Howdy, Pilgrims! The public domain can best be described as a vast warehouse filled with our collective cultural heritage. It is where all of the ideas, knowledge, and creative arts of those who came before us is stored for us to enjoy, reuse, and use to inform our own creations. It is where we find the plays of Shakespeare, the music of Mozart, and the films of the early pioneers of the medium. It is not, however, just a repository of the old. There are actually many more modern and very vital items stored there as well. Personally, I like to think of it as a treasure chest full of gems, some of them well-known and beloved, some of them largely unexplored, and today I'd like to share one of those gems with you.
In 1963, 13 years after they had first appeared together in the John Ford epic Rio Grande and 11 years after they both appeared in what may be Wayne's greatest non-western movie, The Quiet Man, John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara came together once again to bring the story of The Taming of the Shrew to the wild west in the form of the 1963 movie McLintock!
In the movie, Wayne plays George Washington McLintock, a cattle baron, mine owner, lumberyard boss, and generally the biggest man (physically and financially) in a town that has even been named after him. However, no matter how big McLintock may be, his biggest challenge may have just arrived on the morning train. No, it's not a gunslinger come to challenge the man. Or even one of the new settlers who are intent on farming land given to them by the government. No, the true challenge to McLintock's power (and his sanity) is his estranged wife, Katherine (O'Hara) who has just returned to town to meet up with their daughter, Becky (Stefanie Powers), just returning from college. Katherine plans to take Becky east to start a new life, but McLintock is, shall we say, less than thrilled with the idea.
The sparks soon begin to fly, but the question soon becomes: will these two exes simply burn each other up, or are the sparks merely a prelude to renewed romantic fireworks?
The film definitely has its ups and downs. The chemistry between the two leads is immediately obvious, and they are backed by a supporting cast that not only includes Powers and Wayne's son Patrick and daughter Aissa, but also the lovely Yvonne De Carlo (yes, Lily Munster herself), Jerry Van Dyke, Bruce Cabot, Strother Martin, and Chill Wills as Mclintock's right hand man Drago.
The high point of the movie has to be the oft highlighted "mud fight scene," which begins with Drago trying to calm his boss down. "I know, I know. I'm gonna use good judgment," Mclintock says through gritted teeth. "I haven't lost my temper in 40 years, but pilgrim you caused a lot of trouble this morning, might have got somebody killed… and somebody oughta belt you in the mouth. But I won't." He begins to turn away. "I won't… The HELL I won't!"
And with that he belts the other man, knocking him down a hill and into a mud pit. Donnybrooking soon ensues:
On the negative side, the movie is definitely a product of its time and attitudes. One of the reasons that I chose to feature the poster above is that it highlights one of the scenes that has been, in later years, highly criticized. Actually there are two spanking scenes in the movie, one in which Mclintock turns Katherine over his knee, another which involves Becky and her fiancee. For those who are offended by that kind of thing, I can only say that it seems to me sort of part-and-parcel with the whole Taming of the Shrew theme, and also that throughout the movie it seems that both women for the most part give as good as they get.
Then there is the portrayal of Native Americans. I'm not even going to try to defend this one, though I will say that it seems at least a bit more enlightened than some of Wayne's earlier "Injun fighter" westerns. Yes, the Native Americans are presented as more interested in finding alcohol than anything else, but at the same time, at a couple of points, McLintock is shown as a fighter for Indian rights and rescues a Comanche friend from hanging for a crime he didn't commit. The attitude towards the natives is even called into play as one of the characters is given the dialogue "Yes, I know I'm an Indian. But I'm also the fastest runner in town. I've got a college education and I'm also the railroad telegrapher. But does anybody say 'Hello, Runner' or 'Hello, College Man' or 'Hello, Telegrapher'? No! Not even 'Hello, Knothead'! It's always 'Let the Indian do it.'"
So how did a movie from 1963 with a major star like John Wayne, produced by his own Batjac production company wind up in the public domain? The answer is simple. When the movie was made in 1963 the term for copyrights was 28 years with a possible 28-year extension. When the time for renewal came up in 1991, Wayne's son, Michael, who was in charge of Batjac at the time, failed to file for the extension. Therefore it automatically fell into the public domain.
And now, just to whet your appetite and give you a taste of this gem from the public domain, here is the trailer for McLintock!:
Okay, enough commentary. Here's the skinny:
Release Date: 1963
Running Time: 127 min.
Stars: John Wayne, Mureen O'Hara, Patrick Wayne, Stefanie Powers
Director: Andrew V. McLaglen
Producer: Michael Wayne
Production Company: Batjac
Distributed by: United Artists
You can watch or download the entire movie (in widescreen) legally for free, or Amazon has it available on DVD for those who prefer that.
Until next time, happy treasure hunting!