Okay, look – I bloody love McQ. And before you start complaining about a fat and uncomfortable John Wayne, a wispy and embarrassed toup, tropes of Dirty Harry, ’70s TV detectives (a maverick with a cute car and a boat) and a weird story of police corruption, get over yourself. The Widowers gathered in the TV room on a wretched Monday night, after a particularly rough visitors’ afternoon, and basked in the crazily over-age antics of Detective Lieutenant Lon “McQ” McHugh. And properly enjoyed them.
Perhaps we needed a bit of violence.
The Duke had passed on Dirty Harry a couple of years before, and fancied a bit of the Clint Eastwood audience. And a bit of variety, for that matter. He was wading through a series of still-noble-in-the-saddle westerns and now needed a touch of modernity. Anyways, McQ supplied something fresh, including a disturbing touch of the wacca-waccas on the score, drug busts, evil police and a strong, good, tubby man growling his way through them all. Oh yes – in the first half hour a man wanders around murdering people in bare streets, before flashing his badge, getting shot in the back himself, and turning out to be McQ’s partner. We cheered.
Cut to Wayne, winking at what was his real hobby at the time, living on a boat. We scan through the detritus of his life – there’s clearly been a divorce, there’s an every-Sunday kid he loves (and the sadness that teenage and some weird dubbing mean she won’t be seeing Dad so often), and an attempt on McQ’s life. The hitman’s plans don’t work out and the Duke takes him out in a glorious shot across the marina. We cheered again. Old men are men too, got that?
The plot is a pleasing dig through cop-show standards, but with the tangible twist that the Duke can trust no-one. And he’s lucky to have a job given his maverick ways (there have been criminal beatings…). In fact, there comes a point where he has enough of the controlling shit from his boss (Eddie Albert as the floof-haired and swarthy Kosterman), quits the game and goes Private. I know! Film TechniNoir! With flares!
McQ had been busy suspecting a local transportation businessman, Santiago (Al Lettieri…mid ’40s, months to live, a shame he left so early). Lettieri is wildly memorable as a ranting maniac and is pissed at McQ for continuing to pursue him, particularly as he has plans to steal confiscated drugs from the police…
And so on. It’s a manly plot for manly men. All guns, cussin’ and condemnin’. The Duke gives good growly, but isn’t superhuman. Old Jack’s favourite sequence is when the bad guys trap him in an alley, in his cute wee green car (Pontiac Firebird, Green Hornet, Other Car Words…), between two whopping great lorries. They crush the car, the Duke inside, before the tides turn and they have to run off – McQ shouting from the wreckage “I’m up to my butt in gas!”
I know – the man was a star.
And then there’s a bit with sugar, some tragic stuff with addict Colleen Dewhurst (suspicious teeth and an awkward sexual focus on the Duke), and a strangely linear but of-its-time car chase on a beach. With the Duke and a machine-gun.
Old man messages? Much like Jack Warner sticking with Dixon of Dock Green in the same year, you can be a valuable old codger despite a thirty year gap between you, the normal retirement age, Dirty Harry, and your boss. McQ is a secret gem in the Duke’s final years – and that’s before Diana Muldaur walks on oozing emotional wounds and cheek-boney duplicity.