Revered stuntman Hal Needham made a successful transition to directing by helming a pair of hit comedies starring his buddy Burt Reynolds, Smokey and the Bandit (1977) and Hooper (1978), and the team scored once more with The Cannonball Run (1981). Unfortunately, the rest of Needham’s directorial filmography is quite grim, and the downward spiral began with this ghastly Western. Starring Kirk Douglas as an inept outlaw who tries to bushwhack a young woman carrying a strongbox filled with money, The Villain represents a sad attempt to piggyback on the success of Mel Brooks’ outrageous Blazing Saddles (1974). Even in his prime, Douglas wasn’t particularly well suited to comic material, and by the time he made The Villain, Douglas had succumbed to an excessive style of acting that approached self-caricature. Worse, The Villain was clearly conceived as a live-action cartoon in the style of classic Looney Tunes, so the middle of the picture comprises numbingly repetitive vignettes of Douglas falling off cliffs, getting run over by boulders, and receiving the full blasts of dynamite explosions. Think Wile E. Coyote, but without the wiliness.
The allusions to vintage Warner Bros. cartoons are so overt that Douglas actually spends the last moments of the film bouncing up and down, in wearisome fast-motion photography, while the Looney Tunes theme plays on the soundtrack. It’s all as painful to watch as you might imagine, and yet the juvenile textures of Douglas’ performances aren’t the only eyesores in The Villain. Ann-Margret gives a vapid turn as the imperiled young woman, “Charming Jones,” and Arnold Schwarzenegger costars as Charming’s escort, “Handsome Stranger.” The unfunny running gag with these characters is that Charming is so hot for Handsome that she’s virtually salivating in every scene, but Handsome is too dim to notice. Even Ann-Margret’s beguiling cleavage fails to make her scenes interesting. Campy actors including Foster Brooks, Ruth Buzzi, Jack Elam, Paul Lynde (as an Indian named “Nervous Elk”), Robert Tessier, and Mel Tillis populate the periphery of the movie, though none is able to elevate the infantile rhythms of Robert G. Kane’s script. Bill Justis’ godawful score—which punctuates every would-be gag with an over-the-top horn blast—merely adds insult to injury.
The Villain: LAME