Lone Wolf McQuade (1983)

2010-03-11 11:13
Lone Wolf McQuade


JJ McQuade is the last of the old school Texas Rangers – a hard man who works alone and believes in hard frontier-style justice. He stumbles upon a drug smuggling ring headed by a particularly ruthless kung-fu practising kingpin. When the smugglers eventually kidnap McQuade’s daughter, it sets the stage for a showdown with guns, karate, and more guns and karate. 


Francesco di Masi’s opening title theme is an Oscar-worthy effort, reminiscent of Ennio Morricone’s contributions for Sergio Leone.  It’s tense and expansive, drawing from a quiet dusk to a sprawling desert vista. It’s also instantly memorable for its accompanying images of a lone wolf (get it?) on a desert plain shot in close-up, transforming to that aforementioned vista in a not-too-subtle homage to a certain type of American film. 

Cinematographer Roger Shearman seems to love to shoot against the big Texas background, too. It’s beautiful country, and Shearman really buys into those distant vanishing points and natural backlight – you can virtually taste the desert dust in the opening scenes. He also constantly frames the hero in the hero frame, because there’s no duality in the eighties – good is good, and bad is bad. The hero is larger than life itself.

Watch the opening credits. It's genius.

So now you know you’re actually watching a western, right? Set in the eighties, for sure, but a big-ass Wild West western nonetheless, complete with exotic love interest Barbera Carrera (Nicaraguan-born is the new Indian – and you can tell she’s exotic 'cos she never seems to wear a bra), and the ultimate alpha-male bad guy, David Carradine. It’s even as simplistic in its story arc, just the way good westerns were before Clint Eastwood rewrote the genre with Unforgiven.

We know that few action films from the eighties can really be thought of as great movies. In fact, it’s the sci-fi and fantasy canon from the period that has held up most impressively over time. Consider Aliens, Robocop, The Terminator, Indiana Jones (Lone Wolf McQuade is NOT one of these) – films marketed as action, but actually helmed by the some of the last true auteurs like James Cameron, Paul Verhoeven and Steven Spielberg.

Films set in more … er... "realistic" environments like McQuade, are typically wafer-thin popcorn and soda affairs, big on bang and low on consequence (see the synopsis above). They are built around an established genre star, have lots of guns and explosions, the standard love interest, a personal vendetta or two, and zero redeeming philosophical gravitas whatsoever.

Such as it was, by 1983 Chuck had built himself a solid rep as a tough guy action hero in a slew of gritty, violent affairs like A Force of One (1979), An Eye for an Eye (1981), and Forced Vengeance (1983). He’d later go on to star in moderate commercial successes (and blatant propagandistic drek) like the Missing in Action franchise, Invasion USA (1985), and The Delta Force (1986), and eventually drift into television hell as Cordell Walker (another Texas Ranger) and The President’s Man (at around age 65).

But sandwiched neatly between the Chuck that earned and deserved the "Chuck Norris is so tough..." internet meme, and the Chuck that made the muppets look like hardened child-molesting drug dealers, is a little gem of a performance that really encapsulates how we should remember the ultimate American badass.

In a decade where overacting was de rigueur (Charlie Sheen, we’re looking at you), most of the supporting cast gives it balls. Especially Robert Beltran, playing a state trooper who seems to be taking both speed and hash with his morning coffee. Thankfully he toned it down in later years as Chakotay on Star Trek Voyager.

Norris, on the other hand, actually seems to give the most thought-through performance, offering a badass with feelings; a tough guy that will dance. It’s his most dimensional presentation, way better than anything Jean-Claude or Arnie has ever put up. Not that three-week-old roadkill would feel threatened, but still.

Another great detail in the film is... well, the detail. McQuade’s phone lies under a pile of magazines – Guns and Ammo-type magazines. McQuade refuses to drink anything but Pearl beer, avoiding certain death because of it, and turning down that foreign Heineken crap in the process. There are also great sweat patterns on all the guys’ shirts. Details.

Even so, should every other argument fail, there are two words for you to consider in your reappraisal of Lone Wolf McQuade: David Carradine (RIP). 'Nuff said.
The last great American badass - Chuck Norris - plays a badass with feelings in this 80s 'guns and karate' action flick.

theDriver 2010/03/11 1:23 PM
"Francesco di Masi’s opening title theme is an Oscar-worthy effort" - hahahahaha, this is funny, but with Sandra Bullock winning an Oscar i guess anything is possible these days!
K1d 2010/03/14 3:59 PM
you just don't get it > the Chuck Norris "brand" is so crap it doesn't even make a good joke.
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