Wednesday, July 25, 2012


According to a reference book on Western movies, that I read many years ago, the Western has been parodied more than any other film genre. That fact may have changed. The movie listing that accompanied this factoid was a photo from the film of two native American characters eating a submarine sandwich. I wish I knew what the name of that film was, because I would love to see if it was any good.

I have decided to list five of my favorite Western parody films. There are many Western comedies, however, I wanted to look at Western parodies only.

A parody, of course, pokes fun at the cliches that come with the genre. Western parodies have some characteristics all of there own.

1. Anachronism - Since Westerns take place in the 1800, Western parodies tend to stick current words, phrases, references and props into the Western setting.  In Son of Paleface, Bob Hope talks about television, the sound of a toilet flushing comes from a tee pee in Carry On Cowboy, characters in Blazing Saddles mention movie director Cecil B. DeMill, jazz musician Mongo Santamaria, Wide World of Sports, as well as Western actors Richard Dix and Randolph Scott. There is also Nazi's and Hell's Angels mixed in. Zachariah has Joe Walsh and the James Gang playing in the desert and, three years later, Blazing Saddles featured Count Basie and his orchestra performing in the desert. The sidekick in Rustler's Rhapsody's life is saved by a bullet proof vest.
2. The bad guy or unconventional hero wins - The Villain's Cactus Jack and Carry On Cowboy's Rumpo Kid do not get punished at the end. Miss Charming picks Cactus Jack over Handsome Stranger at the end of The Villain. In Rustler's Rhapsody, Colonel Ticonderoga gives up and throws a party for everyone.
3. Gay stereotypes abound - Maybe it has to do with Westerns being considered "manly" and "macho," but Western parodies feature enough gay stereotypes and gay jokes to fill a moving van. Carry On Cowboy and The Villain feature "gay" Indian chiefs, gay dancers fights the outlaws at the end of Blazing SaddlesRustler's Rhapsody gives us the paradox of people questioning the hero Rex's masculinity due to his flashy attire, while it is obvious that Colonel Ticonderoga is gay (Yes folks, Andy Griffith played a gay guy in a movie). Zachariah and his pal, Matthew, were forerunners of the main characters of Brokeback Mountain. In Son of Paleface, Junior says that he didn't know he was a boy until his was twelve.

1. Blazing Saddles (1974) - "Never Give a Saga an Even Break" was used in the advertising and Mel Brooks created a movie that manages to satirize Western cliches and racism in the same movie. Clevon Little is a railroad worker named Bart, who is to be hanged for hitting a supervisor (Slim Pickens) over the head with a shovel. The evil railroad company boss, Heddly Lamar (Harvey Korman), talk the governor (Mel Brooks) into replace the sheriff of Rockridge, that his henchmen murdered, with Bart in order to drive the resilient residents out of town, so the railroad can go through. After a not to warm reception, Bart teams up with an alcoholic gunfighter, Jim the Waco Kid (Gene Wilder), to save Rockridge from the railroad company. At the end of the film, the fight between the citizens of Rockridge and Larmar's outlaws spills off of the Western town set onto the set of a Bubsy Berkly-type musical, where the outlaws clash with the dancers. Bart has a gun fight with Lamar outside Grauman's Chinese Theater. The film ends with Bart and Jim riding off into the sunset in a limo.
The film is filled with great gags from Bart and his fellow railroad workers singing a Doo-Wop version of Cole Porter's "I Get a Kick Out of You" to Yiddish speaking Indian Chief (also Mel Brooks) to cowboys passing gas while eating beans around a campfire to a Gabby Hayes clone (Charles Starret) that nobody can understand. The film is also notorious for its use of the "N word," which shocked people in 1974 and is even more disturbing in these more politically correct times, yet its use, along with much of the humor, is a sharp poke in the eye at racism.

2. Son of Paleface (1952) - This is one of the first of two Republic Studios Western inspired parodies on this list. It is a sequel to the highly successful Bob Hope Western comedy film The Paleface. Unlike its predecessor, Son of Paleface pokes fun at Republic Studios Westerns that were still popular in theaters in 1952 and quickly becoming a mainstay of the new medium television. A gang of outlaws, lead by a masked villain called the Torch, is stealing gold shipments around the town of Sawbuck Pass. A federal agent named Roy (Roy Rogers) is sent to investigate the robberies, disguised as a singing cowboy. At the same time, Junior Potter (Hope) arrives in Sawbuck Pass to collect his inheritance. Both Potter and Rogers meet a sexy saloon owner named Mike (Jane Russell), not realizing that she is really the Torch. To complicate matters, the Indians want to kill Junior because his father, Paleface Potter (Hope's character in the previous film), was an Indian fighter that killed a great number of their tribe.
Many people say Son of Paleface is one of the few sequels that is better than the original. The film pokes fun at many of the traits that were exclusive to Republic Studios Westerns such as death deifying stunts, outlandish plots, masked villains, musical numbers (the big hit, Buttons and Bows, from the first film returns) and Republic's two biggest stars, Roy Rogers and Trigger. Not only is Rogers great at playing a parody of himself, but Trigger has a flare for comedy as well. Hope was at the top of his game at this point in his career, playing Junior as a nerdy wanna-be hero.

3. Rustler's Rhapsody (1985) - If Son of Paleface pokes fun at Roy Rogers, then Rustler's Rhapsody nails Republic's first major star, Gene Autry. It especially takes aim at his Cowboy Code that was followed by the other Republic cowboys (The Lone Ranger had a similar code too) and how movies changed (and society) from the heyday of Republic Studios in the 30s and 40s. Tom Berenger plays Rex O'Herlihan, a fancy dressed cowboy in a white hat arrives in the town of Oakwood Estates. He meets Peter the town drunk (G.W. Bailey), who is surprised when Rex tells him that "all Western towns are the same" and he knows how the story will end because he "can see the future." Rex has a brief gun battle with the henchmen of a rancher name Colonel Ticonderoga (Andy Griffith). The leader of the gang is shot in the back by his own men, who then tell Ticonderoga that Rex did it. Colonel Ticonderoga teams up with the owner of the railroad (Fernando Rey) and his "Spaghetti Western" henchmen to try and stop Rex. When that fails, Ticonderoga hires "Wrangler" Bob Barber (Patrick Wayne), a cowboy/lawyer, who dresses just like Rex. He begins questions Rex's adherence to the Cowboy Code and his sexuality in an attempt to discredit him as a Western Hero.
The basic theme of Rustler's Rhapsody could be "We can't go back to the good old days." It almost seems like it could be a clever retort to the Statler Brothers song "Whatever Happened to Randolph Scott?" In the real world and real Old West, the cookie cutter, happy ending world of the B-Western wouldn't exist, where as the dirty and violent Spaghetti Western world was probably closer to the truth. I should also mention two other great characters, the saloon owner/prostitute "with a heart of gold," who only talks dirty to men (Marilu Henner) and Colonel Ticonderoga's "sweet and innocent" daughter (Sela Ward), who can strip to her bloomers at the drop of a Stetson hat.

4. The Villain (1979) - The beautiful Charming Jones (Ann Margaret) collects her inheritance with help from a bodyguard named Handsome Stranger (Arnold Schwarzenneger), but the lawyer (Jack Elam) hires a black-leather clad outlaw known as Cactus Jack (Kirk Douglas) to steal the money back. The thing is Cactus Jack isn't very good at robbing stage coaches. The stagecoach has to pass through the territory of Chief Nervous Elk (Paul Lynde) and his klutzy Indian warriors.
Let's not beat around the tumbleweed here, The Villain (known overseas as Cactus Jack) is a cross between Tom & Jerry and the Road Runner cartoons using real people disguised as a Western parody. Kirk Douglas is a human equivalent of Wile E. Coyote slamming into rock bluffs and pulling boulders on top of himself. However, one of my favorite moments in the film is when Handsome Stranger (Schwarzenneger) has a conversation with a telegraph agent (Mel Tillis).

5. Carry On Cowboy (1965) - Prudish, teetotaler Judge Burke (Kenneth Williams - sort of the British equivalent to Paul Lynde) is the mayor of family friendly Stodge City. Outlaw Johnny Finger, known as the Rumpo Kid (Sid James) comes into town and turns Stodge City into a base of operations for his gang of cattle rustlers. After Finger kills the elderly Sheriff Earp (Jon Pertwee - the 3rd Dr. Who), Judge Burke sends a telegram to Washington, D.C. for marshal. Washington sends Stodge City an klutzy, young, Englishman Marshall P. Nutt (Jim Dale), a sanitation expert. who walked into the wrong room. Finger tries everything to kill Marshall including bringing in Chief Big Heap (Charles Hawtrey) on his Indians.
The Carry On films switched from comedies based on occupations to movie parodies in the mid 60s. This is one of the best of the parodies. Besides taking pot shots at the familiar Western cliches, this film is filled with double entendres and bad puns that were a mainstay of the Carry On films. Favorite gag in the movie is when Rumpo Kid arrives in Stodge City, a group of men walk up behind him. He quickly turns around and guns them down. He then says, "I wonder what they wanted?"

Honorable mention: Zachariah (1971) - I'm giving Zachariah an honorable mention because it is overlooked and could have been something great. It started off as a Western parody version of Herman Hesse's Siddhartha written by Firesign Theater, complete with a used buggy salesman (Dick Van Patten), an outlaw rock band (Country Joe and the Fish) and a madam who has slept with both Marshal Dillon and Marshall McLuhan. In the middle of the film, it turns into a serious story about two men who were lovers turning against one another. Firesign Theater disowned the movie, claiming they wrote a Western parody film "that never got made." Rumor has it MGM took the movie away from them and rewrote it. The movie became popular on VHS in the 80s when the film's stars John Rubenstein and Don Johnson were staring in popular TV detective shows (Rubenstein was on Crazy Like a Fox and Johnson was on Miami Vice). The opening sequence with the James Gang playing "Laguna Salada" in the desert is great, as is the prog rock band New York Rock and Roll Ensemble playing their song "Grave Digger."  For a great in-depth review of the film, check out this post on a site called Jim's Reviews.

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