The 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).
The 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 (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.