Victor McLaglen – A Man as Big as the Screen

*The following is a guest post by my husband Gary, aka Santa on twitter as @SantaIsThinking

I signed up for the What A Character! Blogathon to write a post on one of my favorite character actors, Victor McLaglen (pronounced Muh-clog-len, not Mack-loff-len) because he appears in my favorite movies, adorns one of my walls at home, and reminds me in so many ways of my dad.

As I did research on him I realized that plenty had been written on him so what could I possibly add to that? He’s very loved by so many. So I decided, as I sit here with a Guinness, to focus on two things that I find most interesting about him, his adventurous youth and his big screen (grin) charm. vm-image-1

Victor Andrew de Bier Everleigh McLaglen (10 December 1886 – 7 November 1959)

His Adventurous Youth – Boers, Boxing, and Baghdad

Victor McLaglen was big enough at 14 to enlist in the English Army to fight the Boers. (Sounds like a young English lad’s dream, until he was found out a short time after and had to exit the Army.) When he was 18, he moved to Canada, became a wrestler and a boxer and toured with circuses, vaudeville and Wild West shows.

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He fought under his own name and took on the nickname ‘Sharkey’ McLaglen. In 1909, he survived a 6-round exhibition bout with heavyweight champion Jack Johnson. Commenting later on the fight, “He never knocked me down . . . but he sure beat the livin’ be-Jesus out of me.” In 1918, he was named the heavyweight champion of the British Army. For the record, Victor’s lifetime boxing record (as far as is known) was 11-6-1, with 9 KOs.

He returned to Britain in 1913 and enlisted in the Army, then served as captain (acting) with the 10th Battalion, Middlesex Regiment. Besides serving in WW1, other early chapters in his life included serving as a bodyguard for an Indian Rajah and later as Provost Marshal (head of Military Police) for the city of Baghdad. In the 1920’s, he was off to Hollywood.

His Career – Big Screen Grins and Bromance

Though a big man at 6’ 2 1/2” and broad-shouldered, it was his roguish charm and big toothy smile that took up most of the big screen. He often grinned and fought his was across the screen with the biggest Hollywood stars of the day (including Cary Grant, Douglas Fairbanks, John Wayne, and Maureen O’Hara). The ease and charm with which he interacted with his co-stars served to compliment and enhance their own substantial on-screen charisma.

Victor appeared as MacChesney, in the original bromance adventure movie Gunda Din (1939). The chemistry he had with Cary Grant and Douglas Fairbanks is why this film is in my top 5 films of all time. His comic timing and dialogue delivery was on par with his co-actors. If you’ve not seen it, rent it or buy it. And if you have seen it, might be time to watch it again (so says my Guinness). As you watch these three British sergeants and their native water bearer take on a murder cult in colonial British India, you’ll see a “best buds” heroic action movie DNA that has been passed down and continues to make ripples through many more modern flicks (and not just that poor Temple of Doom movie.)

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In The Quite Man (1952), McLaglen (now late in his career) played the role of Squire “Red” Will Danaher, resident loud-mouthed brother to Mary Kate Danaher (Maureen O’Hara.) In it, Victor squares off with Sean Thornton (John Wayne) over his sister, a farmstead, and that ornery Irish pride. It’s got romance, drinking, brawling, and… brawling. And the extended cast is a who’s who of some of the best character actors of the day. By the time this was filmed, Victor was 64, but he still gave John Wayne a run for his money with his hulking physical presence and personality (though John Ford and Wayne did have to take it easy on him during filming). His performance got him his second Academy nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

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This post isn’t an exhaustive overview of McLaglen’s life and family; others have done a better job of that. Rather it’s a feel-good loving tribute to someone I love watching on film. But if you want a few other notable movies to watch to get his range, try The Informer (1935) for which he won the Academy Award for Best Actor, She Wore A Yellow Ribbon (1949) another great pairing with Ford and John Wayne and The Lost Patrol (1934). The last Pre-Code feature has Boris Karloff in it and is a great survival story.

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McLaglen received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on February 8, 1960. I discovered his films in the early 70’s with my dad and continue to re-watch them today with my Irish wife. That lovable, hard-nosed character actor will always have a place in my heart…and I hope he can find a place in yours.

This is my entry to the 2016 What A Character! Blogathon, hosted by Kellee at Outspoken & Freckled, Aurora at Once Upon A Screen, and Paula at Paula’s Cinema Club, taking place all this weekend. Check all three day’s of posts this weekend for other fascinating character actor profiles. Catch me as @santaisthinking on Twitter.

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Comments

  1. Mike Doran says:

    I want to make a mention of Victor McLaglen’s final performance: “The Incident Of The Shambling Man”, an episode of Rawhide that aired shortly after his death in 1959.
    McLaglen plays an old bare-knuckle fighter from England, now living in the West with his daughter (Anne Francis), who wants to put him away and take over his property (nasty girl).
    It’s something to see today, what with the effects of concussion on fighters and football players so much in the news – and this was 1959, when people just said “punchdrunk” and the like.
    Victor’s son, Andrew McLaglen, directed his dad in this show, which as I mentioned was his last. Not long before, Andrew also directed Victor in an episode of Have Gun – Will Travel; both shows are seen on MeTV on weekends, so be on the lookout.

    By the way –

    Merv Griffin did a show-length tribute to Andrew McLaglen on his talk show sometime in the ’80s.
    The correct pronunciation of the name is muh-clag-len – short ‘a’ as in ‘bag’. (Just thought I’d throw that in …)

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  2. Victor McLaglen looks like my great Uncle Tony, a WWI vet as well. In fact, a lot of the old guys in my family look like Victor – and most of the babies when they are first born!

    Gunga Din is the great bromance of them all, but don’t forget MacChesney’s attachment to Annie. It endeared the character to me.

    The Quiet Man may be the most quoted movie in our family. You’d be surprised how easy it is to work “And your father – he was a good man too” into a conversation. Or maybe you wouldn’t be surprised at all.

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  3. McLaglen and Edmond Lowe made a great, rowdy screen team, beginning with the silent classic WHAT PRICE GLORY? Later, in the 1940’s. they returned in a bawdy action comedy called CALL OUT THE MARINES, well worth seeking out!

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  4. I feel like I have been left out of a wonderful thing. I seen him in some of the movies mentioned; but, I knew nothing about him. Thanks for the post. I will look more closely at him in his movies 😊

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  5. I promised several people i was going to watch The Quiet Man over this holiday, and I will, probably this weekend during a break. (Imagine, me, one of the biggest John Wayne fanatics ever, and I STILL haven’t seen it.) Now I have another reason to watch it.

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    • Post back and tell us what you think of it. Kellee and I watch it at least 2x each year. Usually over the holidays, then again on St. Paddy’s day.

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  6. I wacthed some silents starring him and I liked them very much. I’m enjoying Victor as an actor more and more lately. And what an adventurous youth – he lived enough for a fascinating movie to be made.
    Thanks for co-hosting this fun event, Kellee!
    And I hope you bring me nice gifts this year, Santa 😉
    Kisses!
    Le

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Trackbacks

  1. […] (aka @santaisthinking) guest blogs on Kellee’s Outspoken and Freckled about Victor McLaglen in two chapters: “His Adventurous Youth – Boers, Boxing, and Baghdad” and “His […]

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