Saturday, January 12, 2013

Hot Lead & Cold Feet (1978)

          Generic family entertainment from Walt Disney Productions at the nadir of the company’s live-action cycle, Hot Lead & Cold Feet is a farcical Western featuring the unremarkable British comedian/singer Jim Dale in three roles. And while Disney’s concerted effort to transform Dale into a U.S. star was admirable (he was featured in three of the company’s movies from 1977 to 1979), Dale lacks the easy charisma of a genuine box-office attraction, so a triple serving of Dale in Hot Lead & Cold Feet represents too much of a not-so-good thing. In fact, even with his multiple roles, Dale is less interesting than veteran actors Jack Elam, Don Knotts, and Darren McGavin, who play silly supporting characters. The story begins with crusty old varmint Jasper Bloodshy (Dale) announcing that he’s leaving his entire estate—which includes the crime-riddled frontier town that bears his name—to his twin sons. After a fashion, that is. One of the sons is Billy (Dale), a rootin’-tootin’ outlaw who menaces the good (and not-so-good) townsfolk of Bloodshy. The other son is Eli (Dale), a preacher-in-training raised by his mother in England. Billy’s the “hot lead” of the title, and Eli’s the “cold feet.”
          As a means of bringing his sons together, Jasper stipulates that his boys must race each other through the wilderness surrounding the town of Bloodshy, with the winner claiming the family wealth. Billy tries to rig the contest, abetted by the town’s corrupt mayor (McGavin), while Eli simply wants to provide for the pair of orphaned children who are in his care. (Because it wouldn’t be a Disney flick without orphans.) Knotts plays the town’s bumbling sheriff, the so-called “Denver Kid,” and Elam plays his arch-enemy, a crook named “Rattlesnake.” The running gag of these two men trying to stage a gun duel despite constant interruptions is about as close to real humor as this movie gets. Most of the running time comprises goofy Disney slapstick and overly exuberant racing scenes, with a spoonful of saccharine thanks to Eli’s relationships with the kids and with a pretty schoolteacher (Karen Valentine). There’s not a hint of originality or wit anywhere in Hot Lead & Cold Feet, but it’s a harmless enough distraction, with okay production values and energetic acting. Even Dale, who isn’t up to the task of carrying a picture, deserves credit for his hard work—he tries every trick imaginable to entertain viewers, so it’s a shame he can’t conjure screen presence by force of will.

Hot Lead & Cold Feet: FUNKY

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