Sunday 15 September 2019

Movie Review: McQ (1974)

A crime action movie, McQ attempts to contribute to the genre's increasing grittiness but achieves only modest success.

In Seattle, two beat cops are shot dead by police detective Stan Boyle, who is then himself gunned down by a mysterious assailant. Stan's long term partner Detective Lon "McQ" McHugh (John Wayne) chases away a thief breaking into his green Pontiac Firebird, then returns fire and kills a hitman. McQ connects with Stan's wife Lois (Diana Muldaur) and starts to investigate the murders, convinced that local drug lord Santiago (Al Lettieri) must be behind the killings.

McQ resigns from the police force when he runs afoul of Captain Kosterman (Eddie Albert), although detective Toms (Clu Gulager) tries to mediate. McQ partners with private investigator "Pinky" Farrell (David Huddleston) and shakes down informants Rosey (Roger E. Mosley) and Myra (Colleen Dewhurst) for information. He learns Santiago has assembled a small army of henchmen to steal a shipment of seized drugs from under the noses of the police, but not everything is at it seems.

With Bullitt (1968), Dirty Harry and The French Connection (both 1971) redefining what a star-driven police action film looks and sounds like, director John Sturges and John Wayne trade in horses for cars and attempt to join the fun. With a brass-heavy Elmer Bernstein music score, impressive weaponry, and no shortage of roaring American muscle cars chasing each other across Seattle, McQ is not a bad effort, but it lacks verve and originality.

After a solid opening featuring multiple murders and an intriguing set-up, the film settles down to long stretches of mundane, television-level tedium, the flabby script by Lawrence Roman lacking a cutting edge and unable to capitalize on the early momentum. Sturges does not contribute any notable directorial touches, and at 67 years old, Wayne is well past convincing as a police detective.

The title character is also too faithful to Wayne's stand-up persona to be effective in the new reality of cops pushing boundaries and encountering walls of conspiracy. Sure McQ throws a few illegal punches and slams his badge on the table in disgust, but there is never any question which side of the line he is on, where he stands in the conflict between good and bad, and therefore which side will prevail.

But not all is lost. The story of police corruption and double-cross is actually decent, and in the final third the film finally latches on to its purpose as the action kicks out of second gear towards an acceptable if ultimately safe climax. In sharper hands and with more of the plot holes filled, McQ could have been elevated beyond merely average.

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