In the 1970s, John Wayne was involved in some unfortunate projects, such as his attempt (the last) to expand his range in two crime thrillers: “McQ” and “Brannigan.” In “McQ,” Wayne enforces the law in this high-velocity thriller thats a revenge western set in the big city.
Police Lieutenant Lon McQ investigates the killing of his best friend and uncovers corrupt elements of the police department dealing in confiscated drugs. Directed by John Sturges (“Ice Station Zebra,” “The Magnificent Seven”), the movie also stars Eddie Albert and Colleen Dewhurst.
Prior to “McQ,” Wayne had never played a cop or a private eye, a genre that became extremely popular in the 1960s, with Sean Connery's “James Bond” movies, and in the 1970s with Clint Eastwood's “Dirty Harry” pictures. “I felt like a bit of change myself,” Wayne said, “but I had to stick to action movies, of course, and the tough cop thriller is where a lot of action is these days.”
The switch to crime pictures was not by choice, however. In the l970s, both Westerns and war movies declined in appeal, so the action-adventure was really his only viable alternative. Unfortunately, both movies failed, critically and commercially.
Comparisons with Steve McQueen (“Bullitt” and others) and Clint Eastwood's vehicles were inevitable, though they were not to Wayne's advantage. Reviewing “McQ,” the New York Times' Nora Sayre represented many critics when she wrote: “Surely Mr. Wayne should stick to Westerns; he's simply too slow to play any kind of policeman.”
And another critic was even harsher: “Out of the saddle and into the Hornet,” Wayne “is as stony-faced and over-aged as ever.”