Retro Movie Review: The Villain aka Cactus Jack (1979)

March 28, 2011

The Villain Movie Posterby Peter Nielsen

Can you picture Arnold Schwarzenegger in a western? No? Well, in 1979 that’s just what happened.

In the Hal Needham-directed movie The Villain, or as it was called here in Europe: Cactus Jack, Mr. Schwarzenegger plays the ever helpful and almost too good to be true character named Handsome Stranger. Yup, you guessed it.

It’s that kind of movie…

Parody Jones (Strother Martin) needs money to develop his mine and has borrowed a large sum from the rich banker Avery Simpson (Jack Elam). The money is to be picked up by Parody’s daughter Miss Charming Jones, played by the stunning Ann-Margret. Handsome Stranger is to be her escort and bodyguard. The banker has no intention of letting the money reach its destination because he wants to lay his hands on the mine himself. If it’s stolen on the way, Parody will owe him a lot of money and be forced to give him the mine. Avery, of course, needs someone to do his dirty-work. This is where the titular character comes in…

Cactus Jack (Douglas) and Miss Charming (Margaret).

Cactus Jack (Douglas) and Miss Charming (Margaret).

Enter Kirk Douglas as Cactus Jack Slade! Robber of trains, people and banks! He’s not the most successful of villains, nor is he the smartest, but he sure tries to be… With cunning plans and cartoon-like schemes he does everything to stop Handsome Stranger and Miss Charming from arriving safely home. And when I say cartoon-like, I mean cartoon-like… It’s basically Roadrunner & Wile E. Coyote, but with real actors. I don’t know about you, but I for one love Wile E. Coyote.

Mr. Schwarzenegger’s acting skills are almost non-existent in this, but to be fair, he hadn’t really been in anything before, apart from Hercules in New York and Stay Hungry. It suits the part though, with him being very innocent and almost stoically unaware of Miss Charming’s interest in him. She on the other hand wants to bed him in the worst way.

Handsome Stranger (Schwarzenegger) showing off his seven-shot six shooter to Miss Charming.

Handsome Stranger (Schwarzenegger) showing off his seven-shot six shooter to Miss Charming.

Did I mention that she’s stunning?Kirk Douglas is the perfect choice for Cactus Jack Slade! Dressed all in black and with ever-present spurs, he can’t even take one tiny step without them making a sound, but no-one seems to notice. It’s one of the running gags in the movie. He’s a loner and his only companion is his horse Whiskey, whom I suspect is actually much smarter than his master.

As great as the lead actors are, it’s the background characters that steal the scenes they’re in.  Jack Elam’s Avery Simpson reminds me of the dastardly evil villains from the silent-movie era, in the way he seems to sneak or glide in to frame, twirling his mustache. The great Foster Brooks plays the bank clerk in a brief but funny scene. And then we have the Indian chief Nervous Elk, played to perfection by Paul Lynde. For me, he’s the best part of the whole movie. He is so damned funny in all the scenes he’s in and even after multiple viewings he still cracks me up.

If it’s intricate plot-twists and Shakespearian actors you’re looking for, you best steer clear of this one, but if you, like me, enjoy an afternoon with mindless fun and slapstick gags, well… then this lovely little piece of fluff might be the thing for you. Just leave your brain at the swinging saloon-doors and enjoy!

I can’t leave you without mentioning the songs too… all three main characters has one. “Handsome Stranger”, “The Villain” and of course “Charmin’” and I just can’t help but sing along. All together now:” Chaaarmin’, Chaaarmin’… There ain’t no woman in these parts that looks as good as you…”

The Villain Trailer


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