The Sons of Katie Elder

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

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Sheriff of Fractured Jaw

Here's an odd formula for you. A very British actor, a busty bombshell, a British western (British?!?) and filming locations that would go onto bigger and better things within five years. What does all that add up to? A mostly entertaining, often fascinating 1960 western, The Sheriff of Fractured Jaw.

The son of the owner of a firearms company based in England, Jonathan Tibbs (Kenneth More) is looking for something to do. He doesn't feel quite at home in his father's company and is more comfortable building all sorts of crazy gadgets and contraptions. It doesn't take Tibbs too long to figure out a solution. Reading the newspaper one day, he reads a story about the violent wilds of the American west...where guns are quite prevalent. His rationalization? Where there's violence...there's guns so Tibbs packs up and heads to the American west in hopes of expanding his father's business. After plenty of travel, he ends up in the lawless town of Fractured Jaw where sheriffs can't seem to stick around too long. Well, they've got a new one. Through a series of misunderstandings and miscommunications, Tibbs becomes the new sheriff and the key to getting through it? A tough saloon owner, Kate (Jayne Mansfield), who takes a liking to the semi-clueless Brit. 

Go figure. This oddball, schizophrenic kinda works. In one of his last films, director Raoul Walsh helms this goofy, off the wall western. He was past his heyday back in Hollywood's Golden Age, working often with swashbuckling star Errol Flynn, but it's just one more choice you'd think wouldn't work but ends up working quite well. I'll watch anything western but a British western? It wouldn't/shouldn't seem to fit. Look, this isn't a classic. Far from it, things falling apart nicely in the last 30 minutes. When it does work, it's a pleasant change of pace, an entertaining mess. Oh, and those filming locations? 'Fractured' films on-location in Almeria, Spain where in about four years hundreds of spaghetti westerns were filmed. Makes sense, don't it?

Okay, let's cast a male and female lead, two actors who you'd never think would star in a British comedy western together. Hmm, and they're going to have to show off some lovey-dovey chemistry? How about Kenneth More and Jayne Mansfield? DONE! But once again, 'Fractured' gets the last laugh. More is by far the best thing the movie has to offer. A character development that depends on misunderstandings sounds tenuous at best, but More just commits. He plays it all straight and never seems to be going really hard at getting the laughs. He just gets them. The fish out of water routine -- the gentlemanly Brit in the rough and tumble west -- works over and over again. More's Tibbs is a gentleman, polite and trying to make friends and in the process never seems to realize he's doing everything in about the exact wrong way you're supposed to do it. An example? Indians attack the stagecoach he's on so naturally he tries to approach them peaceably to tell them to stop. Oh, by the way. His plan works.

Because More is so good, the chemistry with Mansfield works. One of the biggest sex symbols of the 1950s and into the 1960s, Mansfield isn't a great actress but she makes a go of it. She's here to look sexy, wear very tight dresses and let her natural endowments do the rest. She also sings three different songs, but she's dubbed so that's not her real singing voice. Instead, we're left to consider how anyone could actually be built like that. She's a real-life Barbie doll!

Who else to look for? Some familiar western faces to help ease viewers into...GASP...a British western!!! Henry Hull gets the most screentime as Masters, the Mayor of Fractured Jaw who likes Tibbs immediately, even if he has no idea that his new sheriff can barely handle a gun, much less live up to a reputation of a hardened fast draw. Also look for Bruce Cabot as a rancher who wants to test Tibbs, William Campbell as the real deal, a real fast draw and gunfighter, and Robert Morley as Tibbs' uncle.

So 'Fractured' runs about 103 minutes and for 60 minutes or so, it's really good. Then it takes a detour it never really recovers from. More's Tibbs gets caught up in a sticky situation with two warring ranches and their armies of gunslingers as well as an Indian tribe looking to stir up some trouble. The fish out of water bit wears a little thin as things are stretched out to fill that running time. Still, the first hour is really fun, and I enjoyed it a lot. So in the end, it's an enjoyable mess with some surprisingly good performances. Yep, a British comedy western actually works. I would have bet big money against that thought!

The Sheriff of Fractured Jaw (1960): ** 1/2 /****

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