DVD: McQ (1974)

September 5, 2014 | By

 

McQFilm: Very Good

Transfer:  Very Good

Extras: Standard

Label: Warner Bros.

Region: 1 (NTSC)

Released:  May 3, 2005

Genre:  Crime

Synopsis: After the murder of a colleague, a detective resigns and tracks down the killer, slowly uncovering corruption within the police department.

Special Features:  1974 behind-the-scenes featurette: “McQ: John Wayne in Action” (6:55) / John Wayne trailer gallery.

 


 

Review:

John Wayne’s decision to tackle the popular detective thriller seems like a natural move to extend his tough American hero persona to a related genre, but stepping away from war and western films was also a necessary change as both aging genres had become more cynical under the directorial baton of younger directors, and yet one can argue the cop thriller was a genre steeped in even greater cynicism, often putting heroes in the midst of civic, next-door corruption.

Perhaps Wayne’s risk in playing a burnt-out cop who leaves the force and seeks revenge for the death of his friend and colleague was minimized by director John Sturges, a Hollywood veteran adept at small and giant-scale productions in various genres, and a filmmaker who could handle flawed characters and endings in which the world wasn’t much better after the hero picked himself up, swept off the dust, and gone back to his day job.

Cop thrillers had already been in vogue in the U.S., France, and Italy during the sixties, and the main ingredients consisted of a duplicitous woman, a bit of sleaze from the crooks (or loose women), drugs, illegal funds, corruption reaching a high office, and certainly after the success of Bullitt (1968), an obligatory car chase with some measure of human and vehicular carnage. This sandwich was often packaged in widescreen and a jazz score with urban rock elements, and both the American and Italian variants contained a good variety of veteran Hollywood character actors who lent gravitas to weak or stylized dialogue.

Lawrence Roman’s script is lean yet solid, and has a similar level of verbal abuse, sniping, and attitude redolent of Harry Julian and Rita Fink’s beautifully nihilistic Dirty Harry (1971), and Ernest Tidyman’s grubby The French Connection (1971). McQ’s kind to his daughter and ex-wife, but he has no qualms walking away when his boss, Kosterman (mean-spirited Eddie Albert), hasn’t finished chewing him out for insubordination; or running the face of local drug lord Santiago (Al Lettieri) into a bathroom mirror.

The film’s opening is especially brutal: his colleague pulls up to a trio of beat cops and security guards and shotguns them in cold blood before calming his nerves with a glass of milk. Wayne’s also surrounded by a great cast of character actors, including Clu Gulager (Vic) as a supposedly sober-minded superior, David Huddleston as the private eye who hired McQ knowing being certified as a P.I. will enable the former cop to buy a gun for his personal revenge quest, Roger E. Mosely (Magnum P.I.) as a loudly dressed pimp, Julia Adams as McQ’s ex-wife, Colleen Dewhurts (When a Stranger Calls) as the bar girl with a taste for cocaine, and Diana Muldaur (Star Trek, The Swimmer, The Other) as his dead friend’s wife who starts to show affection for McQ not long after her husband’s funeral.

There are obvious clichés and silliness within the film – it’s patently obvious when someone’s about to get bumped, and the big reveals at the end aren’t especially shocking – but what makes this nearly two hour film work is Wayne’s colder side, and some stellar sequences in which McQ is physically threatened, including an alley smash-up with two opposing trucks, and a great car chase on the beach. McQ’s highway chase with a laundry truck is terribly contrived, and it’s a sequence where one can see the stylistic differences between veteran Sturges and younger directors like William Friedkin (French Connection), former editor Peter Yates (Bullitt), Enzo Castellari (Colt 38 Special Squad), and Fernado Di Le (Mister Scarface) who transform a genre requirement into an editorial work of art (if not something grandly ridiculous).

Elmer Bernstein’s score is punchy and shows off the composer knack for jazz orchestra, but it’s also a little too evocative of The Liberation of L.B. Jones (1970) with its funky electric bass licks, and gets really repetitive near the end.

Like some of the aforementioned detective films, there’s a heavy use of actual locations, and that’s perhaps another key virtue of seventies cop thrillers: exploiting the production value – rich and filthy – of local hot spots, dives, scenic vistas, and grubby industrial complexes which free the story and actors from familiar studio back lots, and inadvertently preserved on film civic and rural locations long transformed to suit rapid population growth.

Warner Bros.’ DVD includes a decent transfer of the film plus a vintage making-of featurette which addresses Wayne’s first film playing a cop and some of the stellar stunts, and it’s nice to see short interview bits with Wayne, Sturges, Albert, and the always fun Lettieri, but it’s a pity there’s no commentary by Wayne or genre historians, nor an isolated score to highlight Bernstein’s still-engaging score.

The seventies would yield only three more films for Wayne – the lighter cop thriller Brannigan (1975), and the westerns Rooster Cogburn (1975) and The Shootist (1976) – before cancer killed the iconoclastic star in 1979, whereas director Sturges would direct the WWII thriller The Eagle Has Landed (1976) before retiring from filmmaking. Screenwriter Roman slid into TV movies right after, but he’s perhaps best known for the classic films A Kiss Before Dying (1956), Slaughter on Tenth Avenue (1957), Paper Lion (1968), and Red Sun (1971).

 

 

© 2014 Mark R. Hasan

 


 

External References:
Editor’s BlogIMDB  —  Soundtrack Album — Composer Filmography
 
Vendor Search Links:
Amazon.ca —  Amazon.com —  Amazon.co.uk

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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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