It was at once both widely available yet essentially missing-in-action. Previously on DVD with bad transfers, some edited with replaced music tracks, distributed by cheapo public domain outfits, McLintock! (1963) has at long last been legitimately released with a terrific transfer and a feast of extras. The DVD, much like the film itself, is eager to please and, for the most part, it succeeds.
In both his films for director John Ford and the later ones produced by his own production companies, Wayne-Fellows and Batjac, John Wayne had a fondness for action-oriented slapstick, particularly free-for-all brawls. John Ford liked such scenes so much he put them in films better off without them, particularly The Searchers (1956), as did Wayne, who likewise had a tendency to work such scenes into films where they really didn't belong, such as the goofy, incongruous pub fight in the middle of Brannigan (1975). North to Alaska (1960), Wayne's first Western-comedy, had been a smash hit, despite a terrible script and the almost complete absence of a story. McLintock!, a loose, Western adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew, is much the same.
McLintock! has something or other to do with a homesteaders vs. ranchers conflict, with land and cattle baron George Washington McLintock (Wayne) the leader of the latter group. There's also some trouble with the local Indians when the disrespectful territorial government tries to bully them into following the white man's law. And then there are the two sets of quasi-romantic triangles, one between McLintock and his long-estranged, domineering and pretentious wife Katherine (Maureen O'Hara) and a beautiful widow, Louise (Yvonne De Carlo), recently hired as McLintock's cook; and the McLintocks' daughter, Becky (Stephanie Powers), and her two suitors, Louise's son Dev (Patrick Wayne) and nerdy Matt (Jerry Van Dyke).
Mostly though, McLintock! is about its rowdy comic melees and (anti-feminist) macho action. To its credit, McLintock! has it all: manly scenes of hunting (SPCA supporters won't like it, either), drinking and drunk scenes, a Fourth of July rodeo, dripping-wet women (including gorgeous Mari Blanchard), a sentimental father-daughter moment, multiple tumbles down stairs, through glass windows, and into horse troughs, the destruction of a general store, a song or two, fistfights in a mountain of mud - you name it.
In Frank Capra's The Name Above the Title: An Autobiography, the famous director recalled a conversation with James Edward Grant, who wrote the scripts to both North to Alaska and McLintock!. According to Capra, Grant told the dispirited filmmaker, "All you gotta have in a John Wayne picture is a hoity-toity dame with big tits that Duke can throw over his knee and spank, and a collection of jerks he can smash in the face every five minutes. In between, you fill it with gags, flags, and chases. That's all you need. His fans eat it up." Though this conversation is probably crudely exaggerated, it still pretty much sums up McLintock!
Indeed, undemanding fans of Wayne and of that type of broad comedy will revel in McLintock!, while others will find it forced and obvious, if genial. Anyone hoping for another Searchers or Rio Bravo is advised to look elsewhere. McLintock!'s script is just not there; it's not even on the level of a Chisum or Rio Lobo (both 1970).
That said, the film is still a delight if only to watch its familiar actors from the Ford / Wayne stock companies obviously enjoying themselves, some of which is successfully conveyed to movie audiences. Several bits and lines of dialogue have transcended the film and have entered popular consciousness, most famously the often-imitated scene where McLintock unsuccessfully tries to hold back his temper against trouble-maker Leo Gordon: "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 oughta belt you in the mouth. But I won't. I won't. The hell I won't." POW!
Video & Audio
Originally released by United Artists, all rights to McLintock! reverted back to Batjac after five years. As released by Paramount Home Video, the 16:9 enhanced presentation is a knockout, with terrific clarity and color. The anamorphic Panavision theatrical aspect ratio is retained, essential for its epic, crowd-filled scenes. (Incredibly, the film cost just over $2 million in 1963, cheap even then for a film of this scale.) The 5.1 Surround mix is also quite good, maximizing the effectiveness of De Vol's lively score and all the rowdy sound effects. Optional English subtitles are offered but that's it.
The DVD's many supplements kick off with Commentary by Leonard Maltin, Frank Thompson, Maureen O'Hara, Stephanie Powers, Michael Pate, Michael Wayne, and Andrew V. McLaglen. Maltin and (film historian) Thompson, who recorded their commentary together, dominate the conversation with everyone else edited in here and there, but offer up a steady stream of information about the film, its cast, and its production. Next is a 41-minute documentary, The Making of McLintock!, actually three mini-documentaries in one. The first segment, The Batjac Story, Part II (where's Part I?), follows that company's history from the late-1950s to the present-day, and mostly is a heartfelt tribute to John Wayne's producer son Michael, who died in 2003. Among those participating in the documentary: Michael's widow Gretchen Wayne and son Christopher Wayne, Andrew V. McLaglen, Frankie Avalon, writer-producers Andrew Fenady and Steve Shagan, and others. Maureen O'Hara & Stephanie Powers Remember McLintock! is warm and nostalgic, while A Good Ol' Fashion Fight has stuntmen Tom Morga and Wayne Bauer discuss the logistics of the film's fight sequences.
Morga and Bauer reappear in 2 Minute Fight School, a primer on how camera angles and reactions are the keys to selling a realistic fight scene. The Corset: Don't Leave Home Without One! offers a seven-minute history of that notorious garment, and is better than it sounds. A Photo Gallery goes beyond the usual smattering of stills by including a sketch by Al Hirschfeld, and a look at one of the commemorative mugs Wayne used to give (on every picture he produced) to each and every member of the cast and crew. A Trailer is complete with narration and text, but is flat letterboxed only, not 16:9 enhanced. A Batjac Teaser includes trailers and excerpts from Batjac-owned titles.
A legitimate release of McLintock! is especially welcome given how badly the film had looked in all those PD releases. Though it's possible these same companies will now turn to Paramount's DVD as their new "master," all these extras plus a fiendishly low SRP - with discounts, this McLintock! can be had for around $10 - make this the one to buy, a must-have for John Wayne fans.
Stuart Galbraith IV is a Kyoto-based film historian whose work includes The Emperor and the Wolf - The Lives and Films of Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune and Taschen's forthcoming Cinema Nippon. Visit Stuart's Cine Blogarama here.