Comedy and westerns have been around for a long time. In the 1930s and 1940s comedy teams like the Marx Brothers, Abbott and Costello, and Laurel and Hardy all strapped on their six guns and mounted up. In the 1950s, the Bowery Boys followed, rehashing the same slapstick. Large-scale “A” films took up the chase in the 1960s and 1970s with films like Waterhole #3 starring James Coburn, and James Garner’s Support Your Local Sheriff and Support Your Local Gunfighter. And of course, we must not forget Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles in 1974, which seemed, at the time, to be the last word in comedy westerns.
Now the genre returns – with a nod to Blazing Saddles – in a dark form in Seth MacFarlane’s A Million Ways to Die in the West. You get to see about 15 of them; with extreme violence supplying the dark humor. MacFarlane writes, directs and stars as the innocent sheepherder living on the American Frontier in 1882, where in addition to the violence, there’s a lot of sex, some drug use, and pervasively bad language throughout. Be warned.
The film was shot in New Mexico and Utah’s Monument Valley, and the cinematography is stunning. When you add composer Joel McNeely’s incredibly big score, you get an opening as good as any in movie history. JM provides a symphonic wonder that is a lot like the extraordinary work Jerome Moross did for The Big Country.
The cast is spot on. SM plays innocent and looks the part – except when he has a potty mouth. Charlize Theron plays his eventual love interest after a false start with Amanda Seyfried. Giovanni Ribisi is his best pal. Liam Neeson is the evil bad guy. There are lots of fun cameos – including one right after the words “The End” appear on screen. One more turns up after the credits. Stay for it.
As comedies go, this one is not as much fun as a Brooks outing, but SM re-covers the ground pretty well. He’s ably supported by a cast that all seem to be solidly on the same page, and has one of the biggest western scores to come down the pike since The Magnificent Seven. How can he lose? Every time the juvenile humor and potty mouth dialogue rears its unnecessary head, it’s followed by another look at the beautiful scenery in the deserted Southwest to calm down the vulgarity of the on-screen shenanigans. All in all, it works pretty well. Eventually Seth should outgrow the necessity to litter his work with verbal garbage. He may even be the next Brooks.
Rated 3.2 out of 4.0 Saddles a-blazing.