Ripper car movies: McQ (1974)

The cop no one can stop. Even the cops


WHEN an assassination attempt on veteran police detective Lon ‘McQ’ McHugh (Wayne) happens within minutes of learning his longtime partner Stan Boyle (Bryant) has been shot, McQ immediately strikes out for revenge.

First published in the March 2022 issue of Street Machine

He initially suspects that the crimes are the work of local drug lord Manny Santiago (Lettieri), but after he leans on Santiago a little too hard, McQ cops disciplinary action and ends up resigning from the force. Against the wishes of his captain (Albert), McQ surrenders his gun and badge before joining the team of local private eye Pinky Farrell (Huddleston), with a view to keeping his credentials and investigation alive. Leaning on two of his local snitches, local hipster Rosey (Mosley) and McQ’s part-time love interest Myra (Dewhurst), he learns that Santiago plans to steal a $2 million consignment of police-confiscated drugs that are slated to be destroyed.

When the heisters successfully evade McQ, he hits Santiago head-on, only to learn that he too has been stiffed, with the drugs switched out for powdered sugar before his crew carried out the theft.

All is not what it seems, so McQ questions Stan’s widow, Lois (Muldaur), on whether Stan was crooked and if she was in on the plan. Lois responds by trying to slip McQ between the sheets – so that’s a resounding ‘yes’ – before their liaison is suspiciously interrupted by his fellow detective, Frank Toms (Gulager).

Now unsure of who to trust, McQ’s paranoia intensifies when he is given the Malachi crunch between two raging Kenworths, leaving both McQ and his gorgeous Brewster Green Pontiac Firebird rather the worse for wear.

With Myra gunned down and his police brethren now looking to make McQ for the drug crime, he packs himself a machine pistol and a bad attitude and steps up his own investigation, leading to a shootout with a dirty cop and a slippery beach chase with Santiago and his crew.


I KIND of feel sorry for John Wayne in McQ. At 66, he was keen to revive his career by playing a cop after a couple of his bread-and-butter western flicks tanked at the box office, but he just looks tired and sore. It was well publicised that this role was just sloppy seconds for Wayne after Steve McQueen turned it down, so the abbreviation of ‘McQ’ as the film’s title was just salt in the wound. Even Wayne’s cars in the chase scenes were overdubbed with the engine sounds of the Mustang in Bullitt. Still, McQ’s not a bad film – the Kenworth crunch is great – but the biggest hurdle for me is that Wayne’s performance borders on self-parody – I spent the rest of the day trying to talk like him.


  • 1973 Pontiac Firebird
  • 1969 Plymouth Belvedere
  • 1968 Chevrolet Bel Air
  • 1973 Chevrolet Impala
  • 1969 Chevrolet Step-Van
  • 1971 Cadillac DeVille
  • 1964 Ford Galaxie 500
  • Kenworth 523
  • Kenworth W900
  • 1970 Chevrolet Camaro
  • 1971 Chevrolet Chevy Van
  • 1962 Volkswagen Kombi


  • John Wayne
  • Diana Muldaur
  • Eddie Albert
  • David Huddleston
  • Julian Christopher
  • Al Lettieri
  • Clu Gulager
  • Roger E Mosley
  • Colleen Dewhurst
  • William Bryant

John Sturges

A pretty lairy street hunt, an awesome back-lane smash-up derby, and a high-speed beach chase finale

A detective investigating the murder of his former partner discovers that a group of corrupt cops are dealing in confiscated drugs

DVD, streaming

This was the first movie to use a charge cannon to stunt-roll a car.