Release Date(s)1969/1971 (February 16, 2016)
Studio(s)United Artists (Twilight Time)
- Film/Program Grade: A-
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: A-
In the late 1950s and early 60s Burt Kennedy wrote four of the greatest Westerns ever made, all for director Budd Boetticher and star Randolph Scott: Seven Men From Now (1956), The Tall T (1957), Ride Lonesome (1959), and Comanche Station (1960). Lean, philosophical, and character-driven, they’re also hilarious and marked by crisp, clear, powerful action sequences. They’re also a testament to how often cinema is a matter of the right people at the right time; many of the films Kennedy made afterward once he turned to directing contained the same narrative elements – and even the exact same lines of dialogue – yet without Boetticher’s visual rhythms and Scott’s laconic delivery movies like Mail Order Bride (1964) and Return of the Seven (1966) fall flat. As a director Kennedy often worked against his own strengths as a writer, though he got better at it as he went along – his 1973 John Wayne opus The Train Robbers (1973) is a delightful piece of Western entertainment.
Interestingly, two of Kennedy’s best films as director are a pair of James Garner vehicles that he didn’t write – it’s as though, freed from his own preconceived notions he was able to let his imagination fly by applying it to someone else’s material. Support Your Local Sheriff (1969) and Support Your Local Gunfighter (1971) are light, charming Western comedies, filled with great character touches and dynamic action. In the first film, Garner plays Jason McCullough, a wanderer on his way to Australia who falls into a job as sheriff in an unruly mining town. His approach to law enforcement is laid back and often hilarious, and mostly just a pretext for a series of engaging encounters with great character actors like Bruce Dern, Jack Elam, Henry Morgan, Walter Brennan, and Kathleen Freeman. (Joan Hackett is on hand as well as the love interest.)
Many of these actors return for Gunfighter, though the film is not a sequel in any real sense – in spite of the title and returning director and cast, the movie tells a completely new story with different characters. This time out Garner plays Latigo Smith, a gambler, ladies’ man and con artist who slips away from a woman who wants to marry him and finds himself in (as in the previous movie) an unruly mining town. This time Garner plays a pair of warring mining companies against each other in a loose parody of Yojimbo and A Fistful of Dollars; as in Sheriff, the emphasis is on behavior, light comedy, and a series of well-timed pyrotechnics that allow the film to ride a fine line between Western and Western parody. Both films share some elements with Mel Brooks’ later Blazing Saddles, but they don’t go that far into outrageousness – they’re essentially played straight. Yet there’s never any real sense of danger, and the greatest pleasures of both films are comic – a scene in Gunfighter in which Garner explains to Elam why he has no problem taking money from women, for example, is in its own low key way just as anything in Brooks’ film.
Twilight Time has released both movies as a Blu-ray package that represents the finest presentation of either film that I’ve ever seen. The brown, muddy murk of previous video releases has been corrected here, though the source material for both films has occasional flaws – the negatives clearly haven’t received the tender loving care MGM reserves for better known films. The uncompressed monaural soundtracks are solid, particularly on the second film, which takes full advantage of the low end in the movie’s many sudden explosions. Aside from a couple of trailers and isolated score tracks, the only extra is an amiable commentary track by film historians Lee Pfeiffer and Paul Scrabo. Like the leading man in the films they’re talking about, Pfeiffer and Scrabo bring a nice conversational tone to the proceedings, offering up anecdotes both personal and scholarly about Garner, Kennedy, and many of the supporting players who make the Suport Your… films such a joy to experience.
- Jim Hemphill