Video: John Wayne is “Big Jim McLain” (1952)

All 6’4″ of John Wayne plays the title role, a federal agent ferreting out subversives in Hawaii. Rallying to the cause are co-stars Nancy Olson and Veda Ann Borg. And 6’7″ James Arness (when Wayne would later recommend to star on TV’s Gunsmoke) is McLain’s war-hero partner Baxter. The documentary-style story moves swiftly, with good-natured humor peppered throughout. Pre-statehood Hawaii locales range from elite resorts to a Shinto temple and from the sunken remains of the battleship Arizona to a Molokai leper colony. Give Big Jim McLain a big hand. Because that’s a lot of movie.


House Un-American Activities Committee investigators Jim McLain and Mal Baxter come to Hawaii to track Communist Party activities. They are interested in everything from insurance fraud to the sabotage of a U.S. naval vessel.

After receiving useful information from a reporter named Briggs, the agents begin searching for Willie Nomaka, a party treasurer, who allegedly has experienced a nervous breakdown and has been seeing Dr. Gelster, a psychiatrist. The doctor’s secretary, Nancy Vallon, is helpful as well. She is a widow; McLain asks her on a date, and a romance develops.

Nomaka’s landlady, Madge, assists in the investigation, flirting with McLain. Nomaka’s ex-wife also helps him. He is eventually found to be staying in a sanitarium, heavily drugged and unable to speak.

Party leader Sturak gives orders to Dr. Gelster to get rid of him. Gelster also kills McLain’s partner, Baxter, by mistake with an injection of truth serum.

As the investigators close in, Sturak attempts to make Gelster confess to his party membership so the case can be closed and so others can continue their nefarious work. Their meeting is interrupted by McLain who instigates a brawl. Police arrive to place party leaders under arrest, but ultimately he and Nancy Vallon see them plead the Fifth Amendment and go free.

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