Shootouts and Smiles: The Best of the Comedy West

Comedy Western MoviesThe trailer for the latest film from American Dad and Ted creator Seth MacFarlane was recently released and, while I’m not a huge MacFarlane fan, it looks like it could be really funny. The flop host of last year’s Oscars directed, co-wrote and stars in A Million Ways to Die in the West, in which he plays a sheep farmer who finds that the mysterious woman (Charlize Theron) he’s been cozying up with has a nasty gun-slinging husband out to get him. The other stars include Sarah Silverman, Amanda Seyfreid, Neil Patrick Harris and Giovanni Ribisi.

The upcoming release of this film, coupled with the 40th anniversary hullabaloo surrounding Blazing Saddles, got us thinking: What are the best western comedies out there? So, pardner, this is the list we came up with—Blazing Saddles (which should be in most pantheons) notwithstanding.   

Ruggles of Red Gap (1935): East meets west and eventually the two collide in this classic “fish-out-of-water” enterprise from director Leo McCarey (Duck Soup, Going My Way). Charles Laughton is the English butler won in a card game by wealthy rancher Charles Ruggles and wife Mary Boland. In his new residence in Washington, Laughton wins over the residents with his proper demeanor and cooking abilities, eventually opening a restaurant. This third and most successful film version of the story was later reworked yet again in 1950, with Bob Hope and Lucille Ball in Fancy Pants.  

Destry Rides Again (1939): Madeline Kahn’s Blazing Saddles character Lili Von Shtupp is a hilarious send-up of Marlene Dietrich’s singing saloon siren Kitty from this light-on-its-feet oater that helped revive Ms. Dietrich’s then-flagging career. Jimmy Stewart is the milk-drinking deputy lawman hero of the film who tangles with crooked gambler Brian Donlevy and wins over, er, “Fwenchy.”   

Along Came Jones (1945): Gary Cooper spoofs his own screen image in particular, and the film send up movie westerns in general, to amusing effect. “Coop” is mistaken for an outlaw, and the calamities that follow culminate with him having to face off against the real bad man, played by screen tough guy Dan Duryea. William Demarest and Loretta Young also star in this enjoyably offbeat oater scripted by Nunnally Johnson (The Dirty Dozen) and directed by Stuart Heisler (The Glass Key).

paleface_dvdThe Paleface (1948):  Is this Bob Hope’s finest hour-and-a-half on screen? Many fans think so. He’s the cowardly dentist who teams with Jane Russell’s Calamity Jane to find the black hats dealing firearms to the Indians. Bob excels in pratfalls, one-liners (some supplied by co-writer Frank Tashlin), and singing the Oscar-winner “Buttons and Bows,” while Jane keeps pace with her sharpshooting and showcasing her multiple talents. The film’s success led to Bob and Jane reteaming in Tashlin’s Son of Paleface (1952).   

Cat Ballou (1965): “It’s a hanging day in Wolf City, Wyoming…” so the ditty goes, sung by troubadours Stubby Kaye and Nat King Cole. Lee Marvin won an Academy Award for his dual roles as evil outlaw Tim “Silver Nose” Strawn and drunken gunslinger Kid Shaleen. Jane Fonda is the, um, titular teacher/cowgal, who hires Kid to knock off Strawn after he shoots her father. The comic book antics are hit-or-miss, bolstered by the Kaye/Cole Greek Chorus, Marvin’s performances and Jane’s feisty, sexy tomboy turn.    

Support Your Local Sheriff (1969): James Garner brings his easygoing Maverick persona to the lead role of Jason McCullough, the new lawman brought into a town troubled by the rough elements the recent discovery of gold has brought in. Bruce Dern and Walter Brennan are the bad guys, while Joan Hackett is the mayor’s pretty daughter who falls for him. Directed by sagebrush saga vet Burt Kennedy (The War Wagon), this charmer became a surprise hit, spawning the less successful Support Your Local Gunfighter two years later.  

They Call Me Trinity (1970): Italian actors Terence Hill and Bud Spencer starred in a series of comic films of the western and action variety. While this was not the first of their efforts together, it showcased their chemistry and laid the groundwork for further partnerships. Here, blue-eyed, good-looking layabout Hill joins his hirsute, phony-sheriff sibling Spencer to help out a group of Mormons who have been duped out of their land by evil military man Farley Granger. The story is common, but the interplay between the two very different brothers make the grimy film click, as does the whistle-happy neo-Morricone soundtrack by Franco Micallini (The Visitor, Beyond the Door).  

Evil Roy Slade (1972):  Those who thought John Astin’s comic genius ran its course with The Addams Family should check out his tour-de-force title performance in this riotous TV movie.  Astin plays a leather-clad black hat behind a string of successful railroad heists, to the chagrin of exasperated line president Mickey Rooney. Only singing lawman Bing Bell (the great Dick Shawn, channeling Elvis and his hippie actor “LSD” from The Producers) may be able to bring the outlaw to justice. Milton Berle, Henry Gibson, Pamela Austin, Dom DeLuise and Edie Adams also star in this howlingly funny hoedown from The Dick Van Dyke Show alumni Garry Marshall, Jerry Belson and Jerry Paris. 

bronco_billy_dvdBronco Billy (1980): While it shares similar themes to Clint Eastwood’s Oscar-winning Unforgiven, one would be hard-pressed to find two movies so dissimilar in tone from the same filmmaker. This is a charming look at a former New Jersey shoe salesman who becomes ringleader for a travelling wild west show that includes such eccentrics as a Vietnam deserter, a thief,  a disgraced doctor, and his new assistant, a confused heiress (played by then-real life paramour Sondra Locke). The myths of the Old West live on, this time in gentle, affectionate style.  

City Slickers (1991): It’s a modern western, but carries lots of the elements of a classic genre piece (and 1958’s Cowboy with Glenn Ford and Jack Lemmon), so we’ve included this funny and warm coming-of-middle-age hit in this list. Billy Crystal and pals Daniel Stern and  Bruno Kirby decide to deal with their midlife malaise by going to herd cattle with real-life cowboy Curly (Oscar-winning, pushups-demonstrating Shane bad guy Jack Palance) on a dude ranch in the west. Curly turns out to be a rough-and-tumble cowpoke who teaches Crystal and company a thing or two about life.

  • Cowpoke

    “Cheyenne Social Club” with Jimmy Stewart, Henry Fonda and Shirley Jones. Jimmy was a cowboy, henry was his buddy and Jimmy inherits some property from his brother. Turns out the Social Club was house of Prostitution with Shirley Jones as the Madame. @<@ Funny movie, several other lovely ladies at the Club including Sue Ane Langdon, Jackie Joseph and Sharon deBord.

  • Keith

    Outlaws is Comin’ (Later Three Stooges effort but it was funny enough when I was a child)

  • ganderson

    Best speech from the best western comedy: “Hallelujah Brother! I’m here to comfort the sinner and return the stray lamb to the fold. Let him what’s troubled, let him who’s vexed of mind, take heart! There are many good things of comfort in the Bible, Sister.” I do love ‘Cat Ballou’ – it’s a near-perfect comedy – and a western to boot.

  • Ron

    How could you over look THE DUDE GOES WEST ?
    iT IS ONE OF THE BEST COMEDY WESTERNS EVER MADE. It stars Eddie Albert and Gale Storm with the wonderful Binnie Barnes.
    Also, WISTFUL WIDOW OF WAGON GAP. with Abbott and Costello and Marjorie Main.

  • Gord Jackson

    My personal favorite is THE SHEEPMAN from 1958 with Glenn Ford, Shirley Maclaine, Mickey Shaughnessy, Edgar Buchanan and as the villainous black hat, pre-Drummond Leslie Nielsen. With Ford’s low-key style in perfect sync with its tonge-in-cheek approach, THE SHEEPMAN tells the story of how one ornery, independent-minded cuss of a man named Jason Sweet (Ford) blithly walks into 100% cattle country determined to raise his sheep whether the local cattlemen like it or not. A tickle-your-funny bone enterprise, THE SHEEPMAN clocks in at 86 minutes and combines some superb cinematography with the requisit action scenes that are a part of any good western movie. Directed by George Marshall (DESTRY RIDES AGAIN), this amusing ‘buried treasure’ is now available as an on-demand dvd.

    If you haven’t seen it, you owe yourself the pleasure!

    • badleg60

      Gord you are right. Glen Fords portrayal of Jason Sweet foreshadows James Garner’s Jason McCullough in Support Your Local Sheriff eleven years later.

  • captain marvel

    Gary Coopers sidekick in along came jones was William Demarest not Walter Brennan

  • FalmouthBill

    How about Maverick [ Mel Gibson ], or Silverado a tongue in cheek takeoff of the westerns of the 50′s. Also, Rustlers Rhapsody [ Tom Berenger ], or The Villian with Kirk Douglas playing a wily coyote badguy !

    • hypatiab7

      I was also going to mention “The Villain” with Kirk Douglas and Ahnold. Both
      were perfect for their parts and you could see how much Douglas was enjoying
      himself. And, of course, the horse was wonderful. I also enjoyed the Warner
      Brothers cartoon takeoffs. And there’s always “The Terror of Tiny Town”
      which was probably even funnier than intended. And, in spite of the gore,
      there was a lot of humor in “There Was A Crooked Man” with Henry Fonda,
      Kirk Douglas and Burgis Meredith. I loved the end of the movie.

    • freethinkingpatriot

      Since when is “Silverado” a “tongue-in-cheek takeoff?” “Blazing Saddles” and “The Villain” are takeoffs; “Silverado” is one of the truly great westerns of all time.

      • jbourne5181

        thankyou

        • FalmouthBill

          While you two [ jbourne, & freethinkingpatriot ] are slapping yourselves on the back, might I ask a question ? How old are you two, if you’re younger than 60, then what is your thought process based on ? If you’re older than 60, and you went to the movies in the 40″s & 50′s then you would see Silverado as a take off of the old “Thank God the cavalry arrived in time” movies of the 40′s, and 50′s ! Compare Silverado to, say,… The Unforgiven, or The Quick and the dead, and tell me it’s not more comedic [ Kevin Costner was the Gabby, Jingles, Pat, California of the movie ]. I mean no disrespect to Silverado [ I happen to love the film and have a copy in my library, ] nor, do I mean any disrespect to either of you two, but, am I not allowed to have “my” perspective based on my life experience, and age ? I realize movies, or films, are all interprative, but there are many variables that alter ones perception. For instance, I have a 30 something friend who happens to think The Incrediable Mr. Limpet is the funniest, and best, movie ever made, do I mock him because I cannot fathom that, “no”, because movies, or films if you prefer, are all individual, and personal. Perhaps his Dad, who maybe passed away early took him to see that movie, or he saw it the first time he went to the movies, therefore that may very well be his favorite movie of all time.
          I ap[ologize for this, I didn’t mean to do a diatribe, but what makes sense to a 30 year old, might be senseless to a 70 year old, and believe me, I am not inferring because I’ve lived longer that makes me more intelligent, or intuitive, all I’m saying is be tolerant, when it comes to movies, .. it’s all interprative, there are no wrong “favorite” movies !

          • freethinkingpatriot

            To answer your question: I’m 50 years old and grew up watching old westerns on TV with my parents. I’m also a journalist, a published author and an occasional film reviewer who, as it happens, has written a number of essays on the subject over the years. So it’s not as if I do not have some familiarity with the genre and its history. I’m not sure how my comment can be labeled as “intolerant,” as I made no statement regarding the quality of any of the movies I named; nor did I say anything that might suggest that I feel there is such a thing as (in your words) “wrong favorite movies.” That’s just ludicrous.

            My “thought processes” are based upon a lifetime of watching these movies – some of them over and over and over again. “Silverado” is NOT a take-off on the old westerns, but a loving tribute to them. Just ask writer-director Lawrence Kasdan. There’s a world of difference between a take-off and a tribute.

            The topic of this article was COMEDIES; scroll back up and take another look at the title if you don’t believe me.Yes, there is humor in “Silverado,” just as there is in so many of the old westerns and movies of other genres, then and now. But placing moments of humor in a film does not necessarily make that film a comedy. If it did, “Gone With The Wind” and “Citizen Kane” and “King Kong” and “Star Wars” and “The Godfather” and “Raiders Of The Lost Ark” and “Saving Private Ryan” and “Jaws” and “The Bride Of Frankenstein” and countless other movies that have moments of humor would all be labeled as “comedies.”

            For what it is worth: my 75-year-old father, who practically grew up watching old movies at the local theatre in his neighborhood, feels the same way about “Silverado” as I do. He also likes “The Incredible Mr. Limpet.” I don’t know what that might say about his “life experience” but I know what it says about his taste in movies: it’s says his taste in movies is pretty damn good!

    • jbourne5181

      there’s not too much to laugh at in Silverado, I mean, c’mon.

  • Faithlina

    Blazing Saddles!!!

  • Brian R. Croteau

    Cannot forget “The Frisco Kid” starring Harrison Ford & Gene Wilder… “C’mere little chicken! I don’t want to hoit you, I just want to make you kosha…!”

  • albumcollector

    McClintock is number 1, easily. Waterhole #3, The Villain, Rustler’s Rhapsody…

  • Jim Griffiths

    The Villain, texas across the river, frisco kid and blazing saddle.

  • Michele Wood

    I agree with Brian Croteau. Gene Wilder is wonderful as the rabbi. Harrison Ford was the perfect foil for Mr. Wilder.

  • Doctor Doom

    Blazing Saddles has no competition as far as I am concerned. Its that no.1 and the rest can all fight over the 2 spot.

    • parkerr71

      i agree dr doom! blazing saddles by far #1! no one else is close!

    • Capoman

      I agree Blazing Saddles is far & away the best.

  • Patricia (Caftan Woman)

    Two movies fill my number 1 spot, “Support Your Local Sheriff!” and Laurel and Hardy’s “Way Out West”, and they are followed by “A Big Hand for a Little Lady”.

    I admire a lot about “Cat Ballou”, but it’s a movie that runs out of steam for me. “Blazing Saddles” wore out its welcome after one viewing.

    It’s odd, but even though “Ruggles of Red Gap” is one of my all-time favourite movie, I never thought of it as a “western”.

    • David Tate

      Couldn’t agree more about both “Support Your Local Sheriff” and “A Big Hand for the Little Lady” — those are my #1 and #2 comedy westerns. My family still routinely quotes lines from SYLS, and still laughs over them. “Blazing Saddles” is a classic, but not in the same league.

      Other omissions from the list: “The Frisco Kid”, “The Cheyenne Social Club”.

      • Patricia (Caftan Woman)

        I love quoting “Support Your Local Sheriff!”.

        “He stuck his finger in the end of your what?”

  • Carolyn Ferrante

    I’d say back in the 1970s (?) there was a Western spoof which featured, of all people, the French hottie Alain Delon. This hysterical comedy also featured other famous actors…maybe those in Sinatra’s rat pack. I can’t remember its exact title, but wish I could get my hands on it. Could it be “Texas Across The River?” Someone help me!

    • chrijeff

      That was it. Dean Martin and Joey Bishop were in it too. I mentioned it above as one of my favorites.

  • Geneva P.

    Evil Roy Slade was hysterical and had me doubling over in laughter. It was my #1 favorite until Blazing Saddles came along. Also, Cat Ballou. Lee Marvin was HILARIOUS!!!!!

  • Tom K.

    Lee Marvin nailed the dual roles he played in ” Cat Ballou ” – particularly the Kid Shaleen part. Let’s all have a drink to that – anyone – just one round – someone ?

  • Charles M Lee

    Way Out West with Laurel and Hardy would top my list. I don’t see anything topping a western with the greatest comedy team of all time.

  • Randy Skretvedt

    Yes, where’s “Way Out West” with Laurel & Hardy? Also, a lot of folks prefer Bob Hope’s “Son of Paleface” and “Alias Jesse James.” And don’t forget Buster Keaton’s “Go West.” (The Marx Brothers’ same-named film isn’t one of their best but still enjoyable.)

  • Finn McInnes

    The Hallelujah Tail with Burt Lancaster and a very large cast of characters was a great Western Comedy as well.

  • Toby Martin II

    The inimitable late Don Knotts in “The Shakiest Gun in the West”– a remake of Bob Hope’s classic “The Paleface”. Great comedy in the ‘Old West’.

  • Scott Van Den Berg

    I agree that “Evil Roy Slade” should top any list. “My Name is Nobody”, starring Terrance Hill, belongs on the list also and I second the motion for “Way Out West”.

  • SLH

    My top choices: McClintock, The Rounders, Cheyenne Social Club, Cat Ballou, and all 3 of Bob Hopes forays out west !

  • lightyr

    I would add the “Three Amigos” with Steve Martin, Chevy Chase and Martin Short and I would add “Shanghai Noon” with Jackie Chan, Owen Wilson and Lucy Liu.

  • chrijeff

    “The Good Guys & the Bad Guys,” with Robert Mitchum and George Kennedy as a town-taming lawman and a famous outlaw who’ve outlived their time but team up in early-20th-century New Mexico to foil a gang of new-style bank robbers.
    “Texas Across the River.” Dean Martin as a Texas Ranger with a load of new six-shooters to deliver, Joey Bishop as his Faithful Indian Sidekick Kronk, and Alain Delon as the fugitive Spanish nobleman who gets involved.
    “The Frisco Kid.” One of Harrison Ford’s lesser-known efforts, it morphs from comic buddy movie to deadly serious as Ford’s Tommy Lillard and Gene Wilder’s inept Polish rabbi cross the country and fall afoul of a trio of robbers.
    “The Hallelujah Trail.” A star-studded cast (Burt Lancaster, Lee Remick, Martin Landau, John Anderson, Brian Keith, Donald Pleasance, and more) in the story of a wagon train full of whiskey bedeviled by thirsty Indians, militant prohibitionists, and striking teamsters.

    • Tsagiglalal

      -I was hoping someone would remember “Texas Across the River”.

  • Gallopperr

    The Great Scout and Cathouse Thursday belongs on the list somewhere. Oliver Reed, Lee Marvin, Robert Culp, Elizabeth Ashley, and Kay Lenz.

  • tim “blackie” kenneally

    “blazing saddles” was the best. also liked;
    there was a crooked man
    father jackleg with jack palance and lionel stander euro western
    destroy rides again thanks to mischa auer and the great billy gilbert behind the bar
    boss nigger was funny, also, with big bad bill smith co-starring
    the late great Italian actor giuliano gemma was a fine comedic actor and his “alive and preferably dead” is a masterpiece. co-starring the former boxer nino benvenuti and the lovely sydne rome who hails from my home state of ohio

  • Czechules

    Thank you for including the hilarious Evil Roy Slade in this group! It has long been one of my favorite movies.

  • Stan

    A classic comedy/drama western is “The Frisco Kid” with Gene Wilder and Harrison Ford

  • Movie Buff

    If you haven’t seen The Villain with Arnold Schwarzenegger, Kirk Douglas, and Ann Margret, then you are in for a comedy treat. Imagine Arnold as the genteel good guy–in white, of course!–Ann Margret as the damsel in distress, and Kirk Douglas as the guy out to get the gold. Now mix in Roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote cartoon-style action between Kirk and Arnold, and you will enjoy many a belly laugh. And Paul Lynde as the tribal chief watching the silly proceedings will do more than crack a smile.

    • jan

      One of the funniest movies ever – western or not. My family watches this on a regular basis whenever we just need to roll around in the floor laughing.

  • David

    How could you leave out “Rustler’s Rhapsody” ? Tom Berenger & Andy Griffith. A must see. Very funny !!!!!!!

  • Cara

    Great list. If you hadn’t named The Paleface, I would have had to dismiss it. Some say Son of Paleface was even better. I also offer a charming western called Sunset starring Bruce Willis and James Garner as an older Wyatt Earp. It’s a sleeper but worth a look. Of course, I like almost anything James Garner does.

    • Antone

      You might also want to check out the Hope/Crosby/Lamour Road to Utopia [Alaska]. This is the Road movie where Hope finally wins Lamour [by default], but Crosby gets the last laugh.

      • Bruce Reber

        That would be a “North-Western” IMO.

        • Antone

          Technically true. Since no such category exists, I choose to shoehorn it into this one. It has the basic elements of a Western—except for the chase scenes on sled & the final showdown on a glacier.

  • Daisy

    As a rule, I really hate westerns. But some of the comedies are pretty good. I liked Sunset, Paleface & Paleface Two, Frisco Kid and Three Amigos. Three Amigos is probably the best. I used to like Blazzing Saddles, but after a time it started to wear itself out. I mean, the whole thing is nothing but a string of sight gags and one-liners, and you can only take so much of that. But mind you, Mongo is still just a pawn in Game of Life.

  • freethinkingpatriot

    How anyone could compile a list of the best western comedies and NOT include The Marx Brothers’ “Go West,” Abbott and Costello’s “The Wistful Widow Of Wagon Gap” or Laurel and Hardy’s “Way Out West” is entirely beyond me. These three are TRUE classics of the genre; all others, including “Blazing Saddles” are at best mere imitations.

    • Antone

      Yep! If you stretch the definition of western to include Appalachian backwoods and Alaskan gold fields, two brilliant silent comedies are Keaton’s Our Hospitality and Chaplin’s The Gold Rush. You might also throw in Keaton’s Go West.

    • wbausert

      100% right! Abbott & Costello also did Ride ‘em Cowboy, but a short classic is an episode of The Abbott & Costello Show entitled, “The Western Story.”

  • Johnny Sherman

    Already mentioned below–”The Cheyenne Social Club” is fun just to watch Jimmy Stewart react in a risque story premise. “Way Out West” features that wonderful song-and-dance routine of Stan and Ollie.
    “Ruggles of Red Gap” is a non-traditional Western, with Charles Laughton playing an uptight butler won in a poker game and ends working on a ranch in Montana.

    • Antone

      Good choices. Destry Rides Again is another excellent offbeat Western comedy—with Stewart as the semi-pacifistic sheriff and the “womenfolk” providing the winning margin in the final showdown.

  • bornagain710

    Four for Texas

  • Shootin Iron

    Dirty Dingus McGee and Water Hole #3 will keep you in stiches. They don’t make comedy westerns like these any more and these are two are a must see.

  • Simms28

    Can anyone tell me the title of a comedy western in which at the end the male and female heroes climb into a hot air balloon, I think after they get married. The final scene looked extremely fake, as if shot on a Broadway stage, but this was done intentionally for comic effect. I saw it many years ago as a child and it left an impression. For some reason I thought it starred Harrison Ford or Clint Eastwood, but I have not been able find the movie or any plot summary fitting my memory.

  • Movie lover

    A Lady Takes a Chance,194os with John Wayne and Jean Arthur. Hilarious! City gal meets rodeo cowboy and decides to go after him. He flirts and plays, but he isn’t serious about any gal. When she gets stuck with him on a cold night in the desert and she borrows his horse’s blanket to keep warm, his horse gets sick and he is furious and so distressed. She owns up to his pal Chil Wills and justifies her pursuit with this famous line delivered in that Arthur voice: “Any man who can love a horse, can love a girl–betcha!”
    Arthur is still probably my favorite leading lady/comedienne of all time. I can’t resist watching this any time Turner shows it.

  • Michael Malone

    don’t forget “hearts of the west” w/andy griffith & jeff bridges, “the frisco kid” w/harrison ford & gene wilder, & “the rounders” w/henry fonda & glenn ford: also “the life & times of judge roy bean” w/paul newman.

  • Tim

    Surprised that “Paint Your Wagon” got no mention.

    • movieirv

      See it more of a western/musical than a comedy. Thanks.

  • blackr423

    “Water Hole #3″ with James Coburn & Carroll O’Connor.

    • movieirv

      Good one. Considered it. Just missed my list.

  • Bruce Reber

    Shouldn’t “Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid” be considered a Western comedy? Also, “Draw!”, starring Kirk Douglas, but I think it was made for TV (HBO in 1984 if I remember).

    • movieirv

      I considered both of these titles. “Butch” I see as more of a western with humor than an all-out comedy and “Draw!” just missed the list. Thanks!

  • Bruce Reber

    Also, “A Big Hand For The Little Lady”, with Henry Fonda and Joanne Woodward.

    • movieirv

      I love “Big Hand,” and considered it, but I don’t really see it as a comedy although it is a “lighter” western.

  • John Patterson

    Definitely”Blazing Saddles”followed by”Cat Ballou”;”McLintock”;”Destry Rides Again”and”City Slickers”.
    Now although technically not comedies in the true sense,”Two Mules for Sister Sara”with Clint and Shirley McLaine and”The Rare Breed”with Jimmy Stewart and Maureen O’Hara and”Two Rode Together”with Jimmy Stewart and Richard Widmark had their funny moments.

    • Antone

      Blazing Saddles is 95% of a classic comedy. Unfortunately Brooks could nor resist adding an anticlimactic, over-the-top movie-within-a-movie spoof onto the end of what had been a great comedy.