I was watching this John Wayne movie the other day on YouTube:
It’s the 1963 western “McLintock,” with Wayne and Maureen O’Hara, and in the course of it you see:
1) A raging alcoholic as the heroic and admirable main character.
2) A depiction of Native Americans as uncontrollable alcoholics.
3) Mexican children roaming unsupervised through town assaulting homeless beggars.
4) Asian men behaving as babbling children obsessed with superstition.
5) A Negro manservant (and Negro is the appropriate word here) who cleans up his master’s mess without complaint and eternally holds the master in high regard.
6) The resolution of domestic disputes with guns and physical violence.
7) A strong-willed woman publicly humiliated and beaten by her spouse as an entire town watches and cheers.
8) The return of said woman to the house of the man who beat her, and her vow to obey him so they can live happily ever after.
So here’s my dilemma.
I really like this movie.
The parade of stereotypes shows the prevailing social attitudes of the 1960s. The scene where the daughter tells her father to shoot the ranch hand who calls her a trollop … and he shoots him … is really funny. The town brawl at the mud hole is something I’ve remembered ever since I first saw the movie at the Kinema theater in Brooklyn 50 years ago (whenever I think of a John Wayne movie, I always flashback to that segment). In the chase scene featuring G.W. and Katherine McLintock, the wife gets some pretty good licks in amid the town’s laughter.
But, in an odd turn, there is sympathy for the plight of the American Indian. The stereotype listed above does reflect one of the plagues facing Native Americans today … alcoholism. And we see it was brought on by U.S. government treatment of the native population that was riddled with corruption and incompetence, imposed with cruelty and enforced by guns.
There is, in a nuanced way, an acceptance, or at least a defense of interracial dating. But only if the minority takes on the mannerisms and attitudes of the majority.
And Duke does give an impassioned speech about environmental preservation, something no one was talking about in 1963. That is one of the movie’s biggest eye openers.
Jerry Van Dyke‘s character Junior Douglas, an effete college intellectual (because all Ivy Leaguers are seen that way by “real Americans”) calls McLintock a “reactionary.”
A reactionary is an individual that holds political viewpoints which cause them to seek to return to a previous state (the status quo ante) in a society. Reactionaries are considered to be one end of a political spectrum whose opposite pole is radicalism, though reactionary ideologies may be themselves radical.
And in true reactionary form, the Duke pretends he doesn’t know what the word means.
But “McLintock” is a reactionary comedy. When you hear today’s American conservatives saying “I want my country back,” this is the imaginary time and place they’re seeking. And “McLintock” shows the idealized version of America that reactionaries of the 1960s yearned for.
But I go back to my dilemma. I still like this movie. And in its 50th anniversary it remains one of my favorites.
I’ll watch and wince every time I see the stereotypes. But I’ll understand better the folks who miss “the good old days.” Because, as the radical Gil Scott Heron once said of reactionaries, “this ain’t really your life. … Ain’t really nothing but a movie: