As Westerns entered their later period, it feels like the most prominent examples of the genre did one of two things, either deconstruction them () or play them more for laughs (Cat Ballou).
Support Your Local Sheriff is one that plays the genre for laughs. And while it’s not quite as definitive as Cat Ballou or Blazing Saddles, I have to admit I enjoyed the movie a great deal.
James Garner stars as Jason McCullough, a drifter taking the long way around to Australia (he’s been on his way for four years) who wanders into a gold-rush town of Calendar, Colorado. The town has a low survival rate for its sheriffs, having gone through three in the past several months. Needing money to afford the rising price of everything in town, Jason takes the job as sheriff and begins to use his unconventional methods to clean up the town.
With Garner, it’s hard not to imagine that Jason is a variation on the character he played in the long-running TV series, Maverick. And he does a nice job here, looking bemused and offering commentary on the town and its inhabitants.
One particularly interesting joke involves the town jail, which doesn’t have the bars for the cells and windows installed yet. Early in the movie, Jason witnesses the son of the local powerful family gun down a man in the bar. After charging the son with murder, Jason puts him into a cell that consists only of a chalk mark on the floor and red paint to simulate the blood of the last guy who tried to escape. Interestingly, the son stays in jail and the cell, though he does make at least one attempt to walk out the door while Jason is distracted and then later helps them install the bars.
This reminded me a bit of Fonzie from Happy Days. In the episode “Richie Fights Back,” Richie asks Fonzie for advice on being tough. Fonzie points out that he’s the best fighter Richie knows even though Richie has never seen him throw a punch. Fonzie says it’s because he knows he doesn’t have to fight because the intimidation factor works in his favor and the other party will back down if Fonzie threatens to escalate. This eventually backfires on Richie when Fonzie realizes that in order to intimidate people you have to have made good on the threat and won at least one time in your life.
Garner’s Jason is cut from the same cloth, though his intimidation factor comes from being a fast-draw. It all works pretty well.
Support Your Local Sheriff also pulls from other, iconic Westerns, including a scene that echoes moments in High Noon when the town decides not to back the sheriff in the face of impending doom. I did find it interesting that actor Harry Morgan features prominently in both movies.
And while it’s fun and jabs at the conventions of classic Westerns, I can’t necessarily say this is one that I will watch multiple times like I have Cat Ballou or Blazing Saddles. In a lot of ways, it feels more like a pilot for a TV show (and it might have been a fun one) than a movie.