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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