Director: John Sturges
John Wayne, Eddie Albert, Diana Muldaur

As I pointed out more than once on this web site, the idea of being a big star in Hollywood can sure seem like the ideal occupation to have, at least at first. The sweet things that come with the job include getting paid major bucks, the opportunity to pretend that you are different kinds of people with every new acting assignment, and being considered as some sort of demi-god by the public. Personally, I think the best thing you can get out of being a major star is to be cast in roles that in part involve your character getting into steamy romantic sequences; you have the opportunity to fool around while telling your real life significant other later on, "But honey, I was just acting!" But there are problems with being a big Hollywood star that you don't find in other jobs, one of them being the risk of being typecast. It can happen with television actors. One such television actor who had problems shaking his typecasting was Adam West. Though he had a pretty active career up to the Batman television series, as soon as the show ended, he spent years and years trying to convince multiple casting agents that he could play different roles other than Batman. Eventually things improved for him, but at times it got so bad that for some periods he had to make a living doing personal appearances. Another unfortunate television actor who had problems with typecasting was George Reeves. The show The Adventures Of Superman made him a big star, but he found it extremely difficult afterwards to get people to see him in other roles. When he landed a meaty role in the movie From Here To Eternity, his role was severely cut down in the editing room after a disastrous test screening where the audience burst out laughing at the first sight of him in the movie.

Typecasting can also happen with movie actors as well. As you probably know, Sean Connery had a lot of problems after leaving the James Bond series to get audiences to see him in different type of roles. He eventually managed to succeed at this, in part from losing his hairpiece and growing a bead, but it took a lot of work. But there are some big movie stars that don't quite manage to shake typecasting. One such actor was John Wayne. Wayne did star in a number of different movies in his career, from romantic comedies to war movies, but the genre he was most associated with was the western. This did not concern Wayne for several decades, because for that length of time his westerns were very popular with audiences. But by the beginning of the 1970s, things had changed; westerns, at least the kind that Wayne was associated with, were losing interest with audiences. But it wasn't like Wayne wasn't being offered different roles. One offer was to play the lead in Dirty Harry. However, Wayne rejected the role for three reasons. The first and most obvious reason was that he was busy with other projects. The second reason was that he found out that Frank Sinatra was originally signed on to the role but had to bow out due to an injury; the Duke had his pride, and would not work on a movie where he was not the first choice. The third reason was that he read the script the wrong way; he saw the character of Harry Callahan as a rogue cop, a lawbreaker of sorts - and this was unamerican and unpatriotic to the Duke. So the role went to Clint Eastwood, an actor that Wayne once declared to be his "successor". And when Wayne went to see his successor in the finished product, he saw that he had made a big mistake in rejecting the role. He saw that Harry Callahan bent the law only when it was for the greater good, like rescuing people in peril - just like with many of the cowboy roles Wayne played in his past.

Wayne no doubt also saw the enormous box office take of Dirty Harry as well. So it should come as no surprise that Wayne subsequently reasoned that if his successor could do a tough cop movie, so could he. So he looked for tough cop projects, and he ultimately chose two tough McQcop projects that were filmed almost back to back. The second of them was the 1975 movie Brannigan, where he played a tough American cop doing his thing in jolly old England. The first - made by the same studio that made Dirty Harry - was the 1974 tough cop movie McQ. But Wayne's hopes for the two movies were not realized. Although McQ's worldwide gross was some distance from being considered an outright flop, the movie didn't gross enough at the time to make a profit (though it managed to break even six years later.) Brannigan did even worse business. Licking his wounds, Wayne went back to making westerns despite the declining audience there was (at the time) for them, and memories of his tough cop movies greatly faded with the public. It's likely you don't know of these two movies, so I thought it appropriate to review one of them - McQ - to show Wayne in an atypical role. The "McQ" of the title refers to, of course, John Wayne's character in the movie, a tough cop named Lon McQ who resides in Seattle. At the beginning of the movie, a mysterious figure in the city shoots and kills two cops in the city. This alone might not have attracted McQ to volunteer to uncover the murderer, but when McQ finds out that his policeman partner Boyle (William Bryant, Hell Squad) - who was the one behind the two cop killings - has also been shot and is in the hospital, McQ immediately starts an investigation on the three shootings. McQ soon comes up with a theory that local businessman Santiago (Al Lettieri, The Deadly Trackers) - who is suspected to be involved in the drug trade - is somehow involved. McQ's captain (Albert, Whiffs) quickly tells him to back off, given that McQ hotheaded behavior in the past has gotten the department into trouble. Of course, McQ thinks otherwise, and continues his pursuit, even though he slowly uncovers a great conspiracy involving both organized crime and crooked cops.

As I type this review, I am not only sensing the spirit of John Wayne hovering over me, I am receiving two requests from him. The first request is to tell my readers what he personally thought of the finished movie. The second request is to start my analysis of McQ by first talking about how Wayne comes across in the movie. I don't dare mess with the Duke, so I will start my review by looking at Wayne... though I suspect that some of what I have to say about him will result in me being haunted by his angry spirit for years to come. Wayne was sixty-seven years old when he made this movie, and his advanced age shows in the movie in several aspects. He sports an obvious toupée, or rather toupées, since his hair style changes several times during the running time. While Wayne has obviously lost hair, he has at the same time gained something, specifically weight. He tries to hide his gut by wearing concealing clothing (like blazers), but that's only successful some of the time. This weight gain, along with his advancing age, may also explain why Wayne seems a lot less limber than he did in his past films. He doesn't run around at any moment; when his character sees someone trying to break into his car, he doesn't even try to pursue the thief after scaring him off. Elsewhere in the movie, he is content to just walk around a little or sit down in a car or some other kind of seat. Looking into Wayne's eyes as well as limited body movements in the more strenuous, I really got the feeling that he was physically tired and simply didn't have the energy to do strenuous work. Though in one aspect I was glad that was true; in the middle of the movie, his character gets it on with a lady friend, though (thank goodness) the actual loving happens completely offscreen.

Things are somewhat better for Wayne when he doesn't have to get overly physically active. In these quieter moments, he often does manage to convince the audience that Lon McQ is a cop who is believably determined and resourceful. You can buy the fact he's a guy who doesn't curse (the strongest word he utters is "butt"), and you can often tell what he's feeling or thinking even when he is silent - both things a credit to Wayne's acting and charisma. McQ generally comes across as a likable sort of fellow, though occasionally Wayne's acting and charisma can't overcome the fact that sometimes his character does some unlikable things. For example, shortly after McQ's partner dies, he immediately tracks down the Santiago character and starts slapping him around with no real proof he was responsible. McQ comes off in this scene as a real bully, and his subsequent determination to nail Santiago soured me even more. It certainly didn't help that for some strange reason, Santiago only makes a few appearances in the entire film. Actor Al Lettieri does give an effective slimey performance, but with his character offscreen for huge chunks of time, not even his great efforts can make Santiago an effective villain. The rest of the supporting cast also tries hard, though more often than not they are defeated by the writing of their characters. The supporting cast members who comes off best are Diana Muldar (as the wife of McQ's partner) and Colleen Dewhurst (as an informant); both actresses put an effective touch of resignation and weariness in their characters, making it clear they've seen it all and expect no surprises. The other female characters in McQ aren't so lucky. McQ has an ex-wife (played by Julie Adams) and a daughter, but the two characters only have one scene that really isn't necessary or shows any insight into McQ or anyone else. The only other female characters in the movie with any dialogue are a few hookers.

As for the male supporting actors, none of them managed to particularly capture my attention. As McQ's captain, Eddie Albert thankfully doesn't go the stereotypical way of blowing his top over McQ's bending of the law, but his character seems so directionless and not exuding a feeling of command that I almost wished he'd fume. Actor Clu Gulager (Hunter's Blood) also seems helpless, since he plays a fellow policeman who quickly seems to have no real purpose in showing up on a regular basis during the course of the movie. Yes, I quickly guessed the eventual point of this character, and no doubt you did as well. But the weak and predictable characters are not the only script flaws to be found in McQ. The main problem with the screenplay is how dull the story is. The story is not only too long (the movie runs almost two hours long), it moves at a glacial pace. Even worse is the fact that despite the story being about a tough cop who is willing to bend the law to get justice, there are shockingly only a few moments that could be considered action sequences. And what makes that even worse is their direction. You would never think that this movie was directed by the same man who helmed The Great Escape and The Magnificent Seven; the action more often than not is directed in a matter of fact manner, with little to no energy or enthusiasm. Director Sturges seems to have been more interested in choosing Seattle locations that closely resemble those found in San Francisco - Dirty Harry's territory. As you can see, McQ has little to offer action fans whether they are fans of John Wayne or not. While I'm back on the subject of John Wayne, I will do what I promised to do a couple of paragraphs ago - give the spirit of John Wayne the opportunity to say what he thought of the movie. Well, Wayne is telling me he hated the final product, something I confirmed when doing research on the movie. And when Wayne declares that one of his movies sucks, well pilgrim, you better believe it.

(Posted August 18, 2019)

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See also: Deadly Force, French Connection II, One Man Jury