Most of you will say, who?
Andrew V. McLaglen directed more Westerns in the 1960’s and 1970’s than anyone else, more than 100 hours of television Westerns. This is remarkable because most of the 200-plus episodes were half-hour programs. He said that he kept the genre alive. I believe him.
When McLaglen was hired as a director, Westerns ruled the big and small screens. Rope operas as they were called because in as little as 30 minutes they told a morality tale of good verses evil, love, sacrifice and lots of action. If you sat in front of the television in the 1960’s or went to a movie, chances are you saw his work. It also runs on cable television in perpetual reruns.
Westerns became McLaglen’s bread and butter. The son of actor Victor McLaglen, he was first offered a job by John Ford as an assistant director to work on one of his dad’s films being directed by Ford.
McLaglen had a four-decade long directing career and helmed some of John Wayne’s most popular films in the 1960’s. He also directed 116 episodes of Have Gun – Will Travel.
McLaglen was one of the few directors who worked in both television and film at the same time. It was unusual for television directors to work in film and vice versa.
His first film of note was Wayne’s McLintock! (1963). They would work together again on Hellfighters (1968), The Undefeated (1969), Chisum (1970) and Cahill U.S. Marshall (1973).
McLaglen was also James Stewart’s go to director in the 1960’s with Shenandoah (1964), The Rare Breed (1966) and Bandolero! (1968).
In the late 1970’s, after working mainly in television, McLaglen directed several action films including The Wild Geese, Breakthrough and The Sea Wolves and ffolkes, a contemporary action film with Roger Moore.
McLaglen was a favorite of veteran actors like Wayne, Stewart, Moore, Richard Burton, Rod Steiger, Richard Boone and Lee Marvin.
McLaglen was criticized as being a journeyman director who had no discernible style of his own. I disagree, he was a craftsman. McLaglen worked smart, efficiently and navigated the big egos of big-time stars.
Even in television, he worked with strong producers with tight budgets, and strong personalities like Richard Boone. No, he didn’t have a style like John Ford, John Frankenheimer, John Huston, John Sturges or Howard Hawks. He was an efficient storyteller who made his actors look good.
For years, I wondered why McLaglen, a young television director, was given the job of directing McLintock! This was a John Wayne-produced film, Wayne was the boss on his sets except for when he worked with Ford, Hawks and Otto Preminger. McLintock! was a big budget, sprawling, comedy for Wayne’s own company.
McLaglen had directed two film’s for Wayne’s company and Wayne felt McLaglen could get his vision on film, and McLaglen did so beautifully. Wayne had also made seven films with McLaglen’s father. It was a good choice because McLintock! is generally a favorite among Wayne’s fans. It made money and it holds up five decades later.
Working in television, directors have a lot of bosses: The studio, the producer and the stars. You work fast and on budget. When he moved to film, McLaglen still had bosses to satisfy. That proved to be one of his strengths.
A look at some of McLaglen’s work.
Gunsmoke. McLaglen directed 96 episodes of the series (more than any other director), which evolved from black and white to color, and for a half hour to a full hour. His first directed episode aired in 1956, the series’ second season, and was called “Cow Doctor”. He directed 19 more episodes that season.
Have Gun – Will Travel. He directed more episodes of the Western series than anyone else. The series had a lot of action was included a lot of comedy and cultural references. Palladin preferred to settle a conflict over a game of chess or a drink. Series star Richard Boone directed many episodes, probably after studying McLaglen.
Hellfighters. Very Loosely based on the life of oil well firefighter Red Adair, one of Wayne’s few non-Westerns in the 1960’s. The film has its moments but is surprisingly lacking a lot of action.
The Ballad of Josie. One of Doris Day’s last films, a comedy Western about a widow who wears pants and herds sheep in cattle country. The film had some charm, but seems very formulaic and could have been a lot more as a feminist vs cowboys story.
The Devil’s Brigade. A World War II film about a collection of American-Canadian commandos out to capture a strategic mountain-top position in Italy. Starring William Holden, and having a Dirty Dozen story element, the film is based on a real event but takes great creative freedom.
Bandolero!. A Western co-starring James Stewart and Dean Martin, both toward the end of their careers, and both playing outlaw brothers. The story has Stewart rescuing Martin and his gang from the hangman, then being pursued by sheriff George Kennedy, who is also interested in rescuing Raquel Welch who was kidnapped by Martin. The bandoleros are bandits who control the territory Stewart and Martin escape to. If you can suspend belief that Stewart an Martin are brothers, and find the outlaws as likeable characters, Bandolero! can be a fun, but predictable film.
The Wild Geese. Mercenaries Roger Moore, Richard Harris, Hardy Kruger and Richard Burton are hired to rescue an imprisoned leader in a South African country. Many veteran movie stars were considered for roles including Burt Lancaster. The idea was to embrace actors who were a bit long in the tooth, making the rescue story a bit more dramatic. The mix of actors was designed to ensure commercial viability throughout the world, which worked everywhere except America. The action is competently staged, it is more of an opportunity for the actors to do their thing.
fflokes. A film with many names, it starred Roger Moore, in a role that was intentionally very different from his day job as James Bond. Ffolkes is a counter-terrorism expert who must rescue three North Sea oil platforms from terrorists. Moore plays a cat-loving, woman-hating eccentric, in direct contrast to Bond. The film is entertaining, a very good cast and it has moments.