It’s been said that every dramatic work; every film, play, TV series and book can ultimately be reduced to one of seven universal plots / storylines. And when you look at the big picture, the narrative tapestry does appear to be woven from the same seven threads.
Overcoming the Monster – Theseus, Dracula, Infinity War
Rebirth – Peer Gynt, Beauty & the Beast, Alita Battle Angel
Quest – The Odyssey, Lord of the Rings, Apocalypse Now, Lego Movie
Journey and Return – Ramayana, Alice in Wonderland, Mad Max Fury Road
Rags to Riches – Cinderella, Aladdin, Pretty Woman,
Tragedy – Macbeth, Romeo & Juliet, Bonnie & Clyde, Miracle Mile
Comedy – Midsummer Night’s Dream, Much Ado, Caddyshack, Deadpool
Dozens of permutations, twists and sub-genres exist within each of these storylines, but today we’re discussing one of the most beloved but rarely seen… Western Comedies. American Film Institute defines Western films as “those set in the American West that [embody] the spirit, the struggle and the demise of the new frontier.” And, much like the seven universal storylines [see above], every Western can be broken down into one of 7 subgenres.
The incoming train / wagon train / telegraph line plot
The ranchers / land-owners / vs the town plot
The ‘building a ranch / oil empire from scratch’ plot
The ‘revenge / chase and pursuit by a victim’ plot
The ‘man vs. wilderness’ / cavalry vs. Native American Indians plot
The outlaw plot
The lawman plot
And while most westerns hew to one genre, the western comedy has the luxury of mixing and blending genres all for the sake of satire and laughs. Today we’ll focus on six select western comedies from recent or upcoming CHARGE! schedules, all of which satisfied that need for a laugh out West.
Support Your Local Gunfighter…
Based on the success of Support Your Local Sheriff, James Garner and director Burt Kennedy reteamed [along with much of the same cast] to do another similarly themed western comedy. This time, they turned their satirical lens on the outlaw plot where a stranger comes to a feuding town and aligns himself with both sides until the town and / or feud falls apart [Yojimbo / Fistful of Dollars / Last Man Standing].
Mel Brooks and Andrew Bergman and a slew of comedy writers craft what is arguably the funniest western comedy, period. Brilliantly over the top, politically incorrect, laugh-out loud hilarious and unable to recreated nowadays, Cleavon Little, Gene Wilder and Harvey Korman deliver performances for the ages as they satirize the classic incoming train plot, the lawman plot and every other western trope in the fictional town of Rock Ridge.
Originally slated to Steve Martin, Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi, the film never came together, for obvious reasons. Then, a little-known, up and coming director named Steven Spielberg came aboard along with Bill Murray and Robin Williams but that too never crossed the proverbial finish line. Three Amigos ultimately landed three other comedic luminaries of the time– Martin Short, Steve Martin (also one of the screenwriters), and Chevy Chase to play Ned, Lucky and Dusty, forever cementing their contribution to comedic western history.
A meta-western from 1985, Tom Berenger stars as Rex O’Herlihan, a cowboy from the ‘Black & White era’ who finds himself thrust into a colorized, modern day western, where only he knows the fate of the western plotline he’s living through [in the vein of The Truman Show].
Support Your Local Sheriff…
Led by James Garner and a stellar cast of well-known actors of the time– and from westerns– Support your local Sheriff satirizes the lawmen who tames a lawless town plot. The film was Garner’s first producing effort and initially looked like a theatrical bomb. But thanks to Garner’s efforts and a word-of-mouth campaign, the film went on to become one of the more successful film in 1969.
An Oscar Award-winning western comedy / musical from 1965 starring legendary tough guy Lee Marvin cast against type and Jane Fonda as the title character, Catherine ‘Cat’ Ballou. When Cat learns her family ranch is being threatened by a development corporation, she hires a gunslinger for protection– except he’s a drunk. The role earned Lee Marvin an Oscar for playing dual roles as the drunk gunslinger and his clean-cut brother / villain.