George Washington McLintock (John Wayne) is a cattle and land baron who just wants a quiet life, but there are so many people around who want his attention that there doesn't seem much hope of that. Today he is overseeing his herd as they go off to be sold, but before long a would-be nemesis in the person of Douglas (Gordon Jones), a rabble rouser, is trying to whip up ill-feeling towards the new settlers and McLintock himself. Not only does the landowner put Douglas in his place, but points out to the new arrivals that the ground here is good just for grazing, not growing. Yes, he has a firm but fair hand, but how will he cope with his estranged wife Katherine (Maureen O'Hara) returning?
John Wayne had reached a stage in his career when he made this movie that he could do no wrong with his many fans as he was probably the most famous film star in America, even on the planet, in 1963. However, as with most stars when they reach that level of fame, he felt he should be bringing something else to the table to mould society in the way he saw fit, and McLintock! was a work he felt would embody the kind of American values he wanted his country to embrace. For those on the liberal side of the political divide, this could have made the film something of a nightmare to sit through, but it's not a completely unreasonable tract.
In fact, the Duke's frequent screenwriter James Edward Grant included quite a lot about getting along with your fellow countryman in the script, and takes a far more accomodating view of the Native Americans than certain other westerns to star Wayne: not one Indian is shot while trying to catch a stagecoach, for example. On the other hand, they are treated like figures of, well, not really fun, but not taken too seriously anyway until almost the end when a bunch of them get their hands on some rifles upon which they immediately shoot up the town and disrupt the Fourth of July celebrations, for no reason given adequate explanation other than they're not to be trusted.
But the big man's demanour here is strictly genial, and even though he was getting a little long in the tooth to play the romantic lead, he still gets to romance O'Hara (looking great for her age), although actually their romance has occured some years before and needs a measure of rekindling. When we first see Katherine she is issuing McLintock with divorce papers, but he throws them away because, well, maybe he hasn't given up on their relationship. Their union produced a child, the now-grown up Becky (a brunette Stefanie Powers), who is also returning to town complete with new boyfriend, the completely unsuitable son of Douglas (Jerry Van Dyke, brother of Dick).
We know, the Duke knows, that Becky would be better off with young cowboy Devlin, who is played by Wayne's son Patrick Wayne making an effort at turning movie star but forever in his father's shadow as far as that career went. Becky has inherited the willful strong-headedness of her mother, if not her fearsome temper (the inspiration for this was Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew, although don't expect much faithfulness), so McLintock has the ideal solution for trouble with the ladies, and that is violence. Don't worry, though, it's comedy violence, all presented here on the level of the mass brawl in a mud bath that was the comedy highlight for fans of this back in the sixties, so what both Becky and Katherine get for their strong opinions on men is a proper spanking. Nowadays, the sight of the leading man taking a paddle to the leading lady's rear would be seen as downright perverse, but apparently it's all right if John Wayne or his relatives do it. Whatever, if you don't buy into this jokey roughhousing the film can be an uneasy experience, and more wit in the dialogue might have excused its leaden qualities. Big hit, though. Music by Frank De Vol.