John Wayne didn’t get off his horse very often in the latter part of his career. The Duke hadn’t done a non-Western since 1969’s HELLFIGHTERS, but cop pictures were in style in the early 70s due to the success of movies like THE FRENCH CONNECTION and DIRTY HARRY. Wayne was actually offered the part of Dirty Harry Callahan and turned it down. But in 1974, Big John traded in his horse for a Pontiac Firebird in the action packed MCQ, directed by veteran John Sturges (GUNFIGHT AT THE OK CORRAL, THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, THE GREAT ESCAPE).
Wayne plays tough cop Lon McQ, who quits the force to investigate the murder of his former partner. He gets tangled up with drug dealers and corrupt officials, car chases and shootouts. Sound formulaic? It is, but the action scenes make up for a lame script. Duke basically plays the same character he did in most all his films, tough but tender, fair but firm. It’s kind of jarring to see Wayne in his (pretty bad) hairpiece instead of the usual cowboy hat, and tooling around the streets of Seattle in a muscle car rather than the dusty trail on his horse. He’s surrounded by a supporting cast full of familiar faces (Eddie Albert, Diana Muldaur, Colleen Dewhurst, Al Lettieri, David Huttleston, Clu Gulager), all of whom do their best with the clichéd script. MCQ plays like a TV movie of the week, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and fans of 70s action flicks will dig it.
John Wayne only made three more films after MCQ, including another cop movie, BRANNIGAN, and his swan song, 1976’s THE SHOOTIST, before succumbing to cancer in 1979. The Duke made much better movies then MCQ, but for a look at the star without his spurs and six-gun, it’s definitely worth watching.
(This post originally appeared, in slightly altered form, on the 2015 TCM Summer of the Stars Blogathon, hosted by Journeys in Classic Film)