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SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL SHERIFF (director: Burt Kennedy; screenwriter: William Bowers; cinematographer: Harry Stradling Jr.; editor: George W. Brooks; music: Jeff Alexander; cast: James Garner (Jason McCullough), Joan Hackett (Prudy Perkins), Walter Brennan (Pa Danby), Harry Morgan (Olly Perkins), Jack Elam (Jake), Henry Jones (Henry Jackson), Bruce Dern (Joe Danby), Gene Evans (Tom Danby), Dick Peabody (Luke Danby); Runtime: 93; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: William Bowers; United Artists; 1969)
“Veteran Western director Burt Kennedy shoots a pleasing irreverent parody on the genre.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Veteran Western director Burt Kennedy (“The War Wagon”) shoots a pleasing irreverent parody on the genre, shot as if it were a TV show (very close in spirit and form to Garner’s Maverick television show). But it works so well thanks to the fine script by William Bowers, the wonderful slapstick comedy (it sags at times but overall it remains effective) and that it’s made by people who know they earned their bread and butter from such Westerns and though their teasing might bump up against the Western clichés they treat it all with good-natured affection, loving fun and taste.

At the funeral of someone who died from unknown causes, gold is discovered at his grave. This causes the small town out in the frontier hinterlands to experience the frenzy of a gold rush. Prospectors come from all over and the town suffers from a lack of law-and-order. The Miner’s Association urges the Town Council to hire a sheriff, this comes after three sheriffs were either killed or run off in the last month and no one is willing to take the job. But Jason McCullough (James Garner), an easy-going smooth talking drifter just arriving in town to try his hand at prospecting before moving onto Australia, can’t afford to live here because of the escalating prices and answers Mayor Olly Perkins’ (Harry Morgan) call for the job. After proving he can handle a gun with a marksmanship exhibition, Jason takes the job that pays $150 a month and offers free room and board at the mayor’s fancy house. The single parent mayor’s attractive daughter Prudy (Joan Hackett) falls for the handsome sheriff, but she makes a fool of herself in front of him by being so accident-prone: getting into a mud fight in the street, sitting up a tree half-naked and dripping wet, and has the backside of her dress catch fire while she’s serving the sheriff a meal.

The sheriff breaks up a street fight in the mud with a fire hose and appoints one of the rowdy fighters, the town misfit and stable sweeper, Jake (Jack Elam), as his deputy. Jason then arrests Joe Danby (Bruce Dern) for killing a man in a saloon gun duel. The problem is the new jail doesn’t have any iron bars yet and the Danbys are a tough bunch of ranchers who run this town, and as the designated town bullies will not take this arrest sitting down. The crotchety villainous Pa Danby (Walter Brennan) and his two other lunkhead sons Luke and Tom come to town to bust Joe out, but Pa Danby gets stopped in a comical way by the sheriff as he tries to release his son. The frustrated patriarch then hires a string of professional gunmen, but the sheriff eliminates every one of them. As a last resort, Pa Danby rounds up his large extended family and the Danby clan comes to break Joe out of jail but are confronted by the sheriff, the deputy and Prudy. The respected citizens chicken out and are found in the town whorehouse while the fight takes place.

The Western was beginning to get its butt kicked from free television and the public was losing interest in the genre, but this pleasant, spirited film came along at the right time to give the genre a needed shot in the arm.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”