SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL SHERIFF was thought to be a dud by United Artists when no-one showed up during its first week of play. They were about to pull the plug when star James Garner, whose Cherokee production company financed it, made them a $10,000 wager to keep it going for another week. His Maverick skill at betting held; the easygoing and endearing little western spoof took off, eventually making $14,700,000 as 1969’s 21st most popular flick. Garner and William Bower, who wrote it and acted as producer, smiled their way to the bank. *
“We are gathered here today to consign the mortal remains of Millard Frymore… or whatever his name really was. I ain’t really got a whole lot to say about Millard because he only rode amongst us two days ago, and was promptly struck down by whatever deadly disease it was struck him down. We can only hope that whatever deadly disease it was, it wasn’t particularly contagious. And with that in mind, I suggest we all bow our heads in devout prayer.”
Amiably passing through the lawless gold boom burg of Calendar, Colorado, good-with-a-gun but good-natured ‘Jason McCullough’ (Garner, 40), “on my way to Australia“, takes a temp job as sheriff (the last three vacated or perforated). His first problem is dealing with the feared ‘Pa Danby’ (Walter Brennan) and his three idiot sons (Bruce Dern, Gene Evans and Dick Peabody). For that he has some help from ‘Jake’ (Jack Elam), town drunk turned deputy ‘. His other problem is more personal and vexing, thanks to the quick temper and talent for clumsiness displayed by ‘Prudy Perkins’ (Joan Hackett), the cute but doofy gal who takes a shine to the puzzled new lawman.
Directed by western pro Burt Kennedy, it’s an affectionate gibe at the genre clichés. The script, style and staging make a perfect fit for the Garner persona (confident, relaxed, bemused), a nice showcase for the versatility of the offbeat, intense yet disarming Joan Hackett, a break upwards for priceless character actor—and character in general—Elam, a self-kidding lark for old master Brennan, and clearly a fun paycheck for a gaggle of familiar supporting players. It’s a lollygag, and since it doesn’t pretend to be anything more than that, it works nicely, a picnic from burdens, though obviously it holds more charm for those fond of the genre and old enough to recall and miss the actors.
With backup contributions from Harry Morgan, Henry Jones, Willis Bouchley, Kathleen Freeman, Walter Burke, Chubby Johnson, Tom Reese, Danny Borzage. Properly sly score is from Jeff Alexander. 92 minutes.
* Support Your Local Sheriff registered as a big hit partly because it was done for a skinny $750,000 ( it does look like something made for TV). Garner’s movie career had needed a boost: since 1963, when he’d starred in three hits (The Great Escape, Move Over Darling and The Thrill Of It All), he’d made 10 films and only one, Grand Prix, was successful at the box-office. In ’69, ‘Sheriff’ shared the cowpoke joking with Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid (#1), Paint Your Wagon (#7) and three duds—The Great Bank Robbery (#55), The Good Guys And The Bad Guys (#87,also directed by Kennedy) and Sam Whiskey (#89). The 1971 spinoff Support Your Local Gunfighter (with the star and several previous cast members) didn’t do half as well.
“Sophisticates”, or those who fancy themselves as such, pass this kind of pastime off as dross. Actually, it is possible to be able to ‘get’ and enjoy George Bernard Shaw, “Candide” or “Much Ado About Nothing” and still get a silly snort or three out of Hee Haw. Snobs can sniff all they want, but it doesn’t mean they can see past their nose.