Not so Much a Parade but Surprisingly Entertaining
Having just watched "Fool's Parade" or "Dynamite Man from Glory Jail" as it was renamed I am still unsure exactly how I feel about the movie. It stars James Stewart who to be honest is central to the movie working, but it also features some nice and unexpected performances from the other stars such as Kurt Russell and George Kennedy. It also has a surprisingly good storyline which has a couple of layers of unexpected depth. Yet because some of it is played out for laughs it left me unsure as to how I really feel about it. Even so I can say one thing for sure and even if you find the various light hearted moments a bit strange "Fool's Parade" is a movie which will most certainly entertain.
Have done their time in Glory prison Mattie Appleyard (James Stewart - The Cheyenne Social Club), Lee Cottrill (Strother Martin) and Johnny Jesus (Kurt Russell - Poseidon) are all happy to be out and plan to go straight, setting up a grocery store with the money they earned inside. But as they are sent packing out of Glory by 'Doc' Council (George Kennedy - Airport), Appleyard becomes aware that the bank and 'Doc' Council have swindled him out of the $25,452.32 belonging to him and he wants it back. But not only have they swindled him out of what is rightfully his they also want him, Cottrill and Johnny dead and will hunt them down till they succeed.
On face value "Fool's Parade" is a very simple movie and although set in 1935 it has a distinct feeling like it could have been the makings of a western. The simplicity of it all comes from the fact that we follow 3 recently released cons who just want to go straight but because of corrupt officials they not only find themselves being hunted down, forced to go on the run, but also forced to go on the defensive leading them to the edge of crime again. As such "Fool's Parade" is extremely easy to follow and once you realise that Appleyard, Cottrill and Johnny have been swindled you know that eventually there will have to be some sort of showdown when the running stops and they take on the bad guys. And it doesn't matter that you can guess where things will most likely lead because the journey from a to b is an entertaining one.
But dig beneath the surface of this simple but enjoyable movie and "Fool's Parade" has a hidden depth much of which is thanks to a fine performance of James Stewart. The depth comes from watching this man, Mattie Appleyard; desperately wanting to go straight yet the longer he is pursued the more likely he is to kill someone again. And as such it is interesting to watch Stewart convey this, to convey that whilst the bank and his pursuer have the money he is entitled to a part of him feels like he's still inside. It's this side of "Fool's Parade" which makes it more than just a simple movie and means that if you want a movie which can be entertaining at the simplest level or entertaining at a deeper level then it is one to watch.
This combination of simple yet with hidden depth makes "Fool's Parade" entertaining but the issue for me is that it tries to throw in some light hearted moments of comedy. Maybe this worked back in 1971 when it was released but the various humorous moments and seriously quirky characters feel a little out of place. From the quirky Lee Cottrill through to the equally quirky and evil 'Doc' Council it just feels slightly wrong. And those scenes, often surrounding Appleyard's false eye, feel equally as wrong. Yes they are amusing, especially a brilliant scene on the train where Appleyard uses his false eye and a message from God to escape being shot, but they just don't feel right.
What is for certain is that James Stewart is relied upon to make "Fool's Parade" work and to be frank he does. Stewart maybe playing Appleyard an ex-con who murdered two men but we like him, he's done his time and so you sympathise with him especially when he is both swindled out of the money he earned but also hunted down by the corrupt 'Doc' Council. I have to say that I just don't get the whole false eye thing, it seems a strange addition to the character thrown in for comedy effect but Stewart makes it work, just.
Whilst Stewart is the reason that "Fool's Parade" works the other stars don't let things down. The character of 'Doc' Council maybe a bit too quirky for me but George Kennedy does a marvellous job of making him evil. And whilst the quirkiness affects the character of Lee Cottrill which Strother Martin plays you can't deny that Strother delivered a seriously quirky and memorable character with his variety of ticks and mannerisms. And then there is a young, fresh faced Kurt Russell who does spend most of the time wide eyed, but then his character, Johnny Jesus, calls for that as it is plainly obvious that as they have served time together Johnny has taken Appleyard as a sort of father figure.
What this all boils down to is that "Fool's Parade" is a good movie, it features a really nice storyline and some better than expected performances. But for me the comedy aspect spoilt things slightly, feeling out of place when watched these days. But that doesn't stop it from being both entertaining and memorable mainly for the right reasons, although James Stewart and a false eye is possibly not one of them.