Of all the Hollywood duos I ever saw onscreen, I think I enjoyed watching John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara most.
John Wayne I already knew from several Westerns. He reminded me strongly of my father, though I would not exchange the two for anything in the world. Maureen O’Hara’s characters were everything I wanted to be: independent, fierce, and strong-willed – something you would know if you watched her in The Quiet Man or today’s subject, McClintock!
McClintock! is Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew transplanted to the American West at the turn of the century. John Wayne plays George Washington McClintock, a rancher who came to Arizona when there was nothing but some old Spanish settlements and a lot of unfriendly Indians. O’Hara plays his firebrand of a wife who accompanied him on this journey but is in a snit with him. She is in such a snit, in fact, that she moved out of the ranch two years ago and has not been back – until now.
McClintock has a thing for drinking and saloons, but he loves his wife like no other man has ever loved his wife. When she tells him – again – that she wants a divorce, an uncommon practice in that century, he says no. He may be mad at her but he still loves her.
Matters are further complicated for McClintock by the arrival of settlers promised rich land on a nearby mesa. The problem is that the mesa is nothing more than a barren piece of rock jutting out of the ground, and he has to tell the settlers that “even the government should know that you can’t farm land 6,000 feet above sea level!” It is not his fault these settlers came, nor is it his fault that they were, essentially, swindled. But because he owns most of the territory and the town of McClintock, he takes the heat for both these things all the same.
One of the young men who came west with the wagon train, Devlin Warren (played by Patrick Wayne) asks for a job from McClintock and is hired on as a ranch hand. McClintock then ends up hiring Dev’s mother, Mrs. Warren (Yvonne de Carlo) as the ranch’s cook. This upsets his Chinese cook, whom he keeps around the house despite hiring Mrs. Warren because he suspects she will not be staying long. Besides, he considers his Chinese chef a friend and a member of the family.
But this decision makes Mrs. McClintock even more upset. She figures Mrs. Warren is just another harlot G. W. met and hired before he heard she was coming back. This is not the case at all, but how are you supposed to tell a jealous woman that and have her believe you? Neither Mrs. Warren nor McClintock can convince her until Mrs. Warren, under the influence of spirits, tells Mrs. McClintock that the sheriff has asked her to marry him. She intends to accept his proposal and will therefore have to stop working as a cook for the McClintock ranch.
And if all this mess was not enough, McClintock’s daughter Becky has come back west from school. She keeps company with a young gentleman from the town not long after, a young fellow with ‘social standing’ and the son of an old enemy of McClintock’s. On top of this, the young man also happens to be a sap, and it is clear McClintock does not really like him (who could!). He merely tolerates him to make his daughter happy.
Then Dev, who has taken a shine to Becky, puts the kibosh on the courting and – well, that would be telling.
McClintock! is not your typical Western. It has plenty of action, but most of it is humorous. There are many serious parts in the story, to be sure, but the laughs are never far away as you watch this wonderful, wonderful comedy. I love every minute of McClintock! Whenever I have the chance to watch it, I smile my face sore. If you have not seen this film, readers, then you had better go find it and watch it now. It is a classic in every sense of the word!
And please remember that it is NOT a “cowboy movie.” John Wayne plays a rancher in McClintock!, not a cowboy. In this film, his days of punching cows are long over. The West is closing, the Indians are being forced onto reservations, the buffalo are dwindling, and the days of the gun are numbered. But if McClintock can, he will go out with a bang. Or with a record. 😉
See ya later, Alligator!