Photography: Courtesy Olive Films
Photography: Courtesy Olive Films

The classic John Wayne–Maureen O’Hara comedy — which was loosely based on Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew — turns 50 this November.

A ferocious clash between gun-toting settlers and scapegoated Indians has just barely been avoided, but that’s not enough to mollify George Washington McLintock (John Wayne). The blunt-spoken cattle baron — a man so wealthy and well-respected, they’ve named the whole dang town after him — isn’t quite ready to forgive the hotheaded blowhard who rashly ignited the ruckus. And not just because that man repeatedly prods McLintock’s midsection with a shotgun during a heated conversation.

No, McLintock remains sore — in both senses of the word — because the blowhard, a malcontent homesteader named Jones (Leo Gordon), wanted to lynch an innocent “Injun” he claimed kidnapped his missing daughter. It’s bad enough that Jones almost triggered a bloody skirmish between the rabble-roused townspeople and vengeful Comanches. But when Jones’ daughter does return in the nick of time — accompanied by a nice young cowpoke with whom she just shared a “sunrise ride” — Jones unapologetically redirects his murderous rage toward his daughter’s ardent admirer.

So McLintock defuses the situation by disarming Jones. But when a good friend (Chill Wills) advises restraint, noting that Jones was “just a little excited,” McLintock pauses before expressing his displeasure nonverbally.

“I’m gonna use good judgment,” he says, turning the tables while poking Jones in the gut with the shotgun. “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,” McLintock adds. And, as if to convince himself, he repeats: “I won’t.”

But then, giving the matter an extra second of consideration, he snarls: “The hell I won’t!”

And with that, McLintock hammers Jones with a mighty blow to the jaw that sends the hothead tumbling down a hillside — and, even now, five decades after McLintock! first appeared at theaters and drive-ins everywhere, that moment continues to make viewers convulse with uncontrollable laughter.

It’s not nearly as revered as such Oscar-winning hits as Stagecoach and True Grit, and never mentioned in the same breath with masterworks like The Searchers and Rio Bravo, but McLintock! — which opened to generally favorable reviews and boffo box office success on November 13, 1963 — remains a sentimental favorite of John Wayne fans, in no small measure because it is, quite simply, one of the most boisterously funny films The Duke ever made. Indeed, call it the only movie in which Wayne cracked wise more often than he shot straight, and you won’t be far off the mark.

Aptly described by film critic and historian Leonard Maltin as a “slapstick variation of The Taming of the Shrew set in the Old West,” McLintock! is a hand-tooled star vehicle for Wayne. As G.W. McLintock, he plays a swaggering man’s man who’s rich enough to accurately claim he owns “everything in this county from here to there” and ill-behaved enough to drive his well-bred wife, Katherine (Maureen O’Hara), to establish residency back East.

Photography: Courtesy Olive Films
Photography: Courtesy Olive Films

Two years after her departure — she suspected her husband of infidelity, and he never really denied it — Katherine returns to the territory, and to McLintock’s opulent home, to claim their Eastern-educated daughter, Becky (Stefanie Powers), and to start divorce proceedings. But Becky is in no hurry to leave after she discovers her father’s new ranch hand (Patrick Wayne, The Duke’s son) is appreciably more attractive than her Harvard-educated fiancé (Jerry Van Dyke). And Katherine reconsiders her options after falling in love with

“G.W.” all over again — after he chases her through town during the movie’s climactic sequence and none-too-playfully spanks her.

The screenplay, written by Wayne favorite James Edward Grant (who also wrote and directed The Duke in Angel and the Badman), has something to do with McLintock’s attempts to help his longtime Comanche buddies in their battles against paternalistic government officials — including an officious but inept Indian agent played by Strother Martin — and something else to do with the cattle baron’s defiant efforts to demonstrate that the passing of time has done little to diminish his virility or authority. (Not incidentally, the movie — directed by Andrew V. McLaglen, son of Wayne’s frequent costar Victor McLaglen — was also intended to provide financial stability to Batjac, Wayne’s production company, after the disappointing box office performance of The Alamo.)

But for most faithful fans of John Wayne, the story line simply served as a welcome excuse for the re-teaming of Wayne with O’Hara. The actress, who had previously costarred with The Duke in Rio Grande, The Quiet Man, and The Wings of Eagles, was admiringly described by Patrick Wayne as “the only one who could stand up to my father, and stand toe-to-toe with my father, and match him in everything.”

“When I read the script,” O’Hara recalled in a documentary produced for the DVD release of McLintock!, “I was thrilled. I thought: By God, they wrote this for the two of us.”

“They had worked so frequently and so well together,” marveled costar Stefanie Powers, “that they had their own sort of language. He’d say, ‘You’ll zig and I’ll zag, OK?’ They each knew immediately what the other was going to do, and how that would work, what would happen. And they were both very physical.”

Trouble was, at the time of filming in and around Tucson, Arizona, in the fall of 1962, O’Hara was recovering from surgery to remove ovarian cysts. So she was understandably concerned about taking part in the aforementioned scene with Wayne and costar Leo Gordon, which called for just about everyone else in the scene to also tumble down the hillside into a massive mudhole.

“When we were ready for me to slide backwards down into the mud,” O’Hara said, “the wardrobe man and the wardrobe lady grabbed me, and they started taking my clothes off. And I said, ‘What are you doing? What are you doing?’ And they said, ‘We can’t let you go down that, and have your stomach opening up and all your innards coming out. So we’re going to fix you for it.’

“Somewhere they had found the waterproof leggings that a fisherman wears if he goes into a stream and he’s going to get wet. They cut the top off of it, and then they pulled the pants and everything up, and tied it around my waist. And then they put my clothes back on and told me, ‘All right. Now you can go and do the stunt.’

“Duke said to me, ‘What the hell kept you?’ Well, I couldn’t tell him. I told him afterward. And he was shocked. He said, ‘Why didn’t you tell me, for God’s sake? I wouldn’t have made you do all those things.’ And I said, ‘Well, I’m not going to ask for pity from you, ever.’ ”
And besides: Sometimes, a woman’s got to do what a woman’s got to do.

McLintock! is available on DVD or Blu-ray through Olive Films.

From the November/December 2013 issue.