THE GREAT SCOUT AND CATHOUSE THURSDAY isn’t the worst comedy western ever made: that would be Wagons East. But it’s not for lack of trying. Directed—badly—by Don Taylor, the wretched screenplay was the work of Richard Alan Shapiro, whom we would later thank for creating the TV series Dynasty; hardly Shakespearean, but caviar compared to this chicken manure.
In 1908, three scruffy prospectors (Lee Marvin, Oliver Reed, Strother Martin) try to collect from their former partner (Robert Culp), who cheated them out of a gold strike, and who is now running for governor. They kidnap his wife (Elizabeth Ashley) and with help from a prostitute (Kay Lenz) put a plan in motion. Sylvia Miles rounds out the cast as a madam.
Crude and stupid. Reed tests the offensiveness quotient as a part-Indian (with a Harvard education) in heavy makeup. Lenz is once again wasted: nearly every movie she made after Breezy misfired. Miles is repellent as ever, Strother bellows nonstop. Marvin looks embarrassed (gee, why?), Culp and Ashley (another squander of a good actress) flail. Jokes about rape and scalping abound, the cheesy sets look like they’ll blow away in a sneeze, the Mexican location work useless in a lazily shot manner that’s as visually unappealing as the aggressively coarse writing and frantic mugging. At the outset, the theme music from composer John Cameron seems promising, but then it’s repeated ad nauseum to back up idiotic, mean-spirited antics that last for 102 endless minutes. The Cathouse crawl was a resume blot for everyone involved. *
Maybe because people liked Lee Marvin and hoped this would bring more earthy frontier fun like Cat Ballou and Paint Your Wagon, enough showed up to place it 58th in 1976, with a gross of $10,900,000. Bad taste is acceptable, if it’s funny (Blazing Saddles). This is as amusing as gonorrhea.
* Marvin logged another dud that year with Shout At The Devil, and preceded these with flops The Klansman (bad) and The Spikes Gang (so-so): he called it a break for three years, before returning in another dumper, Avalanche Express. He then had a brief flair back to form with The Big Red One, Death Hunt and Gorky Park.
Speaking of cathouses, since filming took place over three months in Mexico’s wild & wooly Durango, doubtless Boozer Legends Marvin & Reed made their presence felt, when they were sober enough to stand up.