We look back at a fun 1969 film that's worthy of any afternoon matinee.
Like quite a few westerns produced during the late 1960s and early '70s, this entertaining trifle from genre specialist Burt Kennedy (who also directed Support Your Local Sheriff! and Young Billy Young in 1969) is set in a vaguely defined, early-20th-century milieu where horses and Model-T’s share the same streets while aging good guys (and bad guys) confront intimations of their own obsolescence.
Robert Mitchum is in fine form as Jim Flagg, a seasoned marshal who’s forcibly retired by the image-conscious mayor of Progress (Martin Balsam) after his warnings about a possibly impending bank robbery in their town come at an awkward time (i.e., during the mayor’s re-election campaign). When push comes to shove, Flagg must rely on an improbable ally — Big John McKay (George Kennedy), a once-notorious outlaw who has outlived his fearsome reputation, and been cast aside by the young-gun leader (David Carradine) of his old gang.
Notable co-stars include Tina Louise as a semi-respectable married lady who’s seduced with conspicuously little effort by the smooth-talking mayor, and Lois Nettleton as a supportive boarding house owner who’s discreetly sweet on the marshal. The extended climax, involving a train wreck, a dramatically satisfying western shootout, and a posse comprised of citizens in horseless carriages and horse-drawn wagons, is typical of this seriocomic movie, which plays like a mash-up of wink-wink sitcom and Saturday matinee oater. And there’s a similarly mixed tone to the recurring theme song — “The Ballad of Marshal Flagg” sung by Glenn Yarborough — that comes this close to the satirical excess of Frankie Lane’s rendition of the theme for Blazing Saddles.
By the way: It should be noted that Mitchum was still in his early 50s, and Kennedy only in his mid-40s, when they were cast here as the Wild West equivalent of senior citizens.