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Theatrical release poster
Directed by John Sturges
Produced by Jules V. Levy
Arthur Gardner
Written by Lawrence Roman
Starring John Wayne
Eddie Albert
Diana Muldaur
Colleen Dewhurst
Clu Gulager
Music by Elmer Bernstein
Cinematography Harry Stradling Jr.
Editing by William H. Ziegler
Studio Batjac Productions
Distributed by Warner Bros.
NBC (1976, TV)
Warner Home Video (1995-present, VHS & DVD)
Release dates February 6, 1974
Running time 111 min.
Country United States
Language English
Box office $4 million[1]

McQ is a 1974 crime drama film directed by John Sturges, starring John Wayne. The film made extensive use of actual Seattle locations. The beach scenes were filmed on the Pacific coast at Moclips.

Eddie Albert and Diana Muldaur co-star. The film also features a young Roger E. Mosley as a police informer, Clu Gulager as a corrupt police detective, Colleen Dewhurst as a cocaine addict and Al Lettieri as the most visible villain of the film, the drug king Santiago, in one of Lettieri's final roles.

Wayne had rejected the lead in Dirty Harry a few years prior to this film, which he later admitted to regretting.[2] The producers of that film chose Seattle as its location in an earlier version of the script; it was later changed to San Francisco when Clint Eastwood became connected with the project. The film has a dramatic car chase, with Wayne in a green 1973 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am "Green Hornet," influenced by Steve McQueen's chase scene in Bullitt.[3]

One of Wayne's more famous lines from this movie was after the character of Lon McQ was trapped inside of his car after it was crushed between two large trucks, he states to one of the reporting officers: "I'm up to my butt in gas."

When Lieutenant McQ drives in to the Hospital parking lot to check on his partner the viewer can spot a large red and white motor home with emergency lights. This vehicle is Seattle Fire Department Medic One. Medic One was one of the first paramedic units in the country.


It is just before dawn in Seattle. A man dons dark glasses and gloves and loads a 9 mm. silenced automatic handgun. He then drives into town where he shoots a policeman (Officer Philip Forsell) on his beat, then drives to a police impound yard and shoots the officer on duty. At a luncheonette, as he washes his hands, he momentarily flashes a police badge belonging to Detective Sgt. Stan Boyle (William Bryant). When a car pulls up, Boyle gives the driver a satchel containing the 9 mm. and proceeds to his own car – but is shot in the back, by this same driver, who was supposed to be merely getting rid of the murder weapon.

The Seattle Police Department, and the head of the homicide investigation, Captain Edward Kosterman (Eddie Albert), believe the shootings are the work of street militants; Kosterman orders an immediate dragnet.

In an incident seemingly unrelated at the time, Detective Lieutenant Lon "McQ" McHugh (Wayne) barely escapes an attempt on his life by a professional hit man named Samuels. McQ had been awakened just minutes before by a phone call to him on his boat, telling him of his longtime partner's murder, along with the two other police officers.

Because he and Boyle had been investigating drug trafficking in the city, McQ is convinced from the start that the target of their investigation, local shipping magnate Manny Santiago (Al Lettieri), a known drug dealer, is responsible for the shootings.

Despite a warning from Capt. Kosterman to leave the investigation to the department, McQ, after talking with Boyle's wife Lois (Diana Muldaur), gets behind the wheel of his personal Pontiac Firebird car and begins tailing Santiago. After seeing a TV news report that Boyle has died of his injuries, he rages after Santiago and beats him viciously in a men's room.

When confined to desk duty by Kosterman, McQ angrily resigns, despite pleading from fellow detective Franklyn Toms (Clu Gulager). Continuing to investigate the case through a partnership with local private eye "Pinky" Farrell (David Huddleston), McQ learns that Santiago has assembled a heist team to steal the confiscated heroin and cocaine from the police department's evidence vault. The drugs are normally held by the department until turned over to the State Attorney General's Office for disposal.

McQ pursues Santiago's men but they escape. After getting a much harsher warning from the increasingly exasperated Kosterman, McQ acquires for himself an Ingram submachine gun.

McQ uncovers corruption within the department itself. He learns that the "drugs" Santiago allegedly has stolen are really only powdered sugar. The real drugs, from hundreds of both major and minor cases and investigations, has been carefully, over a period of years, replaced with the sugar. Obviously, this switch, immense in both scale and scope, could not have been done without massive cooperation throughout the department. McQ also realizes that Santiago was not responsible for Stan Boyle's death.

McQ's investigation leads to the shooting of one of his sources, bartender Myra (Colleen Dewhurst), and an attempt on McQ's life again, where his car is crushed between two huge trucks. McQ escapes, but when he reexamines the wreckage he finally discovers who is behind the killings of Boyle and two other officers, and also who is behind the theft of drugs from the police, leading to a climactic chase and shootout along a beach with Santiago and his men.



A novelization of McQ, written by Alexander Edwards, was published in 1974 by Warner Books. (ISBN 978-0446764940) The book, written before the filming of the movie and consequent script changes, still follows closely to the final film product and shows the alterations made to the final shooting script. There are subtle differences, such as McQ living in an apartment rather than a boat (The boat seen in the film actually belonged to John Wayne), and the gun used by McQ in the climax is a Mauser in the book instead of the grander Mac 10 used in the movie. There are also some scenes either deleted or modified, but on the whole the book is quite loyal to the movie in both dialogue and plot.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Glenn Lovell, Escape Artist: The Life and Films of John Sturges, University of Wisconsin Press, 2008 p281
  2. ^ Dowell, Pat. - "John Wayne, Man and Myth". - (book review of: John Wayne, American by Randy Roberts and James S. Olson). - Washington Post. - September 25, 1995. - Retrieved: 2008-08-05
  3. ^ Clark, Mike - "Behind the scenes with John Wayne". - USA Today. - May 22, 2007. - Retrieved: 2008-08-05

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