This is one of the films on my list that I never saw in a theater. I can’t explain how that happened at all, this movie has Lee Marvin, Oliver Reed and Robert Culp as the stars. They are all actors I have enjoyed over the years. What it must have been like on the set with Marvin and Reed together. These two never found the bottom of a bottle. What is especially odd though is that Strother Martin is in it and he has a pretty good part. I must have been involved in something to miss an opportunity like this. You know what, this came out in the bicentennial year and my family was on the road for a month that summer. We went back to Battle Creek, driving across the country. I got to drive a lot because I had my license and my Dad needed to be spelled. I know we listened to Queen “A night at the Opera” and The Blue Oyster Cult on eight track most of the way. Dee and I had just gotten serious about seeing each other and before we left on the trip her mother had passed away and we took my Dad’s new car up to the funeral in Bakersfield. It was also an election year and I watched both of the conventions while we were traveling. I remember the speech that President Ford gave and all the hoopla about Reagan maybe being on the ticket with him. We were also on our way to Atlantic City where the Ice Capades was getting their tour ready for the road. We had built several props for the show and Dad was going back as a technical adviser. Dorothy Hamill had just joined the show after her star turn at the winter Olympics and we got a chance to meet her. So, I guess I was a little distracted.
The movie is a comedy with several broad strokes that might be a problem these days. There is not only a white guy playing an Indian, but he is also an English actor to boot. Rape and the clap are the basis of several big punch lines in the movie, and women get popped in the face in a couple of scenes. It was not as crude at the time as it actually plays now. That is a little backwards I suppose, but the problem was not language or nudity or violence, but the way that some of those things were portrayed. If you did not know, “Cathouse Thursday” is the name of the lead female charater played by Kay Lenz, and she is basically trapped in what was euphemistically referred to as White Slavery. She gets the nickname when our drunken Indian (played by a drunken Englishman) steals her and several other girls, he is planning on using them like underwear with the day of the week on it. You can get a good sense of the humor from that set up.
For the first hour, the movie is all over the place. Things happen for no reason, people are connected without really understanding how and there just seems to be a lot of chasing slapstick. It feels like they are stretching to make incidents funny intead of letting them grow out of the characters or the plot. Once we get to the main confrontation between Lee Marvin, Oliver Reed and their former partner played by Robert Culp, things make a little more sense. The movie is set in a very interesting time and place, it is a western but one that takes place after the myths of the west are settling into place. The election of 1908 is in the background and there is a funny campaign song that gets sung by our heroes. They support Taft because they always voted Republican. When it turns out that their traitorous partner is using the Taft campaign as a way to connive his way into office and promote a big prize fight, they start seeing the advantages of William Jennings Bryan.
As I said before, there are a lot of slapstick chases and crude jokes about Indians and their ways. The movie has some charm but it feels like a mess. The clearest part of the story is in the last half hour, but I’m not sure you will sit still and wait for it. There are a number of very clever gags in the film. Strother gets a terrific introduction in a bar scene where he and Lee Marvin turn out to be flimflamming the locals using a rattlesnake. Later there is a bit with a jar full of hornets. Jay plays dirty old man for most of the middle part of the movie, but the characters all yo-yo between wanting revenge and wanting to do right by the girl they end up traveling with.
The poster tag line may have been too prophetic for this movie. I did not choose to leave them out on purpose, but the movie is pretty forgettable.
[Originally published on Kirkham A Movie A Day, June 26, 2010 ]