Wednesday, April 1, 2015

McQ (1974)

          Although not generally one to chase cinematic trends, the iconic John Wayne clearly made McQ with a eye toward emulating the winning formula that Clint Eastwood perfected with his Dirty Harry movies. It was an odd choice, not only because Wayne was doing just fine in his regular milieu of cowboy cinema, but also because his advanced age (to say nothing of his expanding waistline) didn't exactly identify the Duke as an ideal candidate for playing street-smart detectives. In any event, the actor/producer—who made McQ under his Batjac Productions banner—essentially contrived a western disguised as a policier. Wayne plays a swaggering tough guy who quits the force in order to avenge a friend's murder, and then breaks every law imaginable while pursuing his personal brand of justice. Beyond the modern costuming and locations, the biggest difference between McQ and the average Wayne oater is the gun in the star's hand—instead of a Colt six-shooter, Wayne packs an Ingram MAC-10 submachine gun.
          Capably directed by action-movie veteran John Sturges, McQ takes place in Seattle. Following a zippy prologue during which a plainclothes detective assassinates two uniformed cops before receiving the business end of a bullet, wiewers are introduced to the late detective's partner, McQ (Wayne). An iconoclast who lives on a houseboat and drives a fast sports car, McQ argues with his commanding officer, Lieutenant Kosterman (Eddie Albert), because McQ demands the right to investigate his partner's death. When his request is denied, McQ surrenders his badge and persuades a private detective (David Huddleston) to let McQ operate under the PI's license. One peculiar aspect of the movie is that McQ makes a lot of noise about working within legal boundaries, and yet he also acquires replacement guns every time authorities seize one of his firearms. He also has a penchant for high-speed car chases that result in widespread property destruction, although he somehow manages to avoid badly injuring any innocent bystanders. In other words, McQ takes place in the same parallel universe as the rest of Wayne’s movies, where the normal rules of citizenship and safety don’t apply to Our Valiant Hero.
          The story's central mystery is relatively interesting, having to do with the brazen theft of hard drugs from a police impound, but the characterizations are paper-thin, since every person in the movie exists primarily to describe or demonstrate the courage, integrity, stubbornness, and/or toughness of Wayne's character. Allies appear so McQ can earn their respect, villains appear so McQ can knock them down, and women appear so McQ can fascinate them. Particularly since Wayne shuffles through the movie at an unhurried pace, the blunt functionality of supporting characters helps to create narrative monotony. That said, McQ is watchable. Extensive location photography and lengthy action scenes create visual interest at regular intervals, and the cast is loaded with familiar faces: Beyond those previously mentioned, McQ players include Colleen Dewhurst, Clu Gulager, Al Lettieri, Roger E. Mosley, Diana Muldaur, and, offering a blast from the past, Creature from the Black Lagoon beauty Julie Adams, who plays the very small role of McQ's ex-wife. Alas, the MAC-10 gets more character development than most of the people whom these actors portray.



Unknown said...

This is the kind of misfire more interesting to analyze than to sit through. Wayne was actually considered for the lead in "Dirty Harry" and may have felt gypped, leading not only to this but to 1975's "Brannigan," a kind of variation on Eastwood's "Coogan's Bluff." I remember a newspaper ad that truly played up the gun, naming it outright as an Ingram MAC-10. Perhaps someone figured that if Eastwood plus Magnum equaled hit, maybe Wayne plus Ingram ... ? But humor, a more clear cool attitude, and a bit more credibility would have helped. After this, he seemed to try to relax with liberal bastions, charming the titular character on an episode of "Maude" while blatantly promoting "Brannigan," then pairing up with Katherine Hepburn for "Rooster Cogburn." But it would not be until he at last embraced his age and impressed the hell out of a still young Ron Howard in "The Shootist" that he got it right once more. Movies like these mark more of a personal process than a destination, but by the time he got around to "The Shootist" he was able to take a worthy last bow.

Dale said...

Somehow I've developed a sort of backward liking of this movie,warts and all. Something about those forced cynical films of the early 70s...perhaps my age.

Will Errickson said...

Boy, Julia Adams really was a beauty, wasn't she.

Unknown said...

Will, the Creature from the Black Lagoon was what turned me on as a boy to science fiction -- and when I grew up, I could only appreciate all the better what he was so excited about. Hard to beat a bright white one-piece bathing suit.