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Thursday, March 11, 2004
Andrew V. McLaglen!
In this brief essay I will examine several films by an often-overlooked director whose versatility is, maybe, considerable. According to some webpage I looked at, the first picture he made is a 1956 Western (starring James Arness and Angie Dickinson) entitled “Arizona Mission.” The most recent film listed is “Dirty Dozen: The Next Mission,” and one cannot fail to be struck by the powerful irony in the titles of these two works: one might say: “here is a director with a mission.” But why would one stoop to such desperate jackanapes? Here’s why: sadly, I’ve never seen either work, so my discussion of these movies will have to rely on supposition based on the titles alone, along with whatever cast and plot information I can glean from that webpage I mentioned earlier. Assuming I intend to “discuss” these (or any) movies of Andrew V. McLaglen.
In fact, I’ve never actually seen a single film by Andrew V. McLaglen. My interest in the man and his art is, therefore, minimal; I can recall catching a short snippet of “Shenadoah” before realizing that, though I deeply love the American folk song of the same name, this fact alone could not stir my interest in a film I found insufficiently absorbing. Of course, I was young when I saw the little bit I saw, and might find it more appealing now that I’m older. Frankly, I remember little about the thing other than a few television commercials for a Broadway musical presumably based upon it. The show starred John Cullum, and somehow I wound up in possession of its original cast album, which featured two songs (one called “Freedom” and the other not) I did listen to occasionally when I was a teenager. This, of course, has little to do with the actual work of Mr. McLaglen, so I will not dwell on it.
The main reason I decided to write this essay was an accidental discovery made while perusing old TV Guide magazines. I often peruse old TV Guides, to be honest, and whether or not you can fathom such a hobby, there it is. I bet you do things I would not understand either, so let’s just drop the whole issue. I‘m not trying to convince anyone that my idiosyncrasies merit in-depth analysis; I brought the subject up for a specific reason. It’s certainly pertinent to this essay, and I’m about to explain why, so keep your shirt on.
Oddly, Andrew V. McLaglen directed, between 1963 and 1968, a trio of films sharing one compelling trait. “McLintock!” “Monkeys Go Home!” and “Bandolero!” all, obviously, feature emphatic exclamation points in their titles! Why? Why did Andrew V. McLaglen insist upon including this particular punctuation mark in the titles of these films? We must remember that this was the 1960s… a period of great change in our nation’s history. A generation of youths was asking “why?” and perhaps Andrew V. McLaglen took it upon himself to reply decisively. It’s a theory!
A theory which holds little water when one considers that the titles “McLintock!” and “Bandolero!” serve to “answer” very little in and of themselves, unless the question posed happens to be something along the lines of: “Quick! Could you please name two films by Andrew V. McLaglen?” It is, to say the least, doubtful that this question ever crossed the collective mind of the Love Generation, who in 1963 weren’t even the Love Generation yet. Shortly, as we know, all that would change. Hoo boy, would it ever! Four young men from Liverpool were about to set the world ablaze with their innovative music and trend-setting style of dress. Yes, The Beatles: John Paul, George, and Ringo. The “Fab Four” who went from hitmaking cut-ups to socio-cultural movers and shakers in the space of a few short years. Especially 1964 through 1967, a time period framed, if you will, by the releases of “McLintock!” and “Bandolero!” respectively. So… can we infer that Andrew V. McLaglen was something of a seer, anticipating the upheavals soon to come and then sagely commenting on those upheavals once they had just passed, as well as predicting yet more still to heave up later?
Perhaps it is “Monkeys Go Home!” that provides the clue to our triune conundrum. According to the webpage I keep mentioning, this feature starred the redoubtable Dean Jones, along with a whole cast of French actors. Redoubtable? That means “formidable… not to be lightly dismissed.” Dean Jones? If ever a film actor could be characterized as “lightly dismissable” it was Dean Jones, Disney favorite and frequent guest on Christian television programs. For example, nobody’s ever likely to shout “Dean Jones!” Unless the actor suddenly appeared unbidden in one’s home, and that seems unlikely to say the least. So I take back “redoubtable” and leave you to supply your own adjective. Come to think of it, if Dean Jones suddenly showed up in your house, you might in fact shout “Dean Jones Go Home!” You’d be within your rights, by my way of looking at it. Whether or not Mr. Jones himself could see the irony in the situation is hard to say, and would depend entirely on why the hell he found it necessary to prowl around uninvited in the home of a perfect stranger, which, I assure you, I am… at least where Dean Jones is concerned. And where the films of Andrew V. McLaglen are concerned, for that matter.
Surely Andrew V. McLaglen’s temporary penchant for exclamation points is what prompted this essay, but as it turns out, there is very little I have to say about the subject, and the significance (or lack of any) of this curious (or merely dull) stylistic device would be better examined (or ignored) by someone more familiar (which wouldn’t be saying much) with the films themselves. Maybe somebody French. Irony upon irony there, considering Dean Jones’ costars (many of them French) in “Monkey’s Go Home!” I don’t know… I throw my hands up.
All that aside, several other films by Andrew V. McLaglen might be worth mentioning. “The Last Hard Man” (1976) and “Something Big” (1970) share little I can reckon regarding cast members or plot particulars, but do boast titles curiously useful in terms of their potential to inspire preadolescent gutter humor. Taken in tandem, the penis-joke associations are undeniable, and it’s a fair shame (for the purposes of this essay) that there are no more I can mention. Even ONE more might justify a tangent comparable to the “exclamation point” conceit I abandoned earlier (and may return to if I get really stuck), but the closest I can offer is 1970’s “Chisum” …which sounds like “jism,” albeit not enough to justify stretching the point. Given the probability that you are as unfamiliar with Andrew V. McLintock as I am, I could claim that he directed a movie entitled “Cold Cock” or “Stiff Competition” and who’d care? But I won’t take the low road, and I resent anyone who expected me to try.
It is when we ponder several of Andrew V. McLaglen’s earlier works (1960’s “Freckles” and 1961’s “The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come”) that we reach what I can only describe as an absolute dead end. Not only am I entirely unfamiliar with these movies, I can honestly report that until I consulted that webpage, I’d never even heard of the titles. Neither title inspires even mildly humorous associations, nor am I tempted to contrive any. I sit here, feeling like a complete and utter douchebag, deep into an essay on Andrew V. McLaglen with nothing to say about him. Having confused and bored you, my reader, I am no closer to a justification for this drivel than I was when I started. And that hurts.
Should I try to mine some gags from the peculiar lower-case double-f title of 1980’s “ffolkes?” Nah, ffuck that. Sure, I deserve to endure this self-created purgatory of tedium, but how can I forgive myself for dragging you along with me? You… my hapless companion in this pointless meander… the crestfallen victim of my ill-conceived treatise on a veteran Hollywood professional whose oeuvre escaped my attention through no fault of his own… YOU are “picking up the tab” for my arrogant caprice. I swear I’ll make it up to you somehow. And I’ll make it up to Andrew V. McLaglen if it’s the last thing I do.
But then again, why? Do I “owe” you or Andrew V. McLaglen any more than I’ve already given? Where, in the name of Great Bleedin’ Jesus, is it written? You really get my goat sometimes, making me feel bad because I tried to offer my little contribution to the vast literature on The Cinema, even though all the good shit’s been taken. Yeah, I could’ve chosen a subject more hospitable to my own sensibilities and experiences… then this would’ve been a cakewalk… a concise and persuasive text full of confident assertions, based on sound information and observation. I could’ve wowed you with shrewd insights and fascinating minutiae concerning a director with whom I’d developed the kind of long, rewarding “relationship” upon which great “appreciations” are based. But I took a risk… a big risk… and, yeah, I booted it. So hang me.
Andrew V. McLaglen, a director whose canon has escaped my lifelong notice, did several films whose titles feature conspicuous and inexplicable exclamation points. The sole exception to said inexplicableness is “Monkeys Go Home!” in which this most dramatic of punctuation marks finally – satisfyingly - seems wholly appropriate. If you or I found our domiciles or workplaces overrun with monkeys, we may not say “monkeys go home” in so many words, but we sure would want them to! And we would undoubtedly emphasize our complaint/demand with, yes, an exclamation point. You bet we would! And it is this, after all is said and done, that I personally consider Andrew V. McLaglen’s finest contribution to my understanding of life. For who among us can honestly claim that we’d welcome an onslaught of monkeys? It is only through the efforts of artists like Andrew V. McLaglen that we can find a context in which our own dormant (but palpably real) monkey-plague anxieties can be faced and discussed.
Mike “Sport!” Murphy