Judge Ryan Keefer's father watched a lot of films from two different actors. He liked John Wayne better. Besides, he doesn't see a lot of Tom Berenger DVD releases right now.
Our review of John Wayne: Bigger Than Life, published March 7th, 2011, is also available.
"I know I'm gonna use good judgment. I haven't lost my temper in 40 years, but pilgrim, you caused a lot of trouble this morning, might have got somebody killed, and somebody oughtta belt you in the mouth. But I won't, I won't. The hell I won't!"
John Wayne in a slapstick western film? It's true, as Wayne plays the title role of George Washington (G.W. for short) McLintock. He's an older cowboy who has retired with lot of money and a lot of land—so much so that the town is named after him. This film appears to be one that Wayne took a more philosophical approach with his rough Western character, does it work?
Facts of the Case
The relationship between G.W. and his wife Kate, Katie, or Katherine (her preference) on the surface appears to be one that's not entirely unfamiliar. G.W. remains the same ornery, unrefined character he was when Kate lived with him, and he's hurt by her leaving, but they agree to set aside their differences when their daughter Rebecca (Stefanie Powers, Hart to Hart) returns from a trip to the east coast. Rebecca comes home and finds the old family she knew before, including Drago (Chill Wills, The Alamo, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid) and Birnbaum (Jack Kruschen, The Apartment, The War of the Worlds). She also finds some new people at G.W.'s ranch, namely Louise Warren (Yvonne De Carlo, The Munsters) and her son Devlin, played by Wayne's son Patrick.
While G.W. deals with his wife and daughter, other things get complicated when his Comanche friend Chief Puma (Michael Pate, Hondo) is tried and expedited as a prisoner from the result of the treatment by the Governor (Robert Lowery, Batman and Robin, The Dalton Gang). The Governor has a fondness for Kate, and another man in town named Matt Douglas (Gordon Jones, The Shaggy Dog, The Green Hornet) has a fondness for G.W.'s money. So what's a tired cowboy to do about it?
It's hard to believe that it was only a decade after Wayne's western film Hondo, but it's easy to tell that Wayne's aged almost double that. But the reflective and even self-deprecatory pokes Wayne has made up for any lack of vitality he may have. And along with the actors mentioned earlier, there are some other recognizable names in the film too. Douglas' son is played by a young Jerry Van Dyke (Coach), Ben Sage is played by Bruce Cabot (Hatari!, King Kong), and the Indian agent Agard is played by Strother Martin (The Wild Bunch, Cool Hand Luke). Everyone involved thoroughly enjoyed the production, and that feeling is visible when watching the film.
The other noticeable thing, in between this film and Hondo, is that filmmaking was transitioning to a point where the white man was recognizing the respect and admiration they had for the Indians, and even a bit of shame in one scene in this film. The common thread between the two is frequent Wayne screenwriter James Edward Grant who provided yet even more outstanding dialogue. Director Andrew McLagen, who went on to work for Wayne in Cahill and Cahill U.S. Marshall, does a nice job of capturing the always impressive Western landscape, but also accomplishes capturing the comic looks of Wayne and O'Hara.
Leonard Maltin is back to host another Batjac/John Wayne DVD, for whatever reason. Even though the supplemental material appears a little bit on the thin side, there's a variety of information on them. Maltin, historian Frank Thompson, O'Hara, Powers, and Pate, along with McLagen and Wayne's son Michael (in archival footage) join forces for a crowded commentary. The commentary seems to be quite lacking. It's similar to Hondo, in the sense that Maltin and Thompson provide some historical context for the film, while Wayne, McLagen, and the cast provide some production anecdotes. But the cast's recollections aren't too interesting, and don't provide any tangible enjoyment. While I expected more, with all things considered, the commentary wasn't horrible in its intent, just its execution. Next up is the requisite making of piece that is broken down into three segments. The first is on Batjac and Michael Wayne, the Duke's son who died from heart failure in 2003. It covers the relationship that Michael and his father had, and what Michael went on to do after his father's death in 1979, with the opening of the John Wayne Cancer Institute. Friends such as Frankie Avalon, and Michael's family (including his wife Gretchen) recall Michael fondly and warmly, and it's a poignant tribute. The next 15 minutes are spent with Powers and O'Hara, as they recall the production and the Duke. O'Hara has got some pretty funny stories, and with these recent interviews, both she and Powers really look great for their ages. Next are a look at the fight scenes in the movie, and some brief peeks at the stunts, along with more stories from O'Hara, and her respect for what the stuntmen do. To go along with that, there's a separate two-minute look at how to throw, pull and take punches in a choreographed fight sequence which is pretty cool. One of the stranger features on a John Wayne DVD is a look at the corset that O'Hara consistently wore through the film. It's part historical look, and part JC Penny's ad, and a little bit weird. And like other previous Paramount/Wayne releases, there's a stills gallery, some previews, and the theatrical trailer.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Honestly, there isn't too much that anyone can find fault with here. The film is good, the extras are OK, looks good, sounds good, take it for what it's worth and enjoy the ride.
An enjoyable film with witty dialogue and some of the usual Wayne strut the American viewing public has grown to expect. Any Wayne fans will enjoy having this film on their shelves.
The film is enthusiastically acquitted, and the defendants are free to go.
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Scales of Justice
• Introduction by Leonard Maltin
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