Maverick Sheriff Tames Town
I've watched a fair few comedy westerns in my time and whilst most are entertaining they often feel like someone has taken a standard western storyline and planted a few set piece gags in there, funny scenes which punctuate the story. There are of course exceptions and "Support Your Local Sheriff!" is one of the best because not only is it full of humour from start to finish but the humour comes from the characters rather than just set piece gags. So whilst you may have a funny gag about a newly built jail which hasn't got any bars, the humour actually comes from Joe Danby, played by Bruce Dern, staying in his cell because the new sheriff is always one step ahead of him, out smarting him and all those who try to break the law. And on that note you also have James Garner as the Sheriff delivering such a perfect performance of charm and comic timing, delivering the clever writing so that never does a joke become dull.
Jason McCullough (James Garner - Move Over, Darling) is just passing through the town of Calendar, Colorado on his way to Australia a journey which started years ago and seems no closer to ever being completed. But having arrived in what is chaos from gold fever he decides to stick around and make some money from prospecting and taking up the vacant position of Sheriff, a position which no one has lasted in. Immediately he makes his presence felt, arresting Joe Danby (Bruce Dern) and throwing him in jail despite the jail having no bars and he also gets the locals to behave themselves whilst also evading the advances of Prudy Perkins (Joan Hackett) the daughter of Mayor Olly Perkins (Harry Morgan - Frankie and Johnny). But Joes father Pa Danby (Walter Brennan - The Gnome-Mobile) and his brothers are not happy with the sheriff and set about getting Joe out of jail.
Now like with so many comedy westerns the storyline to "Support Your Local Sheriff!" sticks firmly to the familiar as we have Jason McCullough agreeing to become sheriff of the rowdy Calendar, Colorado and setting about cleaning it up. It's intentionally familiar, never challenging you in any way as we have the local family who do what ever they like, the lily livered town officials scared of them, plus of course an attractive young woman to provide some romance. To put it simply everything about the storyline to "Support Your Local Sheriff!" you will see in any other western.
But the strength of "Support Your Local Sheriff!" is in the way it delivers the humour as whilst we get some set piece gags such as a brawl in the streets which gets muddier and muddier most of the humour comes from the way characters react and interact. And by that I really mean how Jason McCullough basically tames the town with his easy going manner and eyes in the back of the head. From the way he confronts Joe Danby for drawing first in a bar fight to talking Jake into being deputy whilst fighting off the advances of Mayor's daughter Prudy Perkins there is barely a scene which doesn't make you laugh. And it's because of this that those set piece gags such as McCullough keeping Joe in a jail with out bars works or when he pokes a finger in the barrel of Joe's Pa's gun when he demands his sons release.
When you consider director Burt Kennedy had made the less than spectacular "Return of the Seven" just 3 years earlier you have to give him credit for doing such a good job with this. He just lets the entire movie canter along at a wonderful pace allowing you to laugh at a moment of humour before then delivering another and another. And he doesn't try to make it any more than it is, a fun take on some western standards.
Whilst Kennedy gets some credit so do the cast with all of them putting in entertaining performances. Bruce Dern is simply funny as Joe Danby and Walter Brennan is just as much fun as his Pa. Then there is Jack Elam, Joan Hackett and Harry Morgan all who add to the merriment especially Morgan whose sharp delivery works so well with James Garner and you get a sense that both Morgan and Garner struggled to contain their laughter as every scene together it looks like they are about to crack a smile.
But of course the star of "Support Your Local Sheriff!" is James Garner as Jason McCullough and he makes it looks so easy. From delivering one funny line after another to the occasional moment of action he makes it so effortless and being effortless makes it even funnier. When we watch him demonstrate his shooting skills with a tap washer he just floats through the scene delivering the humour of it without forcing it. And it's the same throughout the entire movie as Garner never forces a single joke but continually makes you smile.
What this all boils down to is that "Support Your Local Sheriff!" is one of the better comedy westerns you can watch. It's strength is that it takes a familiar storyline and rather than just filling it with set piece gags the humour comes from the clever writing, the amusing characters and the unforced nature of it all. Plus there is James Garner who makes it all look so effortless, going from one funny scene to another barely raising a sweat but raising plenty of laughs.