Cattle, timber and mining baron George Washington “G.W.” McLintock (John Wayne) is living the single life on his ranch. He is estranged from wife Katherine (Maureen O’Hara), who left him two years before, suspecting him of adultery. She has been living the society life back East while their daughter Becky (Stefanie Powers) is completing her college degree.
Following a meeting with a group of homesteaders whom he cautions against trying to farm on the Mesa Verde:
“God made that land for the buffalo. It serves pretty well for cattle. But it hates the plow! And even the government should know you can’t farm six thousand feet above sea level!”
He hires one of them, attractive widow Louise Warren (Yvonne De Carlo), as his cook and housekeeper. G.W. welcomes both her and her two children into his home, including grown son Dev (Patrick Wayne), who is handy with his fists, good with cattle, and is an excellent chess player, who had to leave Purdue University on the death of his father.
Katherine (a.k.a. Katie), returns to the town of McLintock, seeking a divorce from G.W. He declines to give her one, and has no idea why she has been so angry with him for two years that she moved out.
Following a misunderstanding which leads to a Comanche subchief nearly being lynched by a hotheaded settler father who believes his daughter has been kidnapped, there is a gigantic brawl at the mud slide by one of McLintock’s mines. Significantly, Katherine is in there swinging on her estranged husband’s side as the local Indians watch the white folks make fools of themselves.
Rebecca “Becky” McLintock returns to town, along with her banjo-playing love interest, “Junior” Douglas (Jerry Van Dyke). Junior is approved of by Katherine but not G.W. However, she soon falls for Dev (of whom G.W. approves wholeheartedly), and they become engaged after he takes her across his knee and spanks her with a coal shovel following a sharp exchange between them. When they announce the engagement, G.W. and Mrs. Warren both give their blessings.
The same train that brought Becky home from college also brought back Chief Puma of the Comanche tribe, an honored enemy and blood brother of G.W., who has been released from prison by the federal government. The territorial governor is out to force the local Comanche tribe off their lands and onto a reservation near Fort Sill.
At the request of Chief Puma, McLintock acts as the spokesman for the Comanche, translating Puma’s speech into English at the kangaroo court hearing organized by Governor Humphrey. The governor announces that the Indians will be moved to Oklahoma, and Chief Puma and his subchiefs are imprisoned again. With the illicit help of G.W., a breakout is arranged and an Army train is looted of a cargo of Krag-Jorgenson rifles and ammunition. The Comanche head out on what Puma had called “the last fight of the Comanche,” hotly pursued by the local troop of U.S. Cavalry. This has the effect of bringing what Humphrey and Agard, the local Indian agent, have been doing to the attention of Washington. It is implied that both will shortly be removed from office.
At the Fourth of July celebration during which the Comanche breakout takes place, McLintock finally has enough of Katherine’s behavior. Following one insult too many, G.W. pursues Katherine through the streets and shops of the town like Nemesis, Katherine losing her clothing one piece at a time until she is down to her corset and bloomers. After an epic chase, he finally catches her, spanks her bottom with a coal shovel, and tells her that now she can have her divorce. She decides she does not want a divorce after all, and G.W. and Katherine happily reconcile.
By Andrew V. McLaglen (JDailymotion) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons