himself is omnipresent throughout. He is to the point and no matter who he encounters treats them the same. It is a softer role for him and he portrays it well. O’Hara is as feisty as ever in her portrayal of Katherine and truth we would expect nothing else. She lights the fire of the film and continued that unmistakable chemistry with Wayne. They are electric together with their polar opposite characters that suggest some truth to the real actors. O’Hara is equally apt at comedy and jumps in with both feet when required too.
McLintock does have some unfortunate scenes and they do tamper with the full enjoyment of it to modern audiences. Women being spanked either publicly or privately will cause an unwanted emotion to rise in such an overall harmless film. As mentioned at the start of the review, this doesn’t remove you wholly from enjoying the film as there is an awful lot of slapstick fun to be had. I often remember when my dad and I would watch it on a Sunday on TCM and would laugh away, carefree and comfortable.
Young teenage me certainly found my love of slapstick comedy from him and the fact that John Wayne was not being a stranger to the sub-genre only helped in raising the enjoyment levels for us. Back then, I never clicked onto the not-so-subtle hints that Wayne, writer James Edward Grant, and director Andrew V. McLaglen. But in retrospect, it all becomes a bit clearer.
Where McLintock also falters is in the direction of McLaglen. He just wasn’t ready for the scope of this picture. It needed a steadier, more experienced hand to guide it to better success. Despite it being a box office success at the time. There seems to be something missing from the film to take it to that next level. It has all the right ingredients to succeed. Game leads who seemingly excel in a bit of comedy. With great supporting cast ideas that work for the story. For a film as daft as McLintock, it needed to have a sillier feel to it and McLagen struggles with this aspect as the sheer force of our leads and the script cause for what works to work.
McLintock is a fairly harmless endeavour from an actor who wanted to be a little more to the table than he had in previous years. This was quite the box office success. Yet is a film that is wrongly not mentioned enough when we look back at the work of John Wayne’s films. Thanks to the license of the film not being activated on time. McLintock is openly available to those who know where to look for free. But it still has distribution for better restorations if you want better visual quality.
This is not the classic western or even a classic comedy western, McLintock is an easy watch on a Sunday afternoon and damn if my dad and I didn’t have a good time with each viewing.
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