What a cast of old timers and Hollywood Royalty, John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara, as if their characters in “The Quiet Man” were transported to the old west and were still battling over manners and customs. “McLintock!” is a comedy western that focuses on the troubled relationship between Wayne’s George Washington McLintock and his estranged wife, Katherine. Basically everyone in town gets involved and that includes Strother Martin as the Indian Agent of the government, Agard.
When it comes to Western stories, Jay famously described most of the characters he played as “prairie scum”. There are a number of Western characters however that were not degenerates but rather, self important bureaucratic types, and the Indian Agent Agard is one of them. Dragged into a continuing feud between a local rancher with government connections, Matt Douglas played by Gordon Jones, and G.W. McLintock himself, Agard is an ineffectual, over his head, lightweight who is used for comedic effect in almost every scene he appears in. Strother adds to his character the glasses that become the butt of several jokes, along with his usual tone of voice that strains to exert power when he can’t.
One of the very first of those comedic moments occurs when he attempts to mount a horse and accompany the townsfolk out to where a group of newly arrived settlers are planning on stringing up a local Indian, based on the suspicion the Indians have kidnapped a young woman from their group.
Of course it does not go well for the officious Agard, who ends up on the ground, glasses askew and looking ridiculous as a public official. At least he managed to keep his hat on.
The big comic set piece of the movie is the all out fistfight that takes place as McLintock tries to calm down the settlers and stop a lynching of an innocent Indian who is also a friend of his.
Of course Jay is right in the middle of it, trying to maintain his dignity and even attempting to hold back Kate from getting involved on her husbands side.
Strother’s character is singled out repeatedly in the film for special acts of degradation, so of course he does not join the fight willingly, and in fact, escapes any fisticuffs but does end up in the mudhole that all the characters visit in the scene.
Agard is going to end up down there with everyone else, but he gets deposited there in a way that is unique. He is lifted up and deposited into a mine car that is on a track leading directly to the hole. Agard is no Indiana Jones however, and he does not possess the ability to get the cart to do what he wants, it simply heads to the edge to make sure his moment of comedic glory is special.
You can pretty much be assured that if someone is going to be humiliated on a regular basis in the film, it is Strother’s character. There are a couple of incidents that come up at a party when Jay gets doused with his own beer or knocked down into a shed when he gets between two young men fighting. His character is the very definition of comic relief being punctuated with an exclamation point.
About the only scene he appears in where he is not the butt of a physical gag is at a hearing of government officials, who have gathered to determine the residential status of the local Indian tribe. Although he is not physically abused in this scene, he is still something of a comic figure, reduced to being in the background during this moment of bureaucratic stupidity.
If ever there were a “type” in movies of feckless official power, it can be pointed out in a western by looking at the costuming and the casting of the part. The bowler hat and the checked suit call out Strother Martin as an outsider to the real cowboys of the film, and make him almost an Eastern dude, lost among the real men of the west.
In a cast that includes Edgar Buchanan, Chill Wills, Jerry Van Dyke, Bruce Cabot and Perry Lopez, once again Strother Martin stands out and all eyes and ears will be on him when it is time for us to laugh.