Reviewed by: Brett Willis
Starring: James Garner, Joan Hackett, Walter Brennan, Harry Morgan, Jack Elam, Bruce Dern | Director: Burt Kennedy | Producers: William Bowers, William Finnegan | Screenwriter: William Bowers | Released By: MGM/UA
A send-up of the classic Western genre, this comedy is irreverent at times but very funny.
When gold is discovered in the backwater town of Calendar, Colorado, everything changes overnight, and law enforecment can’t keep up with the changes. Not only are there the routine disputes and shootings and the requisite house of ill repute, but all the gold mined in the vicinity must be shipped through a valley owned by the lawless Danby clan and “taxed” at 20%. Desperate for some semblance of order, the mayor (Harry Morgan, TV’s “MASH”) and the town fathers are only too glad to hire Jason McCullough (James Garner, “Maverick”) as a tempoary Sheriff, even though he has an unknown past and is supposedly on his way to Australia. McCullough’s cool head, fearlessness, fast draw and marksmanship are truly unbelievable—even for a Western. But not for a Western parody.
McCullough arrests Joe Danby (Bruce Dern) for murder, thus bringing on himself the wrath of the entire Danby clan: the father (Walter Brennan), two brothers, various uncles and cousins, and some hired guns. All in a day’s work for a superhuman hero. He kills when he has to, but avoids bloodshed when he can. However, he has another problem: the mayor’s erratic daughter (Joan Hackett) has eyes for him.
To fully appreciate the humor of this film, one must be familiar with the old-style Western genre as it’s played straight-up. We have here the same exaggerated situations taken just a little farther than usual, played for the most part by actors who have done similar roles in serious Westerns. Instead of pushing credibility right up to the breaking point, this one pushes it just beyond. Memorable moments: the shooting-the-washer scene, the mud fight, the jail without bars, and McCullough calling “time out” in the middle of a gunfight.
Content Warnings: There’s drinking, smoking, gambling, street brawling, and several on-screen shooting deaths. Implied prostitution, and quite a bit of risqué humor which will hopefully be lost on younger viewers. There are several uses of h* and d*, plus some uncompleted references to “shovelling horse….” McCullough’s deputy (Jack Elam) gets tongue-tied while trying to explain that he was once a “horse-holder at Madame Orr’s house.” McCullough is a positive role model, but the town fathers are portrayed as waffling and hypocritical.
This is a fun piece of work, but it doesn’t deserve a G rating. For purposes of viewing by younger children, treat it as a PG.