Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Overlooked Movies: Big Jim McLain

When I was a kid, one of my favorite short stories was Stephen Vincent Benet's The Devil and Daniel Webster.  So naturally I'm prone to be favorable toward a movie that opens with a quotation from that story.  While it's not a very good movie, it's still fun.

Big Jim McLain was made in 1952, back when Joe McCarthy was stirring things up.  There were, he said, dirty commies hiding under every bed.  It was a time of paranoia and fear.  Luckily we've moved way beyond that kind of thing. 

Anyway, John Wayne and his partner, played by James Arness, are FBI guys investigating commie activity in Hawaii for the House UnAmerican Activities Committee.  The commies are led by Alan Napier, and they're bad clean through.  Arness is the real commie-hater in the movie. They make him really angry, and he loves to pound them to a pulp.  [SPOILER ALERT]  When they kill him (accidentally), Wayne vows revenge.  He gets it, too, rounding up all the commies and getting them arrested. Here's the clincher. They escape prison by pleading the Fifth.  I guess Napier reformed, since he went on to become Batman's butler. [END OF SPOILER ALERT]

Since the movie was filmed in Hawaii, it's too bad that it's in black and white, though the photography's great.  There's some romance, naturally, with John Wayne and Nancy Olson.  While there's one big brawl of the kind that we expect in a John Wayne movie, but there's not as much action as you might think.

I've read that in some countries the movie was re-titled Marijuana, and that the commies, with artful dubbing, were turned into drug dealers.  I'll bet that movie would be as much fun as the original, if not more.


pattinase (abbott) said...

Not quite as obvious as MY SON, JOHN though

Anonymous said...


Just as a trivia note, real-life Honolulu Police Chief Dan Liu played himself in this movie.