Wayne Failed to Make my Day
Most people think that John Wayne was a one trick pony, a western star who only ever played the same sort of character but that was far from the truth as not only waste a talented actor but in his impressively long career he tackled other types of characters. Sadly it wasn't until the 70s that Wayne decided to try his hand at playing a cop, a choice which some say came from seeing Eastwood play "Dirty Harry" a role that Wayne is reported to have turned down. I say sadly because neither of Wayne's two cop movies are very good, in fact at times they are very bad and frankly John Wayne was two old to be believable as a tough cop who could play it dirty if needs must. In fairness Wayne is not the only issue as the actual storyline is routine as almost as routine as the moments of action and it makes "McQ" at best ordinary.
When his friend and fellow officer Stan Boyle (William Bryant) is shot in the back Lieutenant Lon McQ (John Wayne - Cahill) disobeys orders and starts digging around to find out who did it, believing local crime lord Santiago (Al Lettieri - The Godfather) being the man. But the more McQ snoops the more surprises he uncovers including corruption with his own police force as millions of dollars in confiscated drugs is stolen.
There is a lot wrong with "McQ" and one of the main things is that the storyline is uninspiring and it is obvious that having seen Eastwood make a success of "Dirty Harry" that John Wayne wanted something similar. But after a reasonable intro which sees 2 cops being killed by another it all becomes routine as we watch McQ try to get the bottom of things only to discover that there is corruption with in his own force. Maybe back in 1974 this storyline was braver and more edgy but watching it now it feels so familiar, McQ gets booted off the force for breaking the rules, gets chased, gives chase and a big shoot out at the end. And all those bits in between which make us become intrigued by what is going on don't really do a thing.
Now part of the trouble is that whilst it is obvious this was John Wayne wanting to do "Dirty Harry" McQ is not in the same league. Oh we see him beat up a criminal but this isn't the violence of "Dirty Harry" it's just an angry cop looking for someone to take out his anger on. In fact McQ is a very different sort of character, he pays informants, sleeps with a hooker and basically rather than beat people up to get information gets close to them instead. That may have worked if it wasn't John Wayne playing McQ but watching The Duke trying to be nice to a woman who wants to sleep with him is so unconvincing that you find yourself laughing.
That is not the only thing which is wrong about John Wayne as McQ and from the low sports car he drives through to him lurking around on street corners it feels uncomfortable. It also feels uncomfortable that for maybe one or two minor moments "McQ" is trying to be serious and gritty and it doesn't work. In fact with a touch more of the usual John Wayne humour it could have been a superior movie, but it makes it feel dull that the quips are kept to the minimum and the humour is left out.
What also doesn't help matters is that "McQ" lacks other strong characters to distract you from John Wayne being so wrong in the role. In fairness Al Lettieri is reasonable as criminal Santiago but the rest of them be it Diana Muldaur as Lois or Colleen Dewhurst as Myra none of them make any impact. It was the case that there needed a strong sidekick or a strong secondary character to cover up the obvious flaws.
What this all boils down to is that "McQ" is not a good movie and not just because John Wayne was not only too old for the role. There is a whole list of issues from poor characters to an ordinary story and to be honest not enough action. Although having said that a couple of moments of action end up being the best thing about "McQ".