Cactus Jack (aka The Villian)

Dir: Hal Needham, 1979


Before hitting the big time with Conan The Barbarian and The Terminator, but after the disastrous Hercules In New York, Arnold Schwarzenegger tried his hand at this little Western comedy.

Cactus Jack (Kirk Douglas) is an inept outlaw. His schemes never go to plan, and he, invariably, ends up looking a fool.

Charming Jones (Ann-Margaret) is travelling across country with a large sum of money she inherited from her father. Accompanying her is Handsome Stranger (Arnold Schwarzenegger), a slow on-the-uptake cowboy.

Jack is approached by Avery Simpson (Jack Elam) and hired to hold-up Miss Jones’s stagecoach and steal the money.

The film is, basically, a live-action Wile E. Coyote escapade, in the style of Warner Bros. Looney Tunes cartoons.

Cactus Jack has its moments, but can be, at times, a tad too silly.

Situations that Jack finds himself in, work well in the realm of animation but doesn’t always, successfully, translate to the real world, with real people.

That’s not to say that the film doesn’t have its laughs, because it does. There are some classic scenes that can’t fail to give you a giggle or two.

Despite Douglas being the star, Schwarzenegger beats everyone, hands down. It goes to show, that Arnie can do comedy if he’s given the right script.

As the Handsome Stranger, he is oblivious to Ann-Margaret’s Jones’ come ons. Carrying a seven shot six shooter, Stranger is dim-witted, green and couldn’t save himself from being hit by a parked car.

Director Needham, doesn’t handle the comedy, well. It’s physical and cartoon style is approached with a heavy hand that is, sometimes, too much.

Cactus Jack owes more than a nod to Mel Brooks’ Western comedy, Blazing Saddles. With its signature theme tune, title font and opening vista of the plains, it’s a clear lack of imagination rather than an abundance of inspiration.

After the success of The Cannonball Run and Smokey and the Bandit, Hal Needham was hot property. But, car chases and car crashes he can make work. A zany and silly movie, Needham struggles to fulfill the demands of the physical comedy that is on order.

Yet, none of this stops the film from being an enjoyable romp, that causes smiles, a few giggles and one or two belly laughs.

Definitely worth a watch.


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