Saturday, January 23, 2016

Support Your Local Sheriff!

Year 8, Day 23 - 1/23/16 - Movie #2,223

BEFORE: Winter is finally here - I think here in New York we were rather lucky through the whole of December and the first half of January.  We've only had one minor snowfall, but that just means that eventually we're due for a major blizzard.  The last day or two, everyone's been losing their minds, raiding the stores for loaves of bread and bags of ice melt, and now the best thing to do today is stay indoors, save your strength for shoveling tomorrow, and watch a movie.  Maybe I'll watch two today, as long as we don't lose power, to get the full James Garner tribute in and link properly to the start of February's chain.  And I should probably review all of my February links again, just to make sure there are no unexpected gaps.

THE PLOT:  In the old west, a man becomes a sheriff just for the pay, figuring he can decamp if things get tough. In the end, he uses ingenuity instead.

AFTER: I may have been aware of this film when I was a kid, because one of the Boston UHF stations used to run it all the time, but since I didn't have the same attention span then that I do now, I don't remember a thing about this one, even if I might have technically watched it before.  I can now watch it as an adult and appreciate what it's all about.

Garner plays Jason McCullough, a man on his way to the real "last frontier" in Australia, when he hears about the gold rush to - wait, what's the name of this town again?  Surprisingly, I don't think they ever say the name of the town in this film, or even what territory it's in.  I guess it's not important, it's just an average Western town that grew too fast, with its citizens now out of control.  Prices are rising daily to take advantage of the successful (and unsuccesful) miners, and the family that owns the land
that the miners have to pass through to the assay office is charging them 20% of their gold.  

The slightest disagreement leads to a royal rumble in the muddy town square - which seems odd, if everyone has a gun, that a 30-man (and 1-woman) fistfight somehow doesn't turn into a shootout.  No, they saved the shootout for the end of the film, when the Danby men round up their cousins and neighbors and hired help to try and take the sheriff down once and for all.  

It all starts when McCullough sets out to arrest Joe Danby, not realizing that he's part of that powerful family full of tough hombres.  Then he realizes that the town's so new, they haven't yet been able to install bars in the jail cell.  (Again, this seems odd, who starts to build a jail without all of the pieces handy?  But it's for comic effect, so we'll let it slide.)  This is where Garner's character has to rely on ingenuity and charm - how do you convince a man to stay in a jail cell with a big open window?  Fortunately, the criminal is not that bright. And this is where Garner really shines, because he is charming, in that sort of "Aw, shucks" down-home country wisdom kind of way.  

The mayor's wife is attracted to him right away, but she keeps finding herself in embarrassing situations, like being covered in mud or setting her dress on fire.  She's so clumsy that it's a long time before she's able to properly express herself and get a relationship going - but this is fine, because it's a good idea to make sure that your intended is going to survive before getting involved.  She represents the only bits of slapstick in the film, which is a relief - because a film doesn't need to be filled with slapstick from start to finish to be funny.  It's like a higher form of comedy here, and I approve of it.

Also starring Joan Hackett, Walter Brennan, Harry Morgan (last seen in "High Noon"), Jack Elam (ditto), Bruce Dern (last seen in "Masked and Anonymous"), Henry Jones (last seen in "Deathtrap"), Willis Bouchey (last seen in "The Big Heat"), Walter Burke (last seen in "All the King's Men"), with a cameo from Kathleen Freeman (last seen in "Gremlins 2: The New Batch").

RATING: 6 out of 10 town council meetings

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