I get sneaking notion that, given choice of
John Waynes to watch, most would just as soon it be a McQ, or Brannigan, or Big Jake, as any of the rest. Too many of classics are over-exposed, or served in
too deep a dish, like freighted-with-politics The Searchers, which revisionists
now call "not enjoyable." Will they realize (or admit) that their own
over-analysis has made it so? TCM ran the 70's three last week, in
succession, and in wide HD, to benefit of each, and maybe it was relief to have
Wayne in stuff
you could half-watch while steaks grill or books get read. He's heavy (or
tactfully: well-fed), rug-bedecked (did villainy ever think to snatch off his
piece?), and isolated (Duke seldom gets to "belong" in late vehicles). McQ has odor of a Starsky/Hutch or other TV chase after
"dirty" cops or dealers with their "junk," Wayne
too long at the fair (age 66) being understood at the time. Sick abed John Ford made
near-an-end note of Duke "playing policeman in some rubbish," instead
of being nearer PalmDesert to visit, the old man knowing well a reality of jobs taken just to stay active.
So what is good about McQ? I found several things to like, this a first ever view --- like others, I ducked it when new (McQ took years to
break even, says Scott Eyman's definitive Wayne
bio). Actually, the thing works as clinical exam of an icon on plod to career
close. Seems Wayne
knew McQ for "pedestrian" work it was, but who was offering better?
Modern-dress action wasn't unknown to him, as witness contempo investigation
Duke conducted as Big Jim McLainin 1952, relaxed and engaging coat-tie work to
make us wish he'd been a detective more often. McQ borrowed off Bullitt, Wayne making McQueenish
noise in a Trans-Am, and critics/public in '74 recognized McQ as his answer to
Clint Eastwood/Dirty Harry. Inhibiting was belief by Wayne/Batjac that his
was still a "family" audience, thus violence/sex kept
below "R" level. A sharper edge to the knife might have renewed his
action brand, butWayne
wasn't for assuming such risk at so late a date, and he'd not approve explicit
stuff in any case.
Seattle location is a help --- again, it was Steve McQueen
who taught H'wood to set action on (actual) streets, having insisted on S.F.
authenticity for Bullitt, which others emulated once they saw success of his.
Based on theory that a big man needs a big gun, Duke gets his cannon to dwarf
Eastwood's comparative pea-shooter, and it's fun seeing him knock out carloads
of villainy with a single shot. Good players who'd lately done better movies
are along, Al Lettieri to evoke The Godfather, Eddie Albert anticipating a
later the same year The Longest Yard. Anyone who worked with late-in-day Wayne could depend on being asked
about it during interviews to come. Julie Adams, doing but one sequence with
Duke, has been go-to for McQ lore since, her quotes on the experience found in Eyman, Ronald Davis, elsewhere. McQ unmask of Mister Big in
department corruption comes straight from C. Chan's playbook --- look for your
least likely suspect --- another of reasons Wayne came to rue the job. Mighty
tired stuff in 1974 to be sure, but quaintness and even pathos of tired-out
Duke giving it one more thrust lends McQ value not so apparent then. Who knows
but what belated appreciation for McQ may lead to repeat spin of Brannigan?