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Good Public Domain Movies: McLintock!

Updated on February 10, 2012

McLintock!, the 1963 comedy-western starring John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara, lapsed into the public domain in 1991 when Wayne's estate failed to obtain a copyright extension. While not the best film in Wayne's catalog, it's certainly a very entertaining movie, one which has gotten a bum rap over the years due to some misguided criticism, which I'll discuss shortly.

GW McLintock

The role of George Washington McLintock ("GW"), a self-made cattle-baron, and owner of pretty much everything in a town named after him, gave Wayne the opportunity to display a seldom-seen talent for comedy. GW is rough around the edges, but generally fair, honest, and well-respected. In McClintock!, he finds himself dealing with corrupt politicians, local homesteaders, indians seeking to avoid US Government-imposed relocation, and - possibly worst of all - his own estranged wife and daughter, played by Maureen O'Hara and Stefanie Powers.

John Wayne and the ever-beautiful Maureen O'Hara.
John Wayne and the ever-beautiful Maureen O'Hara.

Taming of the Shrew

McLintock! is loosely based on Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew (the shrew in this instance being Mrs. Katherine McLintock, wonderfully played by Maureen O'Hara). It's not exactly a plot-driven film, however. McLintock! is noteable mostly for its charcter interactions - especially the chemistry between John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara - and for a few big scenes, including a brawl where pretty much everyone (including Maureen O'Hara) ends up covered in head-to-toe mud, and a big chase scene at the end.

This was the fourth pairing of John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara, who had previously co-starred in Rio Grande (1950), The Quiet Man (1952) and The Wings of Eagles (1957). The combination was an audience favorite, and in McLintock! their chemistry was as good as ever. The pair would make one more film together, Big Jake (1971).

Stefanie Powers and the rest of the supporting cast, including Yvonne De Carlo and Jerry Van Dyke, also put in good performances.

Kiss Me Kate: another adaptation of Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew.
Kiss Me Kate: another adaptation of Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew.

The Infamous Spanking

McLintock! is famous - or infamous - for the scene where John Wayne spanks Maureen O'Hara, which some have labeled as misogynistic and even promoting spousal abuse. I think the criticism is unwarranted, for two reasons. First, the film is based on The Taming of the Shrew, which itself has a spanking scene in it. The hit musical Kiss Me Kate, also based on The Taming of the Shrew, has the spanking scene (featured quite prominently on the show's promotional poster - see right), as well. So blame Will Shakespeare.

Second, I think it's fairly obvious that McLintock is not actually abusing his wife. The entire town, including the couple's own adult daughter, watches the action and laughs. The whole thing was play between Mr and Mrs McLintock, who climb into bed and make love in the very next scene (it's OK - the townsfolk are no longer watching). One might argue that spanking, even in a joking manner, is in bad taste, but to suggest that McLintock! contains scenes of spousal abuse is simply way off the mark.

Depiction of Native Americans

The film has also been criticized for a supposedly racist depiction of Native Americans, because of one character who appears to be an alcoholic. There are many Native Americans in McLintock!, and only one of them is depicted in this manner. One Indian who drinks too much does not make a film racist. In fact, McLintock! is actually quite sympathetic to the plight of Native Americans at that time in history.

In one scene, McLintock literally comes to blows with another white man in order to prevent the lynching of an innocent Native American (see the clip below). In another, McLintock speaks in court, attempting to prevent the relocation of a tribe of Comanches by the US government. In yet another scene, Davey, a college-educated Native American working in town, speaks truthfully and accurately about the struggles his people face.

McLintock prevents the lynching of an innocent Native American:

The truth is that quite an unenlightened view of alcoholism pervaded American society at that time. We laughed at Dean Martin's alcohol-induced antics, and Mayberry's town drunk, Otis, was a recurring joke on the Andy Griffith Show. McLintock!, a product of its time, shares this unfortunate attitude. Charges of racism, however, are unfounded.

My vigorous defense of McLintock! is probably unneccessary. The truth is that most people, including most critics, seem to like the film. I suggest you watch it, and make up your own mind. McLintock! is a funny and entertaining change of pace for John Wayne, and is consistently one of the more popular films among his fans.

Good Public Domain Movies

This hub is part of a series which discusses free public domain movies that are actually worth watching. I'll be regularly adding more films in various genres (and writing on other interesting topics, as well), so come back often and check for the latest!


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    • Doc Sonic profile image

      Glen Nunes 5 years ago from Cape Cod, Massachusetts

      Scarlett, thanks for reading and commenting. You have good taste in movies! :)

    • profile image

      Scarlett 5 years ago

      I love this movie! I'm 19 if that means anything. Nice to read a positive review of my favorite movie!

    • Doc Sonic profile image

      Glen Nunes 5 years ago from Cape Cod, Massachusetts

      John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara. You gotta love it! Thanks for commenting.

    • Lorne Hemmerling profile image

      Lorne Hemmerling 5 years ago from Oshawa

      Classic line from this movie: Maureen O'Hara "You smell like beer" John Wayne: "I've been drinking beer" Love it!