For some odd reason, I had reason to venture over to Fancast yesterday, and as I was glancing at some of the available titles I noticed they had Support Your Local Gunfighter (1971) on tap…and of course, not being strong enough to resist temptation, I watched this one from start to finish. Gunfighter, a follow-up (though not a sequel) to Support Your Local Sheriff! (1969) is a gut-busting comedy-western that features several of the Sheriff! principals (James Garner, Harry Morgan, Jack Elam) in new roles; Garner plays a fast-talking con man who manages to convince Morgan and his fellow council members (Willis Bouchey, Walter Burke) in mining town Purgatory that Elam is notorious gunslinger “Swifty” Morgan (actually played by an unbilled Chuck Connors) in order to put a scare into rival mine owner John Dehner (that one’s for Andrew Leal). There’s a superb cast of supporting talent in this one: Suzanne Pleshette (Garner’s love interest), Joan Blondell, Marie Windsor (Joan and Marie are a pair of “Miss Kitty’s” slickered by Garner), Dub Taylor (“I always said that whorehouse was a gold mine”), Henry Jones, Kathleen Freeman (who must have been arrested after Gunfighter wrapped—she steals so many scenes), Dick Curtis, Gene Evans, Ellen Corby and the one-of-a-kind Grady Sutton. (I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that Evans, Freeman and Jones are also in Sheriff! as well.) Directed by Burt Kennedy with screenplay by James Edward Grant, Gunfighter is a sly spoof of both Yojimbo (1961) and A Fistful of Dollars (1964)—but it also gets in a nod to the early Kennedy-Boetticher B-westerns starring Randolph Scott when Garner says to Pleshette: “Patience—there are some things a man just can’t ride around…but then again…maybe he can.”
Having finished Gunfighter, I then found myself up for the umpteenth viewing of Richard Linklater’s Slacker (1991), a film that continues to have a mesmerizing hold on me ever since I suggested to some friends that we rent it (I had read a review of the movie in an alternative newspaper and thought the premise was intriguing) one night in 1992. Immediately after the closing credits rolled, I suddenly found myself suspecting that I had become a bit of a movie pariah…which was reinforced by several of my associates remarking: “That’s the last time you get to pick the movie.” Then as now, my response is “Pish tosh!”; I still think Slacker is loads of fun—an oddly endearing little tribute to the weirdos, wackos and wastrels who populate the college town of Austin, Texas. My favorites are the “psycho surgery” conspiracy guy and the old man who laments that he wasn’t around to witness Charles Whitman do his little sniper number off the University of Texas tower because his wife had “an appointment” across town. Plus, Slacker has that wonderful line (which is the only thing one of my critical friends got out of the movie) from the Billy-Bob-Thornton-like hitchhiker: “I may live badly, but at least I don’t have to work to do it.” (My favorite, however, is “Withdrawing in disgust is not the same as apathy.”)
The one new movie I watched on Fancast (new as in “I haven’t seen this one”) was The Boss, a 1956 crime drama that’s been shown on TCM in the past…but I always seem to miss it. WWI doughboy Matt Brady (John Payne) returns home a hero and is told by older brother Tim (Roy Roberts) that he’s going to take him into his business—Tim is the local ward heeler, the machine boss in charge of all the political patronage jobs in the “middle-class city” (that’s how they describe it in the opening credits, I swear) in which they live. When Matt gets stinking one night and marries a slightly homely girl (Gloria McGehee) instead of his schoolmarm fiancée (Doe Avedon), brother Tim doesn’t take the news too well and drops dead of a heart attack. Matt picks up where Tim left off, and hires his boyhood chum (William Bishop) to be the lawyer for his interests (Bishop also marries Avedon); everything goes swimmingly until the stock market crash of 1929—and then Brady finds himself in cahoots with a local hood (Robin Morse) who scotches their business relationship when one of his trigger-happy goons mows down a group of G-men escorting a stoolie that can ruin Matt and the hood’s operation by squealing to the Feds. Brady’s empire finally comes tumbling down when his lawyer pal sticks a shiv in his back by testifying against him on the witness stand as Brady stands trial on charges of corruption.
If you’re a fan of the older Warner Brothers gangster flicks, I think you’ll like Boss—it’s not too much of a stretch to see James Cagney as Payne’s character…with maybe Pat O’Brien as the lawyer and Ida Lupino and Ann Sheridan, respectively, as their wives. I like John Payne as a rule; he was a very versatile actor, appearing as a song-and-dance man (Tin Pan Alley), leading man (Miracle on 34th Street), Western hero (Silver Lode) and tough guy (Kansas City Confidential)—but for some reason he just doesn’t convince me as the title character…particularly near the final 10-15 minutes of the film, when his character ages practically over night (though it could be due to the pressure of his court trial), like Kevin McCarthy in the Twilight Zone episode “Long Live Walter Jameson.” All in all, the movie is certainly worth 90 minutes out of your day; Joe Flynn is in this, playing a milquetoast commissioner instead of his usual blustering authority figure (“Whawhawhawhawhawhat is it, McHale?”), and I also spotted Herb Vigran, Percy Helton and Florence Lake in small roles.