Wednesday, May 21, 2014

McLINTOCK!: AUTHENTIC COLLECTOR'S EDITION: Blu-ray (Batjac 1963) Paramount Home Video

Andrew V. McLaglen’s McLintock (1963) isn’t quite the John Wayne classic I expected; a meandering farce using the veneer of the Hollywood western and cache of its star to modest effect. The first half of the movie plays a little like My Little Chickadee (1940), albeit without the razor-sharp and very glib repartee a la a Mae West, while the last act – an all-out brawl between costars Wayne and Maureen O’Hara that borders on absurd slapstick - is a page ripped (or rather, plagiarized) right out of John Ford’s The Quiet Man (1952), again – without the refinement or poignancy of Ford’s inimitable guiding hand to pull it off. Wayne and O’Hara – who have co-starred to better effect elsewhere, herein are cast as rancher George Washington ‘G.W.’ McLintock and his estranged wife, Katherine Gilhooley respectively.  Seems Kate (she hates being called that, either by G.W. or his ever-devoted ranch hand Drago, played by Chill Wills) is a bit of a shrew, hard-nosed, embittered and full of daggers and vinegar for her husband, whom she regards as nothing more than a common bully. After all, the rather pig-headed G.W. absolutely refuses to grant Kate her divorce. He also isn’t about to relinquish parental custody of his adult daughter, Becky (Stefanie Powers); particularly since he regards Kate’s influences as detrimental. The way he sees it, she’s all but turned the bright-eyed Becky into a self-indulgent prig. Oh well, so much for familial strife.
If you know your John Wayne movies then McLintock plays a lot like ‘old home week’ without the necessary verve for such nostalgia. Wayne and O’Hara are old friends and old pros; but their chemistry really doesn’t click herein. They spend most of the movie hating one another, but the sparks generated don’t equate to sexual friction as they did in their pairings in Rio Grande (1950) and The Quiet Man. McLintock also costars such Wayne movie alumni as Chill Wills, Hank Worden (as simple-minded ranch hand Curly), Yvonne DeCarlo (Mrs. Louise Warren) and Wayne’s own son, Patrick as Devlin; Louise’s son and Becky’s love interest.  Devlin and Louise have just come in on the noon day train with a new group of homesteaders that G.W. is eager to dissuade from settling the land that surrounds his sprawling cattle ranch. Apart from the fact they’ll build a lot of fences, thus impugning the migratory grazing patterns of his steers, G.W. is quite frank with the prospectors about the earth on the mesa; hardly conducive to farming – something the federal government failed to mention when giving away their land grants to these unsuspecting settlers.
Devlin begs G.W. for a job on his ranch and then takes an unsuccessful pot shot at him for providing this opportunity simply because he is ashamed he had to grovel for it. G.W. doesn’t hold a grudge, however. Devlin can still work for him – and so can Louise for that matter, hired on as the ranch cook to resident houseboy, Ching’s (H.W. Gim) initial regret. Nevertheless, these new arrivals quickly settle in and become an integral part of the household. The homestead does not remain happy for very long, thanks to Kate’s impromptu visit. Bossing the servants and ranch hands with equal disregard, and treating her husband like an unwanted guest in his own home, Kate generally makes a nuisance of herself. But even she seems like small potatoes once Becky arrives with her cordial banjo-strumming college-bound suitor, Matt Douglas Jr. (Jerry Van Dyke), the son of G.W.’s nemesis and local gadfly, Matt Sr. (Gordon Jones). In the weakest of subplots, oily governor, Cuthbert Humphrey (Robert Lowry) has plans to discredit McLintock’s reputation and settle the land for his own pure profit by chasing the local Comanche off.
But this isn’t really the crux of James Edward Grant’s screenplay. So back to Devlin we go. He thinks Becky a fine girl even though she pays him no attention and infrequently is insulting. Still, Devlin’s more a man than Matt will ever be or hope to become any day of the week. Becky’s an enterprising gal. It really doesn’t take her long to become smitten with Devlin, much to Kate’s distress. After all, she can see the future – a carbon-copy of her own past. But see the gracious whim of fate in this; Kate’s suspicions - that G.W. had been unfaithful to her so many years before – is a case of mistaken mistrust and false allegations run amuck. G.W. has always loved Kate despite her propriety and impudence.  But G.W. is not a fool. Neither is he a pushover. So, after sanctioning the union of his daughter to Devlin, G.W. redoubles his efforts to woo Kate to his side.
She rebels, of course, violently and tearing off through the city during the 4th of July festivities in her petticoats and corset merely to escape G.W. who has had quite enough of her prudery for one lifetime. Kate makes a savage mess of the local dried goods store, flinging tomatoes and other household items at G.W., knocking over shelves and chairs while racing around the counter to escape him. Eventually, she manages to shimmy up a ladder. It teeters away from the building, plunging her like a stone into a nearby trough and pulling local madam, Camille (Mari Blanchard) right in alongside her after being scoffed at and taunted. Kate retreats in shame to the ranch where she and G.W. inexplicably and quite abruptly patch things up, he declaring that happy days – and nights – are once again upon them; the light in the upstairs window going out.
McLintock is not a terribly prepossessing western and a fairly leaden comedy. The characters are mostly cardboard cutouts, particularly Becky and Devlin. John Wayne spends most of the narrative speaking in heavy-handed platitudes about the struggles of life and the great love he’s been denied. These diatribes are meant to balance the more raucous slapstick with a modicum of introspection, but they come across as more pontificating than anything else; and with a note of condescension - a sort of ‘you don’t know anything so sit there and listen’ approach that doesn’t really endear us to the character.
McLintock was made for Wayne’s own company – Batjac – the directorial reigns handed to Andrew McLaglen whose father, Victor had adorned many a Wayne western including Fort Apache, She Wore A Yellow Ribbon, Rio Grande and The Quiet Man. In only his fifth film as a director, McLaglen doesn’t pick up much steam. Worse, he’s hampered by James Edward Grant’s screenplay, attempting to be all of the aforementioned movies at once, while hopelessly toying with elements of the screwball comedy that have no place in the western milieu.  McLintock is supposed to be a bawdy comedy using the conventions of the Hollywood western as its backdrop. Hence, McLaglen’s pacing seems off, even during the climactic mudslide brawl and penultimate marital conflict and resolution between Kate and G.W.; the movie straining for its laughs rather than being able to elicit a full-bellied roar from its audience.
And Wayne looks decidedly out of place trying to be too funny. Undeniably, he has a way about him – a cadence that is inimitable and unmistakable – but it doesn’t really translate to comedy. O’Hara plays the bitch with too much rage and intelligence, and, not enough chuckle; more grating than ingratiating. If she were more the broken heart or even just a wee bit kinder to the rest of the cast there might have been an ounce of sympathy to suckle for her character. But Kate is vial; a royal pain in the saddle, regarding everyone as her inferiors with an irreprehensible snootiness. It’s hard to imagine what G.W. must have seen in her initially to make Kate his wife. It’s even more of a perplexing riddle to reason why he should want her back the way she is now. Good riddance to bad rubbish – even such as handsomely designed and packaged as our Kate. 
Patrick Wayne and Stefanie Powers don’t make much of a splash as the up and coming romantic lovers destined to spar their way to the altar. Undeniably, both are very good to look at. They do make a smart couple but one could glean the same appreciation by studying their portraits in swimsuits for a Sears/Robuck catalogue; their performances are just that wooden. The rest of the cast are window dressing, serviceable, though never given much to do. It’s a shame too, because both Chill Wills and Hank Worden are beloved hams who might have at least livened up the comedic elements.  In the final analysis, McLintock is a very low grade/second tier effort. James Edward Grant’s screenplay just throws a bunch of western clichés and bumbling guffaws at the screen hoping something will stick. Occasionally something does. But overall, we are left with a rather pedestrian story whose only salvation is that it has such high-end talent as Wayne and O’Hara as its leads. That doesn’t make for a great picture and no one would ever accuse McLintock of being one. ‘A’ for effort, perhaps. But C+ in the way it all comes together. Arguably, it never comes off.
It’s about time Paramount Home Video came off its saddle to release the ‘authentic’ version of McLintock on Blu-ray. A little over a year ago Olive Media gave us a Blu-ray that was an absolute disaster. The biggest issue then was color implosion and fading. I also detected some minor haloing and the onset of vinegar syndrome.  What a shabby sham! I am pleased to report that Paramount’s reissue is nothing short of gorgeous. If you are a diehard fan of this movie then prepare to be dazzled. McLintock reincarnated is a stunning visual experience. Colors are rich and vibrant with flesh (previously looking chalky and orange) now pleasing rendered with accurate tonality. Contrast is pitch perfect – no blooming whites as before or murky blacks. The crushed blacks on the Olive disc are gone! Film grain has been restored to naturalistic levels and – wow – the image is razor sharp without appearing digitally harsh. It’s also utterly free of age-related debris and damage. I must admit that while I found McLintock a rather tepid feature, I thought the image quality on this disc was easily among the finest rendered in 1080p this year.
The DTS 5.1 is still just adequate, curiously strident in spots and lacking bass. Paramount has ported over all of the extras from their authentic DVD from 2004; much appreciated. We get Leonard Maltin affectionately waxing about the movie’s virtues in an introduction, and as part of a feature length commentary also featuring reminiscences from Frank Thompson, Maureen O’Hara, Stefanie Powers, Michael Pate, Michael Wayne and Andrew McLaglen. We also get the extensive ‘Making of McLintock!’, a charming featurette on ‘the corset’, a featurette on how to ‘fight’ in the movies, a photo gallery and the original trailer in HD. As always, Paramount’s commitment to their catalogue is exemplary and a beacon as to how Blu-ray ought to be done. Now, if we could only get Paramount to finish releasing the other Wayne classics in their canon to hi-def. The High and The Mighty should be a top priority, n’est pas?
FILM RATING (out of 5 – 5 being the best)


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