Support Your Local Gunfighter

Support Your Local Gunfighter. Cherokee-Brigade 1971.

Before watching the movie:

I don’t think I’ve paid much attention to anything with James Garner. He was in Move Over, Darling!, but I don’t really remember who was in it, just what happened, which movies of that time seem to be particularly susceptible to.

So, James Garner comes into town and gets mistaken for a notorious outlaw, and things get even more mixed up. So kind of like The Shakiest Gun in the West, but less neurotic.

After watching the movie:

Latigo Smith, a confidence man specializing in getting into wealthy older women’s graces, finds himself in the untenable position of being promised to marry the overbearing Goldie as soon as their train arrives in Denver, so he jumps the train in the mining village of Purgatory. Purgatory is a 24-hour town thanks to the round-the-clock shifts operated by rival mining operations run by Taylor Barton and Col. Ames, who are racing to reach the mother lode. Barton, having heard that Ames has sent for the infamous gunman Swifty Morgan, mistakes the lone stranger Smith for Morgan, and tries to either intimidate, eliminate, or turn him. Recognizing the danger of being mistaken for a much deadlier man than he, Smith talks the penniless but now-sober former cowboy Jug into going along with Smith telling people that he isn’t Morgan, Jug is, and then they split Barton’s money. Then Ames reveals to Smith that the original telegram to Morgan was a bluff, but he’s now sent one apprising him that there’s an imposter in Purgatory. Meanwhile Barton’s daughter Patience (“Sidewinder”), a hot-tempered independent woman with an enthusiasm for firearms, has taken a shine to Smith now that she knows he’s not working for the family’s nemesis.

Smith is a pretty collected character, and the type seems similar to what I understand of Bret Maverick, though Smith is a recovering bad gambler. Thrown into a difficult situation, once he understands what’s happened, he immediately sets to turning it to his profit. I think we’re meant to have a sense that being stuck in this town is the first time he’s come to genuinely care for anybody other than himself in his life, or at least that it’s rare, but that’s not as clear as it could have been. He doesn’t come off as callous, just resourceful.

Patience is a bit of a disappointment. She doesn’t stand out as much as I’d expected or really affect the plot much at all. Her motivation is also a little confusing, because she’s a gun-toting tomboy and proud of it, but she also aspires to go to a college for “Young Ladies of Good Families” in New York and live the upscale life out there, until she gets distracted by her decision that she’s going to marry Smith, which he doesn’t seem to have much choice in, but at least considers it as agreeable as the surrounding circumstances allow. There are two other significant women in the story who have much more impact on the plot and leave as much of an impression, and it’s surprising to see the nominal love interest upstaged by the two older women Smith cons over the course of the movie.

This is altogether a movie to watch for the eccentric ensemble. Smith is essentially the good-humored straight man to an entire town of entertaining characters entrenched in their quirks, foibles, and feuds. Garner navigates that world with charm and aplomb, but the draw is everyone else.

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