Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Support Your Local Gunfighter (1971)

          Recognizing that there was still an audience for the brand of smart-alecky Old West humor he perfected on the 1957–1962 TV series Maverick, leading man James Garner dove back into cowboy comedy with Support Your Local Sheriff! (1969), a harmless romp about an opportunistic quick-draw artist who becomes the lawman in a frontier town, despite his frequent claims that he’s just passing through. The movie didn’t leave much room for a sequel, since the final scene explained how the characters’ lives turned out, so Garner (whose company produced Sheriff and its sequel) took a novel route—he commissioned an entirely new story, with a fresh set of characters, but then used a similar title and much of the original film’s supporting cast, thereby promising audiences they’d get more of the same. This type of quasi-continuation was not unprecedented, particularly in family movies, because Disney used this technique to elongate several of its live-action franchises, and, indeed, Support Your Local Gunfighter is a G-rated trifle in the Disney vein (although it was a United Artists release).
          Garner plays Latigo Smith, a gambler on the run from a romantic entanglement with an overbearing madam. Hiding out in a mining town, Latigo runs various schemes—e.g., posing as the business representative for a gunfighter (Jack Elam) who isn’t really a gunfighter—but mostly he gets into harmless high jinks with colorful locals. The picture is chipper and fast-paced, with wall-to-wall cartoony music, and veteran character players including Henry Jones, Harry Morgan, and Dub Taylor ensure that everything feels safe and predictable. James Edward Grant’s script has a few witty lines, but the jokes are mostly of the painfully obvious variety. Case in point: The local vet (Taylor) indicates that his current patients are donkeys and says, “You got a pain in the ass, you come see Doc Schultz!” Leading lady Suzanne Pleshette grumbles her way through a drab performance as a tomboy, and Elam’s comedy chops mollify the fact that he’s playing yet another amiable cow-town grotesque. As for the star, Garner’s charm is peerless as always. Unfortunately, there’s not much difference between this picture and an average Maverick episode.

Support Your Local Gunfighter: FUNKY

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