Friday, April 24, 2009

The Arnold Project #10: The Villain

Blazing Saddles it ain't! Also known as Cactus Jack, The Villain stars Kirk Douglas as the titular bad guy who can't do anything right; Arnie plays the Handsome Stranger, with a seven-shot six-shooter, and Ann-Margret is Charming Jones. But they might as well be Wile E. Coyote, because that's the kind of movie this is- a live action cartoon that just can't get it right, despite the cast.
You know, the kind of movie where the Villain talks to his horse and it listens, sort of. Cactus Jack figures out what bad guys do by reading a pulp book, and everyone has a theme song. That worked in Cat Ballou but not so much here. The busty damsel Charming is tasked by her prospectin' pappy to pick up a loan to expand his mine, Handsome is hired to protect her, and Cactus Jack is given a deal by Jack Elam's crooked banker- make sure Charming doesn't get home with the money.
Set in Monument Valley, we get a gorgeous backdrop for Kirk Douglas mugging and goofing around, trying his Acme tricks to catch Handsome and Charming. They even use classic Looney Tune sound effects for stuff like the boulder that lands on him. Handsome Stranger (yes, that's his real name) is terminally naive, and it's painful to watch after Arnie's award-winning debut in Stay Hungry (full review). Sure, it's a farce, but they aim really low in this one.
The best part are all the cameos, most notably Paul Lynde in his final role as Chief N-n-n-ervous Elk, and seeing Kirk Douglas in all sorts of ridiculous get-ups as he tries to trick Arnie and Ann-Margret. His shiftless horse "Whiskey" is pretty amusing too. The gags are really repetitive- usually involving Kirk Douglas being dragged by a rope and falling off a cliff- but some are inspired. It's a bit disappointing from stuntman director Hal Needham, who gave us Smokey and the Bandit. Then again he also gave us Megaforce.

Overall, The Villain isn't that bad, and you see Arnold really trying to play an oaf when he'd rather be ravishing Ann-Margret. The problem is that the movie goes halfway- Cactus Jack is a walking cartoon, who bounces around on the rooftops after Charming smooches him, but those scenes are few and far between. They even re-enact the classic Tex Avery "paint a tunnel in the mountain" gag, which doesn't work when you can see the paint on the rocks. Though I give Douglas credit for walking face first into that wall so convincingly.
The most memorable part remained Paul Lynde's final role as Chief Nervous Elk, which he dived into with relish. He's the only guy who gets any barely risque jokes. This one's more for Kirk Douglas fans than Arnie fans, but it's still good viewing if you want a dose of '70s nostalgia.

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