Saturday, August 13, 2011

A Man Called Sledge (1970)

          A Man Called Sledge stitches together a dozen clichés of the spaghetti-Western genre and drains them of virtually all interest, so only the presence of charismatic leading man James Garner provides fleeting (but woefully insufficient) passages of watchability. Garner plays a gunslinger who stumbles across information about a military convoy that regularly transports gold across the desert and stores the loot overnight in a prison, so he conspires to get himself locked in the big house because he’s cooked up a scheme for ripping off the gold from inside the prison. A Man Called Sledge is so generic that its version of the clichéd Western character of a crazy old man is literally named “Old Man.” (If you care, John Marley from The Godfather plays the role.) The movie also has tired Euro-Western tropes like a histrionic music score and silly religious imagery, in this instance the crucifix Garner uses for a splint when his arm gets shot, meaning Jesus literally guides his gun hand. Whatever. Claude Akins and Dennis Weaver pop up in the supporting cast, as do lots of sweaty Italians, but they mostly just glower and gripe, so their presence doesn’t add much.
          Helmed and co-written by tough-guy actor Vic Morrow, A Man Called Sledge is nearly palatable during meat-and-potatoes action scenes, and then thoroughly uninteresting during dialogue passages. The biggest problem is that the characters are undefined, making it impossible to invest in the story. For instance, Sledge himself (Garner, of course) gets several different introductory scenes, none of which illuminates anything unique, so by about 15 minutes into the movie, it’s still unclear whether he’s a loner, part of a duo, or the leader of a gang. Adding insult to injury, the movie is capped by an atrocious theme song called “Other Men’s Gold,” featuring insipid lyrics sung in an amateurish warble—thereby unintentionally encapsulating the bargain-basement flavor of the whole enterprise. Oh, and for a capper, A Man Called Sledge mistakes viciousness for hard-edged storytelling, so the movie feels mean-spirited from beginning to end.

A Man Called Sledge: LAME

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