August 22, 2010

Movie Monday: McLintock

Finally we come to favorite John Wayne western:

In case you don't know, the basic story is this:

G.W McLintock (Wayne) lives in (presumably) Oklahoma, as he refers to a group of incoming homesteaders as "Sooners," Ft. Sill comes up in some of the conversations and talks frequently about the political ramifications of the area becoming a state. He owns over half the town and its resources - cattle, water rights, forests and logging mills and local mines. You name it, it's got the McLintock brand on it.

The main story line is a little difficult to peg down - First, he's got his usual fierce co-star, Maureen O'Hara, playing his wife Kathrine, coming home from a whirlwind tour of Europe to ask for a divorce. Second - he's got a marriagable daughter who's not too settled in her own identity or ideals, and as a result is in danger of getting hooked to the wrong man. Third - he is heavily involved in local the politics of seeing the area he lives in become a state and also in dealing with relations between the government and the local Indians (back when they still called them Indians).
But believe it or not, this is a comedy. A straight-up comedy, with some great monologues by Wayne. He was headed toward the tail-end of middle-age when he made this movie, and HE made it. The character of McLintock is all his own creation, and is the stereotype of a cowboy, at least until modern times.

There are several instances in the opening minutes that tell us about this character, McLintock. In the opening scenes of the movie, he sees the Sooners arrive in town - families and wagons and farming equipment to the hilt. They are being coordinated by the local government representative. So he stands up, gets their attention, and asks (to start the conversation) if they mean to settle here in the area. One man speaks up and says, "Yeah, the government gave us 160 acres." McLintock says in his gruff voice, "The government doesn't give anything away!" He then proceeds to tell them that they are being sent - as groups before them have - to dry prairie land, good for grazing cattle but not for farming because it's so far above sea level. He tells them other groups have tried and have failed, and that for the sake of their families, they should explore other options.

The government representative then shows up and basically says, "Oh, he's the rich landowner in town, he looks down on all you poor, hard-working people, he's just trying to keep you from making a way for yourself so he can protect his own resources and get even richer. Don't listen to him, the government will take care of you." (Sounds kind of familiar.)

We learn quickly that that is not the case. The next few minutes show several examples of McLintock's generosity - he gives cash (and liquor) to the hobos in town, and gives a job to one of the young settlers who lost his homestead when his dad died. It's obvious to the viewer that McLintock isn't being greedy or selfish, but the homesteaders don't see that; they only see the fabricated class-warfare drummed up by the politician.

Then there's the situation with the daughter.

And, of course, there's plenty of romance in the movie, as well. Wayne was getting to the age where he was leaving romantic roles behind him, but no matter how old they are, you can't have John Wayne and Marueen O'Hara on screen without there being fireworks! She plays a catty woman with a chip on her shoulder about something - but we don't find out what until the very end. It turns out to all have been a misunderstanding, but she was willing to leave him over it and go on a tour of Europe and the East Coast while their daughter was in finishing school. Now the daughter is coming home, and she has come to try and get a divorce and take the daughter abroad with her. They engage in one verbal sparring match after another, and yet find themselves on the same side of all the "issues" in the movie, including the famous mud fight.

sorry that's so blurry, but it's the best one I could find

Of course, it was hard to find McLintock on TV for a lot of years, before cable came along, because of the controversial "wife beating scenes." No, it's not what you think. After Katherine refuses to admit being wrong - for jumping to conclusions and walking out on her husband for 2 years - she gets some long-overdue comeuppance. First, there is a marvelous "fight" scene they have (which is really just a battle of bad humors) that takes place from one end of town to another, starting in her hotel room and ending at the town picnic. And when she still stubbornly refuses to make peace, he takes her over his knee and spanks her in a trademark slapstick scene.

All of this is done with a total tongue-in-cheek attitude, not at all mean-spirited, and the audience knows it. But needless to say, it grated against modern sensibilities when networks would air it. Supposedly it advocated cruelty to women. A single viewing would show that was not at all the case.

It's obvious that McLintock is a man's man, but while he has a tough exterior, he also loves deeply - evident by the fact that, while he may lightly flirt, he has been faithful to his wife the entire time she was gone, and is determined to keep his marriage from permanently breaking up.

This is one movie you don't want to skip. Netflix has it streaming right now, although it's not a very high-quality copy. And I've spent the last hour getting a kick out of reading John Wayne's bio and many of his choice quotes over on IMDB. You should hop over there and read some of it. Some of them will make you laugh, some will make you blush, most of them will make you think. All good reading.

Don't ever for a minute make the mistake of looking down your nose at westerns. They're art--the good ones, I mean. They deal in life and sudden death and primitive struggle, and with the basic emotions--love, hate, and anger--thrown in. We'll have westerns films as long as the cameras keep turning. The fascination that the Old West has will never die. ~ John Wayne

4 comments:

  1. I know I already said this on FB, but I *seriously* love this movie! We watched it over and over again growing up. =) It's one of my dad's favorites too. When he spanks Katy, my dad BELLY LAUGHS. It's great. =) I may or may not be visiting Amazon to purchase this one... Thanks for the reminder! ;-)

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  2. This is seriously one of my all-time favorite movies. I love it. I never get sick of it. I just adore him :)

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  3. This is one of the 2 westerns that I love!! Did you know that Marueen Ohara had just had major surgery right before filming the scene where she keeps falling down the hill? I read it in a magazine.

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  4. I love this movie. Until I married my husband I had never seen a John Wayne movie, now I'm slowly increasing how many I've seen, seeing how big of a fan his dad is. His Dad and I are very close, I actually watched this one with him. Watching John Wayne films with him gives me all kinds of cool unknown info about each film. I Love It!

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