Each Monday, I continue to share Western movie reviews. I have now launched a podcast about the making of Westerns and the overall filmmaking process. Click here to listen.
Week 177: The Good Guys and the Bad Guys (1969)
This film isn’t like most of Burt Kennedy’s Western Comedies and that’s a good thing. Unlike the Support movies and most of his flawed 70s/80s work, it never descends into farce. It has far more in common with his second film Mail Order Bride (which is also his second best) because it balances a light touch with plenty of grim and gritty moments.
After an appearance from Buddy Hackett which hints to a much sillier picture, The Good Guys and the Bad Guys settles into a Boetticher-like exploration of lawman and outlaw. Robert Mitchum, the former, and George Kennedy, the latter, clearly have a ton of admiration for each other. They both speak highly of each other’s reputation even they’re technically adversaries. It’s no surprise that Mitchum is good in the film but Kennedy, an actor I’m not particularly fond of, astonishes. He portrays this aging, sad outlaw with nuance and careful choices. The best scene in the movie is a fireside discussion between the two leads during which Kennedy’s touching delivery nearly moved me to tears. This might be the actor’s finest work.
But Kennedy’s Western isn’t all somber of course. It’s the most fun I’ve had watching a Western since Big Jake, a movie it has some loose connections with. The finale is especially entertaining and proves that the director, known most as a scribe, could stage the hell out of an action scene. The sequence definitely belongs near the top of list for best train robberies. Though the town’s role in the climax nearly goes full Mad Mad World, I enjoyed the ridiculous images of men jumping off motorcycles to tackle bank robbers. And the comedic aspects of the film are anchored by Martin Balsam, a reliable character actor, who successfully satirizes politicians here. When Mitchum says about him, “That’s the real 20th century man,” I nearly fell out.
For anyone trying to make a humorous Western, I’d advise a look at this picture. It carefully blends tragedy and comedy. Its laughs are based in character, not just a bunch of silly gags. It’s actually about something, the connection between the two sides of the law and how that might change with age. It’s a fine conclusion to my study of Burt Kennedy’s work in the Western genre.
Watched on DVD