Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The McCullouchs (1975)



          Continuing his brief but successful run as an auteur specializing in colorful rural sagas, former Beverly Hillbillies costar Max Baer Jr. wrote, produced, and directed this noisy drama, which has heavy elements of cornpone humor, and he plays a supporting role. Depicting the exploits of a fictional Texas family whose patriarch is a stubborn ox prone to solving problems with his fists, the picture takes place in the late ’40s and early ’50s, cramming a miniseries’ worth of story into 93 fast-moving minutes. Because Baer covers so much narrative ground, the movie is unrelentingly superficial, and virtually everything that appears onscreen is clichéd. Yet the trite nature of the piece actually contributes to the entertainment value of The McCullouchs, because there’s a certain brainless satisfaction in watching Baer explore predictable terrain with such verve. Thanks to a barrage of cartoonish performances, vibrant colors, and zippy editing, The McCullouchs explodes with Baer’s enthusiasm for being a first-time director, even though he has absolutely nothing original to say. Furthermore, Baer’s unapologetic use of creaky old stereotypes—the drunken Irish priest, the hotheaded ethnic bartender, the hit-first/ask-questions-later stud—gives The McCullouchs a measure of train-wreck novelty.
          Durable character actor Forrest Tucker stars as J.J. McCullouch, owner of a trucking company and undisputed leader of his family. Despite his wealth, J.J. is a regular fella, brawlin’ with his buddies, swillin’ booze with the old padre, and wearin’ plaid work shirts except for special occasions. J.J.’s wife, Hannah (Julie Adams), supports him publicly even though she challenges his bull-in-a-china-shop style when they’re alone. Domestic strife abounds. Son R.J. (Don Grady) joins the Air Force just as the Korean War erupts. Son Steven (Dennis Redfield) develops a drinking problem after J.J. chastises Steven for being a wimp. And daughter Ali (Janice Heiden) wants to marry a trucker (played by Baer), even though J.J. doesn’t approve of the match. As a filmmaker, Baer employs only two modes in The McCullouchs—broad comedy and stilted melodrama. The comedy bits are often inappropriate, with lots of scenes making light of alcoholism, and the dramatic bits are ridiculously heavy-handed. Yet The McCullouchs is never boring—something loud happens in every scene, and Baer rushes from one event to the next like he’s being chased. Accordingly, by the time the picture concludes with an epic public-brawl sequence that apes the finale of John Ford’s classic The Quiet Man (1952), the wise viewer has realized it’s best to just go with the moronic flow of The McCullouchs, rather than hoping the movie will evolve into something better.

The McCullouchs: FUNKY

2 comments:

1001: A Film Odyssey is produced, directed and written by Chris, a librarian. said...

At least Macon County Line and Ode to Billy Joe were hits. Two out of three ain't bad.

Hal Horn said...

Baer wore too many hats this time around; McCullochs might have benefited from Richard Compton directing or Baer having a co-writer.
In his next effort, ODE TO BILLY JOE, he stayed behind the camera. Great cast in this one. Tucker was the actor Baer originally approached to play Deputy Reed Morgan in MACON COUNTY LINE but passed, so Baer played the role himself. This was Tucker's next to last theatrical lead; his last, THUNDER RUN, came out just a few months before his death in 1986.