Jammed with entertaining actors and powered by plot elements that worked better in other movies, the comedic Western Something Big is a slog to watch because it’s episodic, phony, and unimaginative. It says a lot about the picture that the protagonist repeatedly proclaims that he wants to achieve “something big” during his lifetime, but the exact nature of that something is withheld from the audience until the final act. Turns out it’s merely an armed heist. Myriad other films have been predicated on the very same threadbare premise, so why all the obfuscation? The solution to this mystery is as elusive as answers to other questions, like why this would-be comedy contains so few actual jokes. If nothing else, Something Big explains why director Andrew V. McLaglan spent most of his career making manly-man action flicks, because a comic genius he is not.
Dean Martin, looking quite bored, stars as Joe Baker, an Easterner who fled to the West in search of adventure. After years pursuing an outlaw lifestyle, he’s fallen far short of achieving legendary status, so when he learns that his long-estranged fiancée is on her way to collect him, he decides it’s time for a grand scheme. Baker learns that a local thug named Cobb (Albert Salmi) can get his hands on a Gatling gun, so Baker makes a deal. In exchange for the gun, Baker will furnish Cobb with a woman. Baker then attacks passenger wagons until he finds a suitable candidate, Mary Anna Morgan (Honor Blackman). He kidnaps Mary Anna but doesn’t believe her when she says she has powerful allies. She ain’t lyin’. Her husband, Colonel Morgan (Brian Keith), is the commandant of the local U.S. Army fort. And so the contrived plot goes—Baker contemplates trading Mary Anna for the gun even as he falls for her, and Mary Anna grows to respect Baker even though she knows Baker’s fiancée is en route. Lost amid this romantic silliness is Baker’s grand scheme, which should have been the focus of the movie. Worse, Something Big wastes time servicing goofy subplots, notably the one about two horny frontier dames.
Set to obnoxiously bouncy music by Marvin Hamlisch, Something Big lurches from one disconnected vignette to the next, the appeal of each scene dependent upon the actors present in the scene. By far, the bits featuring Keith as a blustery military officer and Ben Johnson as a gruff scout are the most rewarding. Conversely, the movie squanders the presence of Robert Donner and David Huddleston, who have tiny roles, and the filmmakers give too much screen time to Blackman, Martin, and Joyce Van Patten, all of whom give pedestrian performances. Despite its title, Something Big offers only small pleasures, at best.
Something Big: FUNKY