Judge Clark Douglas prefers literal mudslinging.
McLintock! is McNificent!
"Half the people in the world are women. Why does it have to be you that stirs me?"
Facts of the Case
George Washington McLintock (John Wayne, Red River) is a wealthy cattle baron who lives in a western territory which shares his last name. That's only appropriate, as McLintock owns a sizable chunk of the land. Even so, he's a benevolent fellow who gets along with just about everyone. Well, everyone except his estranged wife Katherine (Maureen O'Hara, The Quiet Man), who has just returned home after a long absence in order to demand custody of their adult daughter Becky (Stefanie Powers, Hart to Hart). The McLintocks get into fights nearly every time they see each other, with George demanding to know why Katherine left him two years and Katherine insisting that George knows all too well why she left. As the domestic spat plays out in the foreground, a larger drama is brewing in the background: a handful of local government officials are intent on reclaiming the territory from McLintock and forcing the Comanche Indians who live there to move. Can McLintock save the territory and his marriage?
William Shakespeare's "The Taming of the Shrew" is a work which has come under serious scrutiny in recent years, with some scholars denouncing it as a sexist work which presents a vile portrait of women. Others have offered a valiant defense of the play, insisting that Shakespeare was not endorsing sexism but merely depicting it, and offering a well-considered portrait of a fractured, messy marriage in the process. Whatever the conclusion, the play itself is certainly plenty of fun to listen to, as the two central characters trade elegant, cutting barbs along the way to the finish line (casting Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor in the 1967 film version was a stroke of genius). The primary problem with McLintock!, a comedic western-themed spin on the tale starring John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara, is that the chief pleasure of the play has been removed. Shakespeare's dialogue has largely been replaced with generic clamoring and slapstick comedy, which is entertaining enough at times but becomes a little exhausting over the course of two hours.
The film is clearly attempting some reasonably noble things. It does want to provide an understanding of how these two people managed to grow to hate each other so much, and to explore the complications of relationships between men and women. The peripheral drama involving the Comanche Indians is even more compelling, as the film becomes one of many '60s westerns to suggest that maybe Native Americans were given a pretty raw deal (on the big screen and off). The quieter moments in the film are fairly interesting, which is why it's kind of a shame that they're pretty much trampled by the barrage of big, noisy comic set pieces (the whole "territorial takeover" builds and builds and then just gets dropped).
The movie's sense of wild, reckless abandon is admirable, I suppose, but it's more impressive than funny. The film's most famous sequence (a vast, sprawling mud fight involving nearly the entire cast) is impressive in scope, but it's really not all that amusing after a certain point. More cringe-inducing are the two big scenes involving male characters grabbing female characters and enthusiastically spanking them with a small shovel in order to teach them a lesson. Somehow, these moments translate into the girls quickly falling head-over-heels for their abusers, which I suppose makes McLintock! a G-rated precursor to 50 Shades of Gray.
Wayne is in "comedy mode" here, meaning that he delivers most of his lines with a sly grin on his face and swaggers around looking like the cat that ate the canary. He's an appealing presence (as he usually is), but he's hardly Buster Keaton when it comes to doing physical comedy. Still, he did these goofier flicks infrequently enough to make them feel like a modestly appealing change-of-pace from his more serious-minded fare. Even so, I'd say McLintock! lands a couple of notches below North to Alaska and Hatari! (and it certainly doesn't compare to The Quiet Man, the previous team-up between Wayne and O'Hara).
McLintock! (Blu-ray) has received a terrific 1080p/2.35:1 transfer which fully captures the film's impressive set design and dusty setting. Detail is superb throughout; you can see every little whisker and mud fleck on each character's face. A natural level of grain is present throughout, adding some considerable warmth to the proceedings. The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround track isn't quite as flawless, as portions of the track sound a little weathered (the energetic Frank De Vol score isn't as robust as I wish it were), but dialogue is clean and clear throughout. Supplements are generous: an audio commentary featuring Leonard Maltin, Maureen O'Hara, Frank Thompson, Stefanie Pate, Andrew McLaglen and Michael Wayne, five featurettes ("The Batjac Story Part II: The Legacy of Michael Wayne," "Maureen O'Hara and Stefanie Powers Remember McLintock!," "A Good Ol' Fashion Fight," "Two-minute Fight School" and "The Corset: Don't Leave Home Without One!") which run about forty minutes combined, an intro to the film from Maltin, a trailer and a photo gallery. It's a pity that the supplements are in mediocre-looking standard-def, but otherwise it's a fine package.
McLintock! is hardly a classic, but it's at least a moderately interesting twist on Shakespeare which benefits from Wayne's playful enthusiasm. It's also a big, loud, sloppy mess of a movie. That's not necessarily a terrible thing, but you have to be in the right mood for it.
Glances nervously at John Wayne's fists. Er, not guilty.
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