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Support Your Local Sheriff

Support Your Local Sheriff
(1969)
Cast: James Garner, Joan Hackett, Walter Brennan, Jack Elam, Harry Morgan, Henry Jones, Bruce Dern
Screenplay: William Bowers
Director: Burt Kennedy

Jason McCullough has stopped in the frontier town of Calendar only because he hopes to pocket some of the gold he’s heard is abundant in the area. You see, he’s on his way to Australia, what he calls "the new frontier," but the town is looking for a sheriff. The town is always looking for a sheriff. Two of their most recent hires were gunned down, and the last one fled in fear only hours into the job. McCullough is only interested in the position on a temporary basis ("Keep in mind that I’m on my way to Australia"), but no matter. No one expects the sheriff in this rowdy town to survive long enough to be a permanent employee, anyway. McCullough is hired, and, as he sets out to arrest Joe Danby (Bruce Dern), a member of the notorious family that owns the town, on a charge of murder, McCullough appears likely to follow in the footsteps of his unfortunate predecessors.

Support Your Local Sheriff, written by veteran western specialist William Bowers (The Gunfighter), finds James Garner triumphantly returning to the turf he made his own as the star of TV’s Maverick. He’s wry and witty in a film that inverts western clichés with very amusing results. As directed by Burt Kennedy, Support Your Local Sheriff is not a laugh out loud excursion into tastelessness on the order of Mel Brooks’ later Blazing Saddles. It’s more likely to bring a smile to your face than induce a guffaw, especially among western fans who recognize the predictable horse opera situations that are being turned on their ear.

McCullough easily survives his first day on the job, and his proficient way with a gun helps bring law and order to the previously lawless town in no time at all. McCullough is a fast draw, much like Ringo in writer Bowers’ classic The Gunfighter, but, unlike Ringo, he doesn’t have a reputation.

After witnessing his lightning fast way with a weapon, his newly appointed deputy, Jake (Jack Elam), most recently known as "the town character," asks, "How come no one’s ever heard of you?" McCullough is too shrewd to let word get out about his efficient way with a six-shooter. After all, he wants to go to Australia, and a reputation as one of the fastest guns in the West would be more likely to put him in the grave.

But with the murderous Joe Danby safely under arrest in a jail cell without bars (they’ve been ordered but haven’t been shipped), word gets out about the new sheriff’s success. Challenges to his authority are numerous now, and none are as deadly as the one from the patriarch of the Danby clan, played with blustery rage by Walter Brennan. After Danby and his other two sons fail to break their kin out of jail, the elder Danby calls on the best gunfighters in the West for a showdown that brings to mind other showdowns in other westerns except for some very amusing twists.

When not keeping the peace in Calendar, McCullough has time to court the mayor’s daughter, a dizzy tomboy type memorably played by Joan Hackett, give pointers to his Jake (Jack Elam in a loony performance that changed his image as a heavy), and try to round up support for his reform efforts from the town’s elected officials (including Harry Morgan and Henry Jones). The entire cast play their roles to perfection with Garner setting the tone throughout.

Support Your Local Sheriff is no Blazing Saddles. It doesn’t ridicule the western genre, but it does have fun with it, all the while exhibiting a respect for all the conventions it lampoons.

Brian W. Fairbanks

© Copyright 1999, Brian W. Fairbanks. All Rights Reserved.

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