Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The comedy western

I've mentioned before that I'm not a huge fan of westerns. Movies that are good in other ways, and happen to be set in the old West, however, are a different story. I've already recommended the psychological drama No Name on the Bullet, and tomorrow morning at 8:00 AM ET, TCM is airing a comedic western: Support Your Local Sheriff!.

The under-rated James Garner stars as a man who's going through an Arizona gold rush town on his way to make his fortune in Australia. However, it turns out this little town is a lost cause, with rampant crime and sheriffs dropping like flies. Desperate for help, the town fathers (watch for M*A*S*H*'s Harry Morgan here) enlist a reluctant Garner to take on the job. Of course, he immediately has to deal with the local crime gang, and a dysfunctional town administration (the jail cell doesn't have any bars yet, for example).

Although Garner is technically the star, the movie is really more of an ensember cast. In addition to Garner and Morgan, there's Joan Hackett as Morgan's odd daughter, who falls in love with Garner; Walter Brennan as the patriarch of the gang, and Bruce Dern as one of his sons; and veteran character actor Jack Elam as Garner's deputy. All of the actors look as though they're having a blast making the movie, and it's an infectious enthusiasm that makes the movie all the more enjoyable for the viewer.

For whatever reason, Support Your Local Sheriff! isn't all that well-known today. It might have something to do with the fact that it was released in 1969, and doesn't really have any social commentary. Also, the 1969 release date is towards the end of the biggest era of popularity of the whole western genre. Third, many of the cast members were more veteran, meaning that, like Yours, Mine, and Ours, the movie comes off as being directed more toward a stodgier generation. Paradoxically, though, as with Yours, Mine, and Ours, this has the effect of making the movie feel less dated than other contemporary movies, such as Cactus Flower (which, despite being a very good movie, very much feels like a product of the 60s in a way that the others don't). It's available on DVD, too, which is a nice bonus.

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