Have you ever taken a job just for the paycheque?
Life gurus would shake their finger at you if you did. You should find Purpose in work, they would say. Do what you love and be fulfilled, et cetera.
Alas, sometimes it can’t be helped. Food must be eaten and landlords pacified; sadly, there are times when any kind of paycheque means basic survival.
Perhaps you have different monetary goals, such as plans for an overseas excursion. Then look at James Garner‘s character in the western spoof, Support Your Local Sheriff! (1969). Garner plays a man who takes the job of sheriff so he can raise the funds to travel to Australia, because he once read about it in a library book.
Now, in the Western movie cannon, sheriffs are often mythical folks responding to a higher calling. They believe in law, order, and protecting the Citizenry. Other times they’re reluctant heroes pushed into a self-sacrificing role to save a town from evildoers.
But not Garner’s character, no siree. He arrives in a lawless gold rush town with plans to scoop up some nuggets before riding away into an Australian sunset. Yet, when he sees a posting for a law enforcement official, he applies for the job, his main questions centering on pay scales and benefits.
Even though this town is desperate for a new sheriff – any warm body will do – Garner is an excellent candidate. He’s smart, dispassionate, and a deadly accurate shot. In a place utterly devoid of the Rule of Law, where folks lose their tempers every 15 minutes, these are useful qualifications.
There’s almost no better cinematic treat than a well-crafted film that doesn’t take itself seriously, and Support Your Local Sheriff! is that film. It satirizes the western genre without being disrespectful; we especially like how it pokes gentle fun at a few notable westerns, including the John Ford classic, My Darling Clementine (1946).
For example, in Support Your Local Sheriff!, the town is controlled by a rich and powerful family who have everyone scared sideways. They collect a 20% tax on all goods shipped in and out of town, which is a pretty sweet deal, even for extortionists.
This racketeering family is headed by Walter Brennan, the same Brennan who was the patriarch of the slippery cattle-rustling clan in My Darling Clementine.
There are also subtle visual nods, such as Garner-as-Sheriff sitting outside the sheriff’s office…
…channelling Clementine’s Henry-Fonda-as-Sheriff:
Support Your Local Sheriff! is a very funny film, and one with heart. It’s not interested in cynicism, even though it deals with themes of greed and oppression. It also doesn’t get bogged down with superfluous melodrama; it’s here for a good time, just like we are.
In this film of stellar actors, Garner’s performance is noteworthy. His character is disaffected and aloof, but not without charm or wit. He never Breaks a Sweat; indeed, he’s the very definition of Unflappable.
The character tips his hand. He insists he’s In It only for the Money, yet it’s taken him four years to work his way across the continent? Nay, this is a man who get tangled up in Caring Too Much, especially when it comes to a certain no-nonsense woman (Joan Hackett).
He’s a man of thinly-veiled compassion. Although we admire his bravery and smarts, we most like the way he tries to convince himself he’s truly detached.
Garner could have phoned in this performance and the film would still be terrific. But, like his character, he doesn’t do that. Garner cares about this movie – one that, ironically, pretends it doesn’t care at all.
According to Wikipedia, Support Your Local Sheriff! was a Box Office Bomb when first released. It didn’t make any money, as in: zero money.
That’s a pretty dismal return. Rumour has it United Artists were going to yank the film from cinemas, but Garner put up a $10,000 bond to keep it in theatres for one week. Thanks to word-of-mouth advertising, it became a bona fide hit. Accurate or not, Ultimate Movie Rankings lists it at #19 of the most popular movies in 1969.
If you’ve been shying away from Westerns, we hope you’ll give this one a try. It’s a delightful film with stellar performances, plus it stars James Garner. We need not anything else.
This post is part of The JAMES GARNER Blogathon, hosted by Realweegiemidget Reviews.
Support Your Local Sheriff!: starring James Garner, Joan Hackett, Walter Brennan. Directed by Burt Kennedy. Written by William Bowers. United Artists, 1969, Color, 92 mins.