Monday, May 9, 2022

#2,751. McQ (1974) - John Wayne in the 1970s


I admit I was a little nervous going into 1974’s McQ, a crime / action film starring John Wayne. Wayne was in his mid-60s when he made this movie, and while he had settled into the role of the aging cowboy quite nicely through the late ‘60s and early ‘70s (True Grit, Chisum, The Train Robbers), playing an active-duty police detective who tracks down killers and dope pushers was something else entirely.

Well, I’m happy to report that my fears were unfounded; not only does Wayne do a fine job as the title character, but director John Sturges was also up to the task, telling a damn good story while at the same time delivering a handful of genuine thrills.

When his partner Stan Boyle (William Bryant) is gunned down late one night, Detective Lon McQ (Wayne) makes it his mission to find those responsible. Unfortunately, his superior, Captain Kosterman (Eddie Albert), refuses to let him investigate Boyle’s murder, at which point McQ resigns from the force and joins with Private Eye Pinky Farrell (David Huddleston) so that he can carry out his own investigation.

McQ is convinced that local businessman and suspected drug dealer Manny Santiago (Al Lettieri) is behind Stan’s killing, and supported by Boyle’s widow Lois (Diana Muldaur), McQ gets down to business, coercing information out of his usual contacts while at the same time keeping a close eye on Santiago and his associates.

But there’s more to this case than meets the eye, and as McQ will soon discover, a few crooked cops may be mixed up in it as well!

Even in his ‘60s, Wayne had a commanding screen presence, and it served him well throughout McQ; I fully believed he was not only an active-duty police detective, but also the best man on the whole damn force, and if anyone could get to the bottom of Boyle’s murder it was Wayne’s McQ. Even those scenes in which he mixes it up with the bad guys are effective (upon learning that Boyle was dead, McQ corners Santiago in a restaurant men’s room and pummels him).

Yet as good as Wayne is in the lead role, the real star of McQ is director John Sturges. No stranger to action or excitement (he previously helmed such classics as Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, The Magnificent Seven, and The Great Escape), Sturges keeps the story moving along at a brisk pace and even delivers not one but two nerve-racking car chases (the first, in which McQ tracks a laundry van he believes is carrying $2 million in stolen drugs, is damn intense, and while I wouldn’t quite put it on par with the chases in Bullitt or The French Connection, it’s not far off either).

Also impressive is the film’s script (written by Lawrence Roman, it features a few clever twists and turns along the way) as well as the supporting cast; along with those already mentioned above, Colleen Dewhurst plays Myra, a drug addict who cozies up to our hero, and Julie Adams appears briefly as McQ’s ex-wife.

Having spent the majority of his film career playing cowboys and soldiers, John Wayne settled into the role of a police detective nicely, and his star power, coupled with Sturges’ penchant for staging quality action scenes, did its part to make McQ a damn fine motion picture.
Rating: 8 out of 10

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