The Bootleg Files: McLintock!

BOOTLEG FILES 674: “McLintock!” (1963 Western starring John Wayne).

LAST SEEN: On YouTube.

AMERICAN HOME VIDEO: On both public domain labels and in official commercial release.


CHANCES OF SEEING A COMMERCIAL DVD RELEASE: There was an official commercial release, but the film is still being bootlegged.

Earlier this week, John Wayne was the subject of news headlines and social media buzz – which is no mean feat, considering that the star passed away 40 years ago. The new focus on Wayne was due to politically incorrect comments on race and sexual orientation that he made in a 1971 interview with Playboy Magazine. Back in the day, nobody thought twice about the interview – contrary to popular insistence, people did not read Playboy for the articles. But today, of course, it seems that the mainstream media has a racism outrage quota to fill. And when the demand for racist behavior to condemn outpaces the supply of current incidents, clickbait scoundrels scour the archives – or, in a certain Chicago case, hire a pair of oversized Nigerian brothers – in order to stir new waves of frenzy.

Prior to the Playboy interview, Wayne was a politically polarizing figure for his enthusiastic support of the Vietnam War, which manifested into his astonishing 1968 epic “The Green Berets.” However, Wayne’s fans were able to overlook his politics and enjoy his Westerns. Indeed, this fanbase seemed to be willing to accept any Western that Wayne put on the screen, including the intolerable 1963 cowboy comedy romp “McLintock!”

During the early 1960s, Wayne began appearing in films that had an excessively broad comic element to them. But whether “North to Alaska,” “Hatari!” and “Donovan’s Reef” can be considered genuinely amusing is open for debate. “McLintock!” was presented as a full-blown farce, played from an inane script with such overblown acting that even that James Edward Grant, the film’s screenwriter, was ashamed of his work.

“All you gotta have in a John Wayne picture is a hoity-toity dame with big tits that Duke can throw over his knee and spank, and a collection of jerks he can smash in the face every five minutes,” said Grant in a conversation with Frank Capra that was recalled in Capra’s autobiography “The Name Above the Title: An Autobiography.” “In between, you fill it with gags, flags, and chases. That’s all you need. His fans eat it up.”

In “McLintock!”, Wayne plays G.W. McLintock – the initials stand for “George Washington” – a self-made cattle baron and mine owner who finds his world threatened by external challenges. McLintock tries to dissuade homesteaders from turning the Mesa Verde into farmland, insisting that promises of land made by the federal government are worthless. “Even the government should know you can’t farm six thousand feet above sea level!” he growls. Then there are problems with peaceful American Indians, who are viewed by the homesteaders with contempt but are greeted as friends by McLintock. The territorial government tries to create problems for the Indians, but McLintock proves his value as an ally to the tribal members.

But McLintock also has internal woes. His estranged social-climbing wife Katherine is demanding a divorce, which he refuses to grant. Katherine has kept their daughter Rebecca in the East at college, but the girl’s return to the McLintock ranch creates friction between the G.W. and Katherine on what is best for their daughter. Rebecca initially plans to marry a doofus from the East, but her heart is won by Dev, a handsome homesteader hired by McLintock. Rebecca realizes that Dev is the man for her when he punctuates an argument by putting her over his knee and spanking her with a coal shovel – to the approval of McLintock, who later repeats that spanking shtick on Katherine in full view of the local townsfolks.

“McLintock!” is probably the closest thing to a John Wayne home movie. The cast is full of Wayne’s favorite co-stars – Maureen O’Hara is Katherine and supporting roles are filled with the likes of jolly old hambones including Chill Wills, Edgar Buchanan, Bob Steele, Strother Martin, Bruce Cabot, Hank Worden and Gordon Jones (in his final role before his 1963 death). Wayne’s son Patrick played Dev and his Aissa daughter played Dev’s kid sister; Wayne’ son Michael served as producer, Andrew V. McLaglen (son of Victor McLaglen, Wayne’s co-star in “The Quiet Man”) directed, and John Ford reportedly pitched in to direct a few scenes. Wayne showed his generosity in casting Yvonne De Carlo in the supporting role of Dev’s mother, who becomes McLintock’s cook – De Carlo’s husband, stuntman Bob Morgan, was severely injured during the production of “How the West was Won” and Wayne brought her in and pumped up her role an effort to help cover Morgan’s medical expenses.

But if Wayne and his friends had fun making “McLintock!”, the viewer is left out of the mirth. James Edward Grant’s complaint about the poverty of the material was accurate: there are ridiculously oversized scuffles (including a massive brawl in a mud pit), a surprisingly high level of misogyny (women who are not subservient are physically abused and humiliated), and minorities who exist solely for comedy relief (besides the Indians who grin at the paleface’s stupidity, there is also a “no-speakee-Engrish” Chinese cook, a gregarious Jewish merchant with a kvetching American Indian employee played by Puerto Rican actor Perry Lopez, and Mexican children with a puppy-level devotion to McLintock’s gruffness). None of the dialogue sounds anything like genuine human conversation, and the exaggerated acting is closer to second-rate community theater levels than Hollywood standards. And while audiences in 1963 made this one of the year’s top-grossing films, it is difficult to watch “McLintock!” today without having your finger on the fast-forward button.

“McLintock!” was produced by Wayne’s Batjac Productions and released by United Artists. Batjac regained the film from United Artists in 1968 but failed to renew its copyright in 1991. When public domain labels began to offer badly faded pan-and-scan prints of “McLintock!”, Wayne’s estate tried to regain control of the property. In 1994, a court ruled that while the film itself was in public domain, Batjac had the copyright to the film’s score.

Thus, for the past 25 years, “McLintock!” has seen a bewildering home entertainment release. Public domain labels have put the film out, sometimes with the copyright-protected music removed in favor of a new score but often with the original score intact. Batjac, which holds the original negatives, has authorized official commercial releases with Paramount Home Media Distribution on DVD and Blu-ray, and these are widely considered to be the best quality presentations available. John Wayne fans have posted various versions of “McLintock!” on YouTube, which only adds to the confusion.

Wayne was once quoted as saying, “Life is tough, but it’s tougher if you’re stupid.” Whatever Wayne was, he was not a stupid man – and if it seems that his movies and his political commentary have not aged well, perhaps it says more about our tastes and sensibilities than it does about Wayne.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: While this weekly column acknowledges the presence of rare film and television productions through the so-called collector-to-collector market, this should not be seen as encouraging or condoning the unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material, either through DVDs or Blu-ray discs or through postings on Internet video sites.

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