Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Gone With the West (1975)

          Shot in 1969 (under the title Man Without Mercy) but not released until 1975, this inexplicable Western starring James Caan, Sammy Davis Jr., and Stefanie Powers seems like it was edited as an arts-and-crafts project by the residents of a mental institution after they’d been dosed with LSD. The narrative is discombobulated, the style swings between broad slapstick and bleak violence for no discernible reason, and the score seems comprised of outtakes from a no-budget porno. The “story” involves ex-convict Jud McGraw (Caan) and wronged Native American Little Moon (Powers) teaming up for revenge against the corrupt residents of a small town in the Old West; people in the town killed Jud’s family and raped Little Moon. The movie juxtaposes cutesy vignettes of the heroes conjuring harebrained schemes in the desert, like live-action versions of Warner Bros. cartoon characters, with nonsensical scenes of debauched chaos in the town. Davis shows up periodically as a nattily dressed gunslinger, but if he has any legitimate connection to the storyline, it’s undetectable.
         A typical scene in this fever dream of a movie unfurls as follows: The townies gather in the local saloon to watch a ruthless bare-knuckle brawl, and then a female bystander literally chews the ass off one of the fighters, and then a corpse-laden horse wanders into the saloon, and then Caan and Powers use a catapult to launch boulders at the saloon, and then the townies form a posse to chase the outlaws, and then Caan and Powers somehow kill the entire posse without any injury to themselves. While all of this madness happens, the soundtrack hums with boogie-woogie piano played over a sleazy wakka-wakka disco beat. Oh, and is it worth mentioning that the film periodically cuts to a townie crooning an old spiritual number in a basso profundo that would make Lurch proud? Or that Powers tends to yell “Yahoo!” as her Indian war cry even though her character doesn’t speak English? Or that one sequence includes a rape that takes place in a cockfighting pit—while a cockfight is happening?
          In its incompetent and/or unhinged way, the movie seems to be aiming for satirical yuks until the bloody finale, which features hardy-har-har moments like Caan impaling a dude with a pitchfork and Powers using a kite to strafe the town with dynamite. During the melee, one townie gets killed in an explosion while trying to rescue her dog from a burning building, while another gets squashed when the side of a burning building falls and flattens him. Fun!
          The lunacy concludes when Caan and Powers leave the obliterated town, then look back at the camera. In perfect English, Powers says to her costar, “Hey, you killed everybody but the cameraman,” so Caan shoots his gun toward the camera, and the image tumbles as if the cameraman took a bullet. Super fun!
          Amazingly, Gone With the West gets even weirder if you check out the alternate cut that’s widely available on the market under the title Little Moon and Jud McGraw. That version cuts the original movie to ribbons and brackets the story with the lame framing device of a modern-day couple hearing the story of Little Moon and Jud from a dotty old squaw who scams unsuspecting travelers in the Southwest. So much worse than a run-of-the-mill bad movie, Gone with the West is like a postmodernist experiment designed to see how much incoherence 90 minutes can contain.

Gone With the West: FREAKY


Guy Callaway said...

Nothing to back this up, but this struck me as a failed T.V. series edited into a feature.

Andrew1961 said...

Gone With the West was actually shot under the title Man Without Mercy and completed in 1969.