Initially, prominent Hollywood action director John Sturges and leading man John Wayne had planned to make "The Sons of Katie Elder." Wayne's declining health, however, prevented them from collaborating on that superb western that Henry Hathaway eventually helmed. Instead, Sturges and Wayne got together to make the urban police thriller "McQ," and "McQ" (***1/2 out of ****) ranks as one of the best of the modern-day police thrillers in the tradition of both "Bullitt" and "Dirty Harry." The Lawrence Roman screenplay, inspired by Roman's previous epic "Slaughter on 10th Avenue," is top-notch stuff with a genuine mystery attached to an otherwise highly serviceable thriller about a rogue cop. Veteran detective Lon McQ (John Wayne) has a vendetta to settle with the chief villain, Manuel Santiago, and McQ believes that Santiago put out a contract on his partner Stan Boyle. Yes, this formulaic plot is as creaky as "The Maltese Falcon," but Sturges and Wayne always pay off in spades.
Nothing is a picnic for our hero. Later, he is trying to pull out of an alley and two 18-wheel tractor-trailer rigs box him in and slam repeatedly into his Green Hornet until it is a shambles and he is squished up in it. The villains, it seems, have been trying to separate McQ from his car since the outset when a car thief tried to swipe his car at the marina. No sooner has McQ left the Seattle P.D. than he persuades a local private eye, Pinky (David Huddleston of "Bad Company"), to help him get a P.I. license so he can take advantage of Pinky's cover. "I see it, do-it-yourself gumshoe," Pinky observes.
John Sturges, who helmed "The Magnificent Seven," "The Great Escape," and "The Satan Bug" maintains the suspense and tension throughout this 111 minute thriller and sets up one primary red herring in the Roman screenplay that pays off in the finale. Mind you, "McQ" is no "Dirty Harry." It doesn't address the legal complications of our flawed justice system, and the chief villain is a corporate type drug smuggler with a large company that he can hide behind as well as an expensive attorney who doesn't miss a trick.
Sure, John Wayne looks a mite long in the tooth to be playing such an athletic role, but he carries himself well enough and he has a genuine character to play. Incidentally, Wayne had a chance to play "Dirty Harry," but he turned it down. He doesn't have a bank robbery scene like Clint did in "Dirty Harry," but he has a scene where he nails a fleeing hit-man named Patty Samuels dead in his tracks on a Seattle dock with a well-nigh impossible shot. "That was the greatest shot," raves a dock hand, "that I ever saw." Interestingly, this scene resembles a scene from Sturges' "The Magnificent Seven" where Brett (James Coburn) fired at a man on horse just as the rider reached the skyline. Brett blew the horseman out of the saddle. Chico rhapsodizes about the shot, but Brett explains that he was aiming for the horse but not the rider!
"McQ" is an above-average thriller that every John Wayne fan must see!