James Garner-Jason McCullough
Joan Hackett-Prudy Perkins
Walter Brennan-Pa Danby
Harry Morgan-Olly Perkins
Henry Jones-Henry Jackson
Bruce Dern-Joe Danby
Willis Bouchey-Thomas Devery
Gene Evans-Tom Danby
Walter Burke-Fred Johnson
Dick Peabody-Luke Danby
Kathleen Freeman-Mrs. Danvers
This 1969 spoof of western movies stars James Garner as a stranger just passing through town on his way to Australia. He’s been on his way to Australia for four years so he obviously isn’t in any hurry to get there.
The movie begins with the townsfolk marching up boot hill to bury a man who’d been in town only two days and then died from some unknown disease. The eulogy comment was, “We can only hope whatever deadly disease it was wasn’t particularly contagious.” Naturally, they discover gold in the freshly dug grave and overnight the little cluster of buildings becomes a prosperous, lawless boom town.
The town has already gone through three sheriffs (two were killed and the third ran off) when Jason McCullough (Garner) rides into town. His first stop is the saloon where he witnesses Joe Danby (Bruce Dern) kill another man in a gunfight. The Danbys are the local ranchers whose word is law, much the same as in many western movies. The mine owners have to pay the Danbys twenty percent of the gold they haul out of town.
Prices are sky high in town and going higher so Jason decides to look for a job to supplement the gold prospecting he plans on doing. He applies for the job of sheriff and the mayor (Harry Morgan) and the town council are only too happy to hire him.
Jason’s first order of business is to arrest Joe Danby for murder since the gunfight he’d witnessed was far from fair. The only trouble is, the jail doesn’t have any bars on the cells because they’re on order and haven’t arrived yet. Jason convinces Joe that he’ll be shot of he crosses a chalk line on the floor, right where the cell doors should have been. Joe pretty much stays in the insecure cell.
Jason also convinces Jake (Jack Elam) to become his deputy. Jake’s previous job was cleaning up the livery stable.
The mayor has a daughter, Prudy (Joan Hackett), who develops a crush on Jason but every time he’s around, something untoward happens to her
It isn’t long before Joe’s Pa (Walter Brennan) comes riding into town along with Joe’s two brothers Tom (Gene Evans) and Luke (Dick Peabody). Their goal is to get Joe out of jail. Pa tells the two brothers that he can handle getting Joe out himself. He walks into the sheriff’s office and pulls a gun on Jason. Jason then plugs up the barrel of the gun with his finger. This forces Pa to lower the hammer and give the gun to Jason. “If that gun had gone off, it’d blown up right in my face,” he says to Jason. Pa seems a little bit confused by the new sheriff and isn’t quite sure what to do to get Joe out. His first plan is to hire a gunfighter to kill the sheriff but Jason kills that gunfighter as well as the next one that comes into town. He runs the third one
Meanwhile, the bars for the cells arrive and Joe helps to put them in. Pa and the boys try to pull the bars off the window of Joe’s cell with their horses but only manage to pull the saddles off without budging the bars. Joe tells Pa that he knew the bars were in too solid because he helped with the installation.
Pa Danby has then had enough. He sends for family members that live on ranches elsewhere to help him get rid of the sheriff once and for all. When they get to town, a gunfight between Jason, Jake and Prudy on one side and the Danbys on the other breaks out. Jason ties Joe in front of the town cannon. The Danbys surrender when he threatens to light the fuse. He tells Prudy that the cannon wasn’t even loaded and he lights the fake fuse to prove it. The fuse fizzles and goes out. As they’re walking down the street, the powder in the cannon ignites and fires a cannon ball which blows up Madam Orr’s House.
This is one of the more enjoyable movies ever made. It is well worth taking another look at, even if you’ve seen it before.
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