The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Texas Across the River

Comedy westerns are completely hit or miss with me. With rare exceptions like Blazing Saddles, I do my best to avoid them. Every so often though, I've got to give them a try, like 1966's Texas Across the River, a pleasant surprise thanks mostly to its casting.

Readying to marry Southern belle Phoebe Ann Naylor (Rosemary Forsyth), Spanish duke Don Andrea Baldassare (Alain Delon) is confronted by another suitor for Phoebe. The suitor ends up dead -- due to an accident -- in the ensuing fight, and Andrea is forced to run. He heads across the border into Texas, still an unsettled territory. He's rescued from a sticky predicament with the pursuing cavalry by Sam Hollis (Dean Martin) and his Indian sidekick, Kronk (Joey Bishop). Owing them his life, Don Andrea -- a crack shot and fine horseman -- accompanies them as they travel into Texas toward the little settlement of Moccasin Falls. What are they up to? Sam and Kronk are gunrunners, but that's just the start. Warring Comanches, revenge-seeking cavalry and a love....square are just some of the hijinks around the corner.

Let's get this over with. This comedy western from director Michael Gordon is pretty stupid. There's something about westerns that doesn't translate well to comedies (if you ask me, and you are asking, right?). So that considered, if you're going to make a comedy set in the wild west, you can't be subtle. Be dumb, be stupid and go for the politically incorrect angle. Thankfully, 'Across' commits. It is dumb, but it isn't completely stupid either. The script has some good running bits, some solid sight gags, and is politically incorrect without being offensive. It's harmless enough, running 101 minutes, and doesn't overstay it's welcome.

What is worth it then about this flick? What caught my eye was the casting. An established star in Europe, Delon was creating quite a name for himself in America as well. He gets to play the fish out of water here, the European aristocrat who ain't quite familiar with the rough and tumble ways of the wild west, especially Texas. His counterpart in Martin's Sam is just the opposite. Dean Martin does what he does best, funny, effortless line deliveries, and he's cool all the way. The 31-year old Delon (handling much of his own stunts) and 49-year old Martin have an easygoing chemistry that goes wells with the slightly schizophrenic nature of the story and other characters. As peaceful Indian Kronk, Bishop (an obvious choice to play an Indian, don't you think?) is surprisingly funny. He gets to play the straight man to all the craziness as a deadpan Indian always ready with a clever one-liner.

There are plenty of other names to look out for, starting with Forsyth as Phoebe Ann, the Southern belle who never has a lack of suitors pursuing her. Her purpose here is to bat her eyes and look good which she accomplishes with ease, especially a not so subtle scene where she walks out of a pond with nothing but a clingy poncho on. Martin's reaction is priceless. Watch it HERE. Providing another love interest is Tina Aumont as Lonetta, a Comanche woman Don Andrea rescues from certain death. Peter Graves and Andrew Prine play Rodney and Sibley, brothers in the cavalry trying to get revenge for their dead brother. Michael Ansara has some fun as Iron Shirt, a Comanche chief trying to prove his son, Yellow Knife (Linden Chiles), isn't a complete screw-up.

Goofy though they may be, 'Across' does have its fair share of laughs. Much of it is of the physical variety, especially the opening fight scene at the wedding gone wrong. What bits work? When Ansara and his Comanches speak "Indian" the English subtitles appear. When they speak English, pictures appear, translating things back into Comanche. Delon keeps getting into trouble, Martin rescues him, Bishop wisecracks. The running bit about Graves' Rodney's indecipherable cavalry commands is funny as well. Smart humor this is not, but I enjoyed it just the same. Not a classic, but still worth a watch for western fans, especially for the fun the cast looks to be having.

Texas Across the River (1966): ***/****

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