The Scoop: 1979 PG, directed by Hal Needham and starring Kirk Douglas, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Ann-Margret
Tagline: …the fastest fun in the west!
Summary Capsule: That western that stars Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Eunice’s Rating: “Let me see now. It is obvious that this is no ordinary rabbit. Therefore, I must dream up a brilliant master strategy, ingenious, daring. Now, what if I lured him into a rock crusher?”
Eunice’s Review: Every kid has ‘em, that particular set of movies that they watch about a million times. The Villain is one of those movies that helped to contribute to me getting my own VCR in my room.
Cactus Jack (Kirk Douglas) is a thievin’ black hat. After a botched bank job he gets hired by dishonest banker Avery Simpson (Jack Elam) to stop one Miss Charming Jones (Ann-Margaret). Charming has been sent on a mission by her father to settle a silver mining deal – Simpson will loan Papa Jones money with the mine as collateral, so if Cactus Jack steals the money from her so the mine can’t be worked Simpson gets everything. But Papa Jones has called in a debt owed by Handsome Stranger (Arnold Schwarzenegger), the purest white hat ever.
The more in spirit description of this movie is: Kirk Douglas is Wile E. Coyote trying to capture the Road Runner-y Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Ann-Margret is like Bugs Bunny when he was in sexy drag. Yeah.
The Villain is a western comedy, more Rustlers’ Rhapsody than Blazing Saddles, but crosses over into the a whole bunch of random famous people comedy that was big in the late ’70s/early ’80s (think Caddyshack, Airplane!, or The Muppet Movie). So while it’s funny on its own, and it is funny, there’s a whole level you’re going to miss out on unless you’re older or, like me, have watched a lot of movies and TV shows (particularly game shows like Match Game) from the ’70s and prior.
Before he was Conan, before he was the Terminator (after he was Hercules) Arnold Schwarzenegger was Handsome Stranger in this his, I’m pretty sure, only western. Arnold mozies around being ridiculously big, wide eyed, and naive in a powder blue cowboy outfit that’s so tight it must have been sewn on.
Ann-Margaret is BEEYUTIFUL here as the sexy second most intelligent character in the whole cast. She mixes comedic timing with smoldering charm (so the character’s aptly named) and frustration at Handsome Stranger’s purity. And I love her dresses.
Kirk Douglas is very funny playing the comedic hijinks with just the right amount of straightfacedness (word invention!) and bafflement when the schemes fail. He earns the movie being named after the badguy. Cactus Jack thinks he’s this hotshot genius villain, but he reads from a guide book, and if it wasn’t for his horse Whiskey he’d probably be dead.
Ah Whiskey. The most intelligent character in this movie and my personal favorite growing up. Whiskey set the bar for all human-acting horses for me, yes even before Brisco’s Comet. Let’s just say, you haven’t lived until you’ve seen a horse do the “higher. No higher” joke.
Also like to highlight Paul Lynde’s so wrong yet completely awesome turn as Chief Nervous Elk. I’d like to see Nervous Elk vs Mel Brook’s Indian Chief in a subversively inappropriate stereotype-off.
It’s worth noting that for basically being about the badguy repeatedly failing to steal money from a hot chick being protected by the dumb luck of a big muscly Austrian cowboy, it actually flows and connects well for a full movie length. So kudos to director Hal Needham for making this silliness work. Considering he’s best known for Smokey and the Bandit and Cannonball Run, I suppose it’s not too surprising.
So if you like western spoof comedies, or want to be able to say “Well yes, I have seen that movie where Arnold Schwarzenegger’s a cowboy.” Here ya go.
- Alternate title: Cactus Jack
- The handbook Cactus Jack keeps referring to is Badmen of the West
- Burt Reynolds’ face on the side of the Pleasure Palace
- Those theme songs, sung by Mel Tillis who also plays the stuttering Telegraph Agent, are really catchy
- “Leaving Indian County”
Cactus Jack: One – Close the door. Two – Open the safe. Three – On the floor.
(Drunk Banker shuts door and gets on the floor)
Cactus Jack: You forgot number two.
Drunk Banker: Oh no I didn’t. I did that when you stuck that gun in my face.
Handsome Stranger: What happened?
Guy: She was trying to cross the street and got run over by a beer wagon.
Handsome Stranger: I always say, “Alcohol and driving don’t mix.”
Charming Jones: Handsome Stranger is such a wonderful nickname, how did you get it?
Handsome Stranger: Oh it’s not a nickname, it’s my real name.
Charming Jones: Really?
Handsome Stranger: Yeah, I was named after my father.
Nervous Elk: Why does banker want him watched? He needs to be looked after!
Nervous Elk: White woman crrrazy. They all keep one bullet in gun.
Cactus Jack: Yeah, I heard that. By the way, I been meaning to ask you, what you Indians do when you capture a white woman?
Nervous Elk: Nerrrvous Elk not know. Crrrazy white woman always shoot self before he have chance to find out. All except one, who by mistake shoot Nerrrvous Elk in the jewels.
Nervous Elk: I don’t know what’s worse: Him or those damn drums!
Recurring line: I’ll go get some wood.
Nervous Elk: And I got all dressed up fer nothin’.
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