Category Archives: John Sturges

McQ (1974).

Directed by John Sturges
Written by Lawrence Roman
Cinematography: Harry Stradling, Jr.
Film Editor: William H. Ziegler
Music by Elmer Bernstein

Cast: John Wayne (Det. Lt. Lon “McQ” McHugh), Eddie Albert (Capt. Edward Kosterman), Diana Muldaur (Lois), Colleen Dewhurst (Myra), Clu Gulager (Frank Toms), David Huddleston (“Pinky” Farrell), Jim Watkins (J.C.), Al Lettieri (Manny Santiago), Julie Adams (Elaine), Roger E. Mosley (Rosey)

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For weeks, I had a melody stuck in my head. I knew it was from a film score, probably from the 70s, that was all I could figure out. My first thought was that it might be the work of Lalo Schifrin, or maybe part of David Shire’s score for The Taking Of Pelham One Two Three (1974).

Then, watching an episode of The Rifleman, I saw the credit for the show’s producers, Jules V. Levy and Arthur Gardner. They later teamed up with John Wayne’s Batjac to make McQ (1974) and Brannigan (1975). That jogged my memory — the tune was from Elmer Bernstein’s score for McQ. I promptly pulled out the movie, which I hadn’t seen in at least a decade.

John Wayne in a contemporary cop story is a bit jarring. John Wayne in a contemporary anything is a bit jarring. Seeing him drive around in a Trans Am is odd. So is seeing a tiny snub nose revolver in Duke’s huge hands (he has a Colt Python and a S&W Model 10). That weaponry gives way to something more fitting to the great John Wayne — a MAC-10 submachine gun. But you quickly get used to all this — John Wayne is John Wayne.



They say this picture came about because Wayne turned down Dirty Harry (1971). John Sturges was brought in to direct. Sturges and Wayne working together sounds like a dream come true. It’s a shame it was this late in both their careers. Sturges’s handling of the action scenes is as masterful as ever, but it’s a lot talkier than it needs to be. This was Sturges’s next-to-last film.

John Sturges and John Wayne take a walk on the beach.

Wayne is Lon McHugh, a Seattle cop. A good friend on the force is gunned down, and as he looks into it, Duke discovers there are crooked cops stealing confiscated dope and selling it, with the help of a big-time local smuggler (Al Lettieri). McQ becomes a target of the cops, the crooked cops and the bad guys. That’s not the kind of thing John Wayne approves of, and he gets to the bottom of it as the bodies and wrecked cars pile up. It plays exactly like what it is, a 70s rogue cop movie filtered through John Wayne — which means the anti-hero thing is dialed way back.

One of the picture’s highlights is its cast. Wayne’s terrific. Eddie Albert and Clu Gulager are fine as cops. David Huddelson is cool as a P.I. friend of McQ’s. Julie Adams has a single scene as Wayne’s ex-wife. And Roger E. Moseley is fun as one of Wayne’s informants. 

Al Lettieri makes a swell bad guy, as always. He’d been in The Godfather (1972) and The Getaway (1972), and he’d follow McQ with Mr. Majestyk (1974). Sadly, he’d have a heart attack and pass away the next year. What a shame, he had a lot of movies left in him.

Acting honors go to Colleen Dewhurst as Myra, a waitress and addict Wayne reaches out to for information. She brings a real sadness to the role, and Wayne offering her some cocaine (taken from a smalltime crook) is heartbreaking. If you hate the rest of the movie, her scenes are worth the whole thing. Of course, she’d appeared with Wayne before, in The Cowboys (1972).

There’s a good car chase, with an interesting twist. Wayne’s in a 1973 Brewster Green Pontiac Firebird Trans Am chasing a green and yellow delivery truck. He takes a number of detours and side streets to catch up to the truck, only to spot an identical truck in his rearview mirror. Duke’s reactions and impatient slow burn behind the wheel help make for a very effective sequence.

The picture’s big finish features another car chase, this time with the crooks chasing Wayne on the beach at speeds of around 75 miles an hour, ending with an incredible car-flip stunt. Hal Needham, the stunt man who’d later turn director (Smokey And The Bandit, etc.), broke his back developing the stunt. To quote Car And Driver, “the cop flick also contains the debut of the McQ Cannon, as it has become known. Created by Hal Needham and still in use today, it allows a car to be barrel rolled without a ramp by basically fitting explosives to its undercarriage. The test run on a dry lake almost killed Needham, so the film’s spectacular beach rollover was performed by Gary McLarty.” It’s quite a scene.

Elmer Bernstein’s score is a perfect blend of 70s’ jazz-funk crime picture music and the kind of score Bernstein had written for previous Wayne movies like The Sons Of Katie Elder (1965). Bernstein has also scored Sturges pictures like The Magnificent Seven (1960) and The Great Escape (1963). The composer’s work for McQ works really well for the film and (in my case at least) gets stuck in your head with ease. A CD of the complete score was released by Film Score Monthly.

During the shooting of the beach sequence, the cast and crew stayed at The Polynesian Motel in Oceans Shores. Wayne stayed on his yacht, The Wild Goose, and sailed around the area on weekends.

McQ is no Rio Bravo (1959), and it’s no Dirty Harry (1971). But it’s got a lot going for it, mainly Wayne himself. He could carry a picture without breaking a sweat. The cast is terrific and the action scenes are exceedingly well done. What more do you need?

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Filed under 1974, John Sturges, John Wayne, Julie Adams, Warner Bros.

Blu-Ray Review: Underwater! (1955).

Directed by John Sturges
Written by Walter Newman
From a story by Robert B. Bailey & Hugh King
Cinematography: Harry J. Wild
Film Editor: Stuart Gilmore
Music by Roy Webb

Cast: Jane Russell (Theresa Gray), Richard Egan (Johnny Gray), Gilbert Roland (Dominic Quesada), Lori Nelson (Gloria), Robert Keith (Father Cannon), Joseph Calleia (Rico Herrera), Eugene Iglesias (Miguel Vega), Ric Roman (Jesus), Jayne Mansfield

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Howard Hughes was notorious for screwing around with the movies at his RKO. This time, Howard gets his mitts on John Sturges’ Underwater! (1955), a film put together as a star vehicle for Jane Russell (and titled The Big Rainbow). The trouble is, going in, Sturges had been lead to believe it was going to be a B action movie. After months and months of pre-production, shooting, the usual Hughes tampering and a boatload of reshoots, the finished picture had its world premiere underwater at Silver Springs, Florida — with the cast, various studio people, the press and assorted celebrities and dignitaries watching the picture 20 feet down wearing aqualungs. Really.

The plot’s a pretty flimsy one (though there were more than 20 drafts of the screenplay). Richard Egan and Gilbert Roland discover a 17th-century treasure ship, perched precariously on the edge of an underwater cliff. As they try to remove the booty before the ship drops into the abyss, they tackle sharks, Joseph Calleia and the bends. Jane Russell is Egan’s wife and Roland’s sister,  and she seems to possess an inordinate amount of swimwear.

Before it was all over, some location work was done in Hawaii and Mexico (most of it with doubles and little of it actually used), a giant tank was built on the RKO lot, and a couple million was spent before the thing was finished. Lori Nelson was borrowed from Universal-International and wasted in a nothing part — some say she had the lead and was replaced with Russell, so a role was added to fit her in (after all, they were paying U-I for her services).

It’s a real mystery why Hughes didn’t get involved in the engineering of Jane’s bathing suits, as he did with her brasserie for The Outlaw (1941). It was supposed to be shot in 3-D, but it was abandoned in favor of Technicolor and RKO’s SuperScope widescreen process. John Sturges never met Hughes; they just spoke on the phone in story conferences. The trouble-plagued location stuff was done before the cast had been nailed down, so everything had to be shot from a distance. The water in the RKO tank would get murky every so often and have to be drained. By the time Hughes and his micromanaging got to the reshoots, Sturges had reported to MGM for Bad Day At Black Rock (1955), no doubt sparing him a great deal of heartache. Ah, the joys of Hughes-era RKO.

The critics hated it, but it was a hit anyway. It turned out to be Russell’s last picture for Hughes.

While it’s easy to dismiss Underwater! as a pleasant enough film, it has plenty going for it. The Mexican and Hawaiian scenery is beautiful — and beautifully shot by Harry J. Wild. The boats we see in the harbor, and the yacht our heroes take on their adventure, are incredible. The film’s greatest assets turn out to be Jane Russell (no pun intended) and Gilbert Roland. Jane’s accent is terrible, but she looks terrific and has the likable quality that seems to carry her through some pretty shaky movies. By this point in his career, Roland was in his 50s and proving to be a real force of nature. Other films from this period, such as Anthony Mann’s Thunder Bay (1953) and George Sherman’s The Treasure Of Pancho Villa (1955), also benefit from his presence. In Underwater!, he steals about every scene he’s in, even when he’s up against Russell in a bathing suit.

Jane Russell and her double Pat Deane Smith.

Like a lot of movies with diving sequences, things slow down below the surface. Even the great Thunderball (1965) suffers from this. But with Underwater!, it isn’t much of a deficit, and the 99 minutes cruise along just fine.

Warner Archive has done everyone concerned proud with their Blu-Ray of Underwater!, presenting it in its original SuperScope 2.0 and making sure the Technicolor pops like it’s supposed to. It’s stunning how sharp it is at times, highlighting just how much craftsmanship went into a picture Russell called a turkey — and RKO pronounced one of its biggest hits. Recommended, not so much for the film, but for Jane Russell, Gilbert Roland and Warner Archive’s terrific presentation.

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Filed under 1955, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Howard Hughes, Jane Russell, John Sturges, RKO, Warner Archive

Blu-Ray News #271: Underwater! (1955).

Directed by John Sturges
Starring Jane Russell, Gilbert Roland, Richard Egan, Lori Nelson, Robert Keith, Joseph Calleia, Jayne Mansfield

This is gonna be terrific. Warner Archive is bringing John Sturges’ Underwater! (1955) to Blu-Ray, preserving its Superscope framing.

Of course, the appeal of this one back in ’55 was Jane Russell in a bathing suit (though I don’t think Howard Hughes engineered her outfit this time). It was promoted with a premiere showing that was actually held underwater. If you thought 3-D glasses were uncomfortable, how about an aqualung?

Not sure when this thing is coming, but boy am I glad it is. Highly recommended.

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Filed under 1955, DVD/Blu-ray News, Jane Russell, John Sturges, RKO, Warner Archive

Happy July 4th.

great_escape_a

Here’s James Garner, Jud Taylor and Steve McQueen celebrating Independence Day in The Great Escape (1963). Here’s wishing you all a safe and happy one — try not to blow your fingers off.

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Filed under 1963, James Garner, John Sturges, Steve McQueen

RIP, Sir Richard Attenborough.

Great escapoe LC

Sir Richard Attenborough
August 1923 – 24 August 2014

We lost the Scrounger (James Garner) just a few weeks ago, and now Big X is gone.

Richard Attenborough enjoyed a long, varied film career, and I can hardly do justice to it here. For many, he’ll be remembered for his role in John Struges’ The Great Escape (1963), a perfect action film. Maybe the fastest three hours you can spend in a movie theater. For others, he’s known as John Hammond in Jurassic Park (1993). His portrayal of serial killer John Christie in 10 Rillington Place (1971) is something you won’t forget. And I have a spot for A Bridge Too Far (1977), maybe the last of the epic war films, which he directed.

If you want to feel like a real underachiever, look at all Sir Richard accomplished in his 90 years. Movies, muscular dystrophy fundraising, the Chelsea Football Club, education and on and on. And somehow, in photos, he seems to always be smiling. That’s quite an achievement in itself.

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Filed under 1963, John Sturges