Most news stories about the late Gary Marshall are mentioning his many successes in television, such as Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley, Mork & Mindy and The Odd Couple, as well as movies such as Pretty Woman, Runaway Bride, Beaches and The Princess Diaries. However, one of his biggest failures has become a cult classic.
In 1967, Marshall and his long time collaborators, Jerry Belson and Jerry Paris, came up with an idea for a Western comedy called Sheriff Who?. The show would feature a different guest star hired to be the sheriff, with the job of bringing to justice a outlaw named "Evil" Roy Slade, played by John Astin. At the end of the show, Slade would kill the new sheriff. Needless to say, NBC refused it because of violence. They re-wrote and filmed four different pilots of Sheriff Who? and each one was voted down by NBC. After the had a hit on ABC with The Odd Couple, the trio gave up on the comedy Western.
Then, in 1972, the four pilots were edited into a two hour movie for television called Evil Roy Slade. It aired on the network several times during the 70s and then was syndicated to local TV stations in the 80s. It became a cult favorite. At one point, rocker Alice Cooper was photographed wearing a T-shirt reading "Evil Roy Slade for President." In his autobiography, Marshall said it was one of his favorite projects of all time.
The plot revolves around a railroad, telegraph and bank magnate (Mickey Rooney) trying to bring Evil Roy Slade to justice. During a bank robbery, Slade meets a beautiful, idealistic schoolmarm named Betsy (Pamela Austin, the Dodge Girl). They fall in love and Betsy decides to reform Roy. She eventually takes him to Boston, where he is treated by a psychiatrist (Dom DeLuise). When he is cured he goes to work in the shoe store of her uncle (Milton Berle). Eventually, the railroad magnate hires a retired singing lawman (Dick Shawn) to hunt down Slade and marry Betsy.
The dialog in this movie is great. The funniest lines stay with you long after you watch the film. At one point, Betsy tries to teach Roy math with the problem of having six apples and a neighbor takes three. When she asked what he would have, Roy replies "A dead neighbor and all six apple." The absurdity of the humor takes the edge off of the idea that this is a movie about a vicious killer. The portion where Roy works at the shoes store has to be the funniest part.
Also the well-known cast make this film a fun experience. Of all of the stars involved, John Astin is the one who makes this work. He is perfect as the deranged but likable Slade. Throw in the narration by Western sidekick and Green Acres star Pat Butram and you have a great comedy package. Also look for Gary Marshall's sister, Penny Marshall, as a bank teller.
The movie is available on DVD as well as on YouTube.