Big Jim McLain
The 1952 promotional poster for Big Jim McLain
Directed byEdward Ludwig
Written byRichard English (story)
James Edward Grant
Eric Taylor
Produced byRobert M. Fellows
John Wayne
StarringJohn Wayne
Nancy Olson
James Arness
Alan Napier
Veda Ann Borg
CinematographyArchie J. Stout
Edited byJack Murray
Music byPaul Dunlap
Arthur Lange
Emil Newman
Color processBlack and white
Distributed byWarner Bros.
Release date
  • August 30, 1952 (1952-08-30)
Running time
90 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$2.6 million (US rentals)[1]

Big Jim McLain is a 1952 American film noir political thriller film starring John Wayne and James Arness as HUAC investigators hunting down communists in the postwar Hawaii organized-labor scene. Edward Ludwig directed.

This was the first film in which Wayne played a contemporary law enforcement officer, instead of an Old West lawman. Near the end of his career, in the mid-1970s, he took on two more such roles, (Brannigan and McQ), each time playing an urban cop.


The House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) fails once again to get convictions of known American Communists, who stand behind the Fifth Amendment during their Congressional testimonies to avoid self-incrimination.

Investigators Jim McLain (Wayne) and Mal Baxter (Arness) are sent to Hawaii to track Party activities, with hopes of gaining enough hard evidence against members there to earn convictions. They become interested in everything from insurance fraud to the sabotage of a U.S. naval vessel and plans to have local unions go on strike to prevent the loading and unloading of ships on the Honolulu docks.

After receiving useful information from reporter Phil Briggs (Vernon "Red" McQueen), the agents begin searching for Willie Nomaka, a former party treasurer, who is being treated by psychiatrist Dr. Gelster (Gayne Whitman). The doctor's secretary, Nancy Vallon (Nancy Olson), is helpful, as well. McLain asks her on a date and a romance develops.

Nomaka disappears...ostensibly being treated for an (induced) nervous breakdown by Gelster.

Nomaka's landlady, the man-hungry Madge (Veda Ann Borg), assists in the investigation while flirting with McLain. Nomaka's ex-wife (Madame Soo Yong) is willing, but unable to help McLain. Nomaka is eventually found under another name in a sanitorium, heavily drugged and unable to speak. Party leader Sturak (Alan Napier) gives orders to Dr. Gelster to get rid of him, but before Gelster can McLain rescues Nomaka and takes him to safety. Still, he proves of no value to their investigation. Meanwhile, two of the communists kidnap Baxter, and Gelster accidentally kills him by giving him an injection of Sodium Pentothal truth serum seeking to learn how much he had discovered.

In spite of the trauma to McLain this causes, his campaign to wed the also enamored Nancy is undaunted.

Sturak orders the members of the communist cell to attend a meeting. He orders Gelster to confess his party membership to the authorities and identify several nonessential members of the "cell" so the government will believe that the cell has been destroyed and the others can continue their work. Those fingered, including Gelster, are unenthusiastic at being arrested and sacrificing themselves to the Party. The meeting is interrupted by McLain, who seeks out Gelster and punches him for killing Baxter. Vastly outnumbered, McLain is losing the brawl that follows, but the police arrive and place the communists under arrest. The men responsible for Baxter's death are convicted of murder, but ultimately McLain and Nancy see the others plead the Fifth Amendment and go free.


See also


  1. ^ 'Top Box-Office Hits of 1952', Variety, January 7, 1953