Thursday, 8 September 2011

Lone Wolf McQuade (1983)

Country: USA

The Chuck Norris action vehicle Lone Wolf McQuade immediately signifies its intent with an opening credit sequence that highlights the sub-Morricone music of Francesco De Masi. We are firmly in the territory of the modern day spaghetti western pastiche. In the early moments the film seems at pains to emphasise its status as a contemporary western. We have a group of modern day Mexican bandits horse rustling, we have plentiful shots of the wide open expanse of the dusty Texan landscape, and repeated close ups of Norris’ eyes and grim expression. If this isn’t enough we also get a musical fanfare when Norris reveals the badge on his chest that signifies he is a Texas Ranger. This action sequence is entirely constructed around the need to establish the tough guy credentials of J. J. McQuade. One would have thought the casting of Norris was enough, but the film is determined to avoid the cinematic shorthand his iconic presence signifies. In one fell swoop the opening action set piece establishes McQuade’s exceptional marksmanship, incredible martial arts skills, his status as a rebellious loner, and the incompetence of his fellow rangers. With every facet of McQuade’s character established in under eight minutes of screen time, director Steve Carver can get on with the job of stringing together an absurd, but oddly enjoyable narrative.

After facing the not inconsiderable opposition of Bruce Lee in The Way of the Dragon (1972) it seems only right that that a decade later Norris gets the opportunity to face another action heavyweight in the shape of David Carradine. Carradine, with more than a touch of the sardonic, plays drug kingpin Rawley Wilkes. Wilkes surrounds himself with a small army equipped with the latest military hardware, and parades around in a succession of tasteless jumpers. The film is entirely constructed around the inevitable showdown between these two titans, and to his credit Carver steadily builds towards this finale with economy and excitement. Along the way we are introduced to a gallery of quirky characters and peculiar incidents that take on an increasingly surreal tone as the film progresses. In a bizarre twist the screenplay actually takes time out to try and penetrate the masculine defences McQuade has built up. Norris is clearly ill at ease with the moments were he must play the doting father, and his discomfort visibly increases when he must express emotion at an attempt on his daughters life and her eventual kidnapping.

If this were not enough for Mr. Norris the token love interest provided by Lola (Barbara Carrera) muddies the waters even more. Quite literally in one utterly bizarre scene where the loved up couple copulate in the mud in slow motion while opera music plays on the soundtrack. Lola represents the incursion of domesticity into McQuade’s sparse and rustic existence. All he needs is a six pack in the fridge, his loyal wolf on the porch, and plenty of tin cans and scarecrows to use for target practice. Of course it doesn’t ring true at all, but the film deserves credit for trying to develop the subplot. If nothing else it provides unintentional hilarity for the spectator. The film does make some half-hearted and perfunctory political statements about the role of the Texas Ranger in a modern civilised society. McQuade is a retrograde presence with his unkempt appearance and his vigilante methods of meting out justice. Though this subplot, which mostly involves comedic encounters between McQuade and his superior played R. G. Armstrong, might have been a rewarding thematic territory to explore, the fact it is played for laughs clearly communicates where the sympathies of the filmmakers lie.

The film indicates its quirkiness further by having a wheelchair bound midget playing the leader of a Mexican crime syndicate, and McQuade driving through the desert in a supercharged 4x4. Like most westerns set on the Texas/Mexico border McQuade and his posse have to cross it for the final showdown. Borderlands normally offer an opportunity for rich thematic exploration, but Lone Wolf McQuade isn’t interested in this at all. By the time McQuade has found his old friend played L. Q. Jones killed (Wilkes breaks his neck with a twist of his boot), his pet wolf shot, a drug dealer played by William Sanderson murdered, and his daughter kidnapped the film shifts firmly into revenge mode. But not before another moment of utter peculiarity. A scene in which McQuade is buried alive in his 4x4, but manages to escape this fate thanks to the vehicles special engine. That this is all done with a straight face only adds to the enjoyment.

The most important question to ask of Lone Wolf McQuade is whether the final showdown between Norris and Carradine fulfils ones hopes and expectations. I’m pleased to say that the fight itself doesn’t disappoint. In keeping with the exaggerated stylisation of the film this includes Carradine in a tank and Norris in a JCB. It is marred somewhat though by the melodramatic hubris of the filmmakers who can’t resist having Lola catch a bullet for McQuade, and die in his arms, just so we can see Norris’ apoplectic rage (this actually translates to a squint of the eyes) as he regards his knitwear clad opponent. This empty-headed action movie makes no sense whatsoever, but somehow amid the rampant machismo and homo-eroticism Lone Wolf McQuade is a lot of fun. It is a shame that Norris was unable to return to this character in future projects, because there was certainly the potential for a series or franchise here.

© Shaun Anderson 2011

Review requested by Greg Stuart Smith.


  1. I haven't watched this in a long time but always thought it was one of the more livelier, more outrageous American action pictures. The one Norris did before this one was peculiar, too--this Karate slasher picture called SILENT RAGE (1982). Great write up, Shaun, although I am possibly more appreciative of De Masi than you are, lol. He did some truly rollicking scores and his work in the peplum genre is rousing to say the least. One of his biggest and most sprawling would have to be for THE REVENGE OF SPARTACUS (1964).

  2. Shaun: HELL. YES. I love this film for all the reasons you touch on. It's a film I come back to over and over whenever I need a jolt of absolute entertainment. To press my luck since you are so receptive to suggestion - try Hitman by Norris. It's more of the same.

    PS: Norris did love this role and did revisit it in his television series, Walker, Texas Ranger. It was also an exercise in pure hero worship.

    Fine and very enjoyable post.

  3. @ Brian - I'm not familiar with the work of Francesco De Masi, so I was judging him purely on the music he provided for this film. I rather suspect his brief from the director was to sound as much like Morricone as possible. I'll make a note of SILENT RAGE. Thanks for stopping by!

    @ Mykal - Yeah it's a shame he didn't revist it cinematically. Though one of course could argue that he played the same role in every film he made. But a series of adventures featuring J. J. McQuade would have been quite welcome. I am investigating Norris a little further and have recently rented DELTA FORCE, MISSING IN ACTION, THE OCTAGON, FORCE OF ONE and EYE FOR AN EYE. I've seen all these films before, but so long ago I can barely remember anything about them. I shall be sure to check out THE HITMAN...many thanks for stopping by!

  4. Shaun: and Code of Silence, which is a fave of mine as well and many think is Norris' finest. Again, I love that Lone Wolf got some post time! Well done!

  5. Yes CODE OF SILENCE is on my rental list too...I forgot about that one. Norris is very well represented on DVD, though some of his films (THE OCTAGON and FORCE OF ONE) have been put out in shoddy editions over here...and of course coming soon THE OUTFIT! A film I'd never even heard of until you mentioned it.

  6. Im currently exploring Chuck Norris films along with Charles Bronson ones, its been a fun trip so far, I havent seen Lone Wolf yet, but curiously enough, I had this film in my hands just yesterday considering to purchase it I was like "another Chuck Norris film I need to see!"

  7. Holy smokes, Shaun! You got this review out fast, as fast as one of Carlos "Chuck" Norris' patented round house kicks! Whip-crack! And thank God there are more folks out there who appreciate this very odd, yet entirely enjoyable action gem. And what a great review! I'd felt like I'd thrown you a curve ball here, as the film is very difficult to classify, or even to pinpoint exactly what makes it so watchable, despite its obvious shortcomings. Like you say, it doesn't make much sense (a midget drug lord in a wheelchair?), yet despite that fact, it's still a movie that's worth talking about.

    I suppose there is something about Norris himself that make it all gel somehow. I mean, why is it, that out of all the action heroes of the 70's and 80's, has Norris achieved almost folk hero status? There is an x-factor going on here - the same can be said about the movie, but definitely with Norris as a martial artist and as an actor. A macho charisma that is palpable, sure; yet, it may even be primordial, like we all KNOW that if society were to collapse, Norris would be the one we'd all flock to, and not just because he's so tough, but because underneath it all, he comes across as being so innately "good."

    I mean, when I was kid, and I watched THE TERMINATOR, I didn't picture John Connor as being Edward Furlong, or Nick Stall, or even Christian Bale (no offense to you Brits); no, who I pictured as being the leader of all mankind, the ultimate Alpha male: the one and only Chuck Norris. I mean, my God, that man's beard alone is as thick and as full as government-grade steel-wool, probably the best beard in all of filmdom.

    And I'm glad you brought up the subplot with Lola. J.J. comes home to the shack he calls home one day from a hard days work, only to find Lola (basically a stranger to him) vacuuming his rug and cleaning out his fridge. "Where's my beer?!" To which she responds: "In the trash." At which point, he stalks over, fishes out the sixer, and cracks a lukewarm one. Priceless! Then he gets her all dirty, very dirty, by rolling her around in the mud (all in SLOW MOTION, of course), the perfect precursor to a good old fashion humping, Texas-style! Now I know why I love this movie!!!

    Anyway, I'll stop while I'm ahead. I'd also add INVASION U.S.A. to your list of Norris titles. I think for a time, it held the record for the highest death count. This one is also balanced by a truly gruesome nemesis for Chuck, the great Richard Lynch, probably the scariest looking guy in all of film history.

    The DELTA FORCE is great, too. I mean, Lee Marvin (in his last film role) and Chuck Norris in the same fucking movie! Holy smokes! Robert Forster is fantastic in this as the main terrorist baddie. When I was a kid, I had no idea he was actually a white American!

    Oh, and I do love the De Masi score. I think I mentioned that I owned it. It's like Morricone meets John Barry. The latter at times, makes you feel like you're watching a Roger Moore bond film.

    Again, great review, mate.

  8. Just reread your great review of LONE WOLF MCQUADE (as well as the great comments made by your regular readers: Mykal and Brian, a.k.a venoms5), and the section in which you touch on the Texas/Mexico border as an interesting thematic device, made me think of a lesser known Nicholson title: THE BORDER. A fellow Brit made it, Tony Richardson, so at least it's got that going for it!

    No, but seriously, it's more than worth a watch, especially since you've been spending so much filmic time in this specific region of America; that said, it's more of a crime/drama than a straight genre picture, so it may not fit in against all the Italian and Asian horror fare! But I suspect you'll like it nonetheless. A great cast, too: Nicholson, Keitel, and Mr. Warren Oates (in one of his last film roles before his untimely death, I think) just to name a few.

    A great score/original music, too, by the man himself: Ry Cooder, who did SOUTHERN COMFORT, a film I know you enjoy on many levels. Like I said, it's more COP LAND than LONE WOLF MCQUADE, but it takes all types, am I right?

    Oh, and since I mentioned Warren Oates, I might as well recommend DILLINGER, if you haven't already seen this gem. In it, Oates makes Johnny Depp (ala PUBLIC ENEMIES) look like an actor by comparison, no offense meant to Depp, who I enjoy. It's just that Oates IS and will always be Dillinger to me.

    Anyway, that's all I got. For know at least. Right now, the Sand Man calleth... better to bed down now before he finds me. Cheers, amigo.

  9. @ Franco - Thanks for stopping by buddy. Yes the filmographies of Norris and Bronson are interesting. A couple of really good Bronson films are TELEFON, THE MECHANIC, MR. MAJESTYK. I might review a few Bronson films in the future.

    @ Greg - I'm glad you enjoyed the review, it has led to a mini Norris retrospective, so expect a few more in the coming weeks and months. I'm not sure what is that Norris possesses either, but I too find his films have an edge and an attitude that separates them from the other action vehicles of the decade. I couldn't not mention the Lola/domestication subplot. It leads to the oddest scene in the film. The only other scene that rivals it is when McQuade is buried alive in his souped up 4x4. The first thing he does in such a perilous situation? crack open a beer of course! INVASION USA has been duly added, another film he did with Joe Zito I believe?

    I've seen THE BORDER and yes it's great film. A departure for Tony Richardson certainly. I may have a copy somewhere, if so I'll track it down, dust it off, and write a review. Warren Oates is one of my favourite actors. There is a review for RACE WITH THE DEVIL up on here, but I should do more of his films...IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT, BADLANDS, BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA, COCKFIGHTER...all superb. And of course DILLINGER, which I've had the pleasure of watching. It's a hell of a lot better than Michael Mann's bloated PUBLIC ENEMIES. I was unimpressed by Depp in that film. I thought Christian Bale stole the show. I've made a note of THE BORDER, DILLINGER, and INVASION USA for future review...and for the hell of it I must also include the wonderful SOUTHERN COMFORT. I do really like that film! Many thanks for the comments, and once again I'm glad you enjoyed the LONE WOLF review.

  10. Lone Wolf was good practice leading up to his masterpiece: FIREWALKER...

    Hey, I gave you an award here:

  11. Yes! What else is any self respecting 80's action hero to do in a life and death situation, other than crack a cold cold-one?! Is it a Coors Original? I'll have to check. There are so many Coors Originals in 80's action films, that it's mind blowing! In COBRA, Stallone actually cracks one in a supermarket showdown with terrorist!

    Okay, I digress: COCKFIGHTER! A film I've always wanted to see, but always forget about. I've also got to see RACE WITH THE DEVIL (the best title ever). Another Oates film is TWO LANE BLACKTOP, if you haven't already seen it.

    What else? I swear there was another one I was gonna recommend. Oh, well...

    Since you brought up (or maybe I did) Michael Mann, I've been dying to know what you think of his most forgotten (dare I say personally repressed maybe) film: THE KEEP. I had to watch a shitty copy that I found in one of the best video stores in LA, it's so obscure! But I'm glad I did. A great, strange concept. A very flawed, though haunting (in it's way) movie, too.

    Anyway, if you can get it, this one is a must. Or my name ain't Nathan Arizona!!!

  12. @ Kev - thanks for stopping by. I have to pick you up on something though. How can you say FIREWALKER is Norris' masterpiece? Have you never seen SIDEKICKS, TOP DOG, or FOREST WARRIOR?!!!! Thanks for the award, most appreciated :-)

    @ Greg - I'm not sure if it's a Coors, I'll leave that to you to research! Y'know I've never seen COBRA. I was never all that keen on Stallone. His best film is obviously OVER THE TOP though.

    COCKFIGHTER is quite tricky to get hold of. In my view it deserves the bells and whistles Criterion Collection treatment. It's been put out on substandard DVD editions, but a good quality reissue of this 70's obscurity is much needed. I have a copy of TWO LANE BLACKTOP but I haven't got around to it yet. I'll shift it up the queue.

    THE KEEP is a great film! Another one badly in need of a decent DVD or Blu-Ray release. I'd love to see that grey and grim cinematography in High Definition. But most of all I'd love to hear that Tangerine Dream score blasting out in 5.1 Surround Sound. I too have only seen it in a poor copy. An ex rental video cassette I borrowed from a friend who collects ex-rental videos. I think Mann's two early films THIEF and THE KEEP are his best. The novel of THE KEEP is pretty good too Greg. As always thanks for the comments.


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