Thu
Aug 7 2014 12:00pm

How the West was Funny: 10 Can’t-Miss Comedies

Seth MacFarlane’s recent comedy A Million Ways to Die in The West may have been gunned down at the box office, but that’s no reason to give up on having a laugh at the expense of the Western genre. Here are ten films guaranteed to tickle your funny bone.

 

The General (1926)

Amazing what time can do for public and critical opinion. When originally released, The General performed poorly at the box office and reviews were mixed to poor with Variety saying, "far from funny.” Now considered Buster Keaton’s greatest film, it was ranked #18 by the American Film Institute on the 100 best American movies of all time. Based on an actual incident that occurred in 1862—the Great Locomotive Chase—this film version involves Union spies stealing Keaton’s beloved locomotive called The General (and also the woman he loves) and his lone mission to steal it back. Buster did most of his own stunts, which still astound a century later. A classic not to be missed.

 

Cat Ballou (1965)

Catherine Ballou (Jane Fonda) hires Kid Shelleen (Lee Marvin) to protect her ranch and later avenge her father’s death. Only the intoxicated gunslinger is far from what she expected. Hilarious scenes include Kid’s inability to hit the broadside of a barn and his pants falling down when he shoots. In his Academy Award acceptance speech, Lee Marvin said, “I think, though, that half of this belongs to a horse somewhere out in San Fernando Valley,” in reference to the horse he rode in the movie that played a drunk as well as he did. Trivia: Singer Nat King Cole was ill with lung cancer during the filming of his part as a narrating bard. He died four months before the film was released.

 

The Shakiest Gun in the West (1968)

A remake of 1948’s The Paleface which itself was a remake of the Buster Keaton original of the same name. Who says Hollywood is hurting for ideas, right? Actually, more like they know a successful cash cow when they’ve already milked it twice before. I’m sure I’m in the minority here, but because I prefer Don Knotts to Bob Hope, I feel this is the definitive version with more laughs per scene. Plot: Jesse Haywood (Knotts) graduates dental school and immediately finds himself hanging a shingle in the Old West. My favorite scene comes at the start when in order to complete his studies he has to get a female patient, who’s twice as big as the pipsqueak Haywood, to open her mouth.

 

Support Your Local Sheriff! (1969)

Gold is discovered during a funeral and soon a little spot of a town becomes a rousing free for all with gamblers, drifters, miners, and anyone looking to get rich and raise hell. Into the midst rides Jason McCullough (James Garner), a peaceful cowboy who is just passing through or thought he was. He quickly goes broke in the over-priced town and accepts the job as sheriff after proving his skill with firearms. Though he doesn’t necessarily need gunplay—he throws rocks during a street showdown, plugs a gun barrel with his finger (“He stuck his finger in the end of your what?”), and keeps a man in jail with a chalk line and clever use of psychology. A hilarious supporting cast includes Harry Morgan, Walter Brennan, Joan Hackett, Bruce Dern, and Jack Elam. Note: Two years later, director Burt Kennedy reteamed with Garner and many of the supporting actors for the similarly styled, “Support Your Local Gunfighter!”

 

The Cheyenne Social Club (1970)

John O'Hanlan (Jimmy Stewart) gets something called The Cheyenne Social Club bequeathed to him by his less than respectable brother who has died. O'Hanlan and his partner Harley Sullivan (Henry Fonda) are used to working the range and are shocked to learn they have inherited a brothel with a full complement of prostitutes. They decide to convert the house of ill repute into a boarding house though the women and town citizens are against the plan. A major part of the joy of this film is seeing two veteran actors playing off each other to perfection. This was Fonda’s and Stewart’s fourth and final film together. I remember it being a big deal when this was shown on cable in the early days: the clean-image Jimmy Stewart acting in such a bawdy film. Though it is quite tame by today’s standards.

 

My Name is Nobody (1973)

A Western comedy film with a few scenes directed by the master of the Spaghetti genre, Sergio Leone. Jack Beauregard (Henry Fonda) is a famous gunslinger who just wants to retire into peace but a gang of 150 bandits calling themselves The Wild Bunch are gunning for him. A likeable 'Nobody' (Terence Hill) idolizes Beauregard and wishes to have a reputation similar to the legend and plans to use the aging gunfighter to that advantage. Nice homage occurs early on when Nobody reads a headstone to which he tells Beauregard, “Sam Peckinpah. That’s a beautiful name in Navajo.” Trivia: The title of the film refers to the reply Odysseus, hero of Homer’s the Odyssey, gave when Polyphemus the Cyclops asked his name.

 

Blazing Saddles (1974)

This box office smash was high on satire and irreverence. So many classic moments from the campfire scene and too many beans to Mongo punching a horse. My favorite moment is Clevon Little (“The sheriff is near!”) taking on a whole town of racists with just his wits. “Oh, baby, you are so talented,” Little sighs, “and they are so dumb!” Trivia: Other proposed titles include Tex X (playing off the Black Muslim leader Malcolm X), Black Bart and Purple Sage. Allegedly the title Blazing Saddles came to director Mel Brooks while he was taking a shower. Geez, I will have to Google and find out how he came up with the name Spaceballs.

 

Back to the Future Part III (1990)

Because the second film was such a dark, unfunny turkey, many tend to forget the third in the time travel series that features Marty McFly and Doc Brown going back to the Old West is equal to the first for belly laughs. Plot has Marty, in 1955, discovering that Doc is trapped in 1855. He takes his trusty DeLorean time machine back only to find himself in the middle of the United States Cavalry pursuing Indians. The DeLorean's fuel line is torn and after he meets up with Doc they devise a plan to get the time machine repaired and up to the needed 88 miles per hour speed for time travel by commandeering a locomotive.  Trivia: Look fast for rock stars ZZ Top in a small cameo performance.

 

City Slickers (1991)

Three men confronting various mid-life crises of their own decide to rough it and reconnect with their inner manhood on a two-week cattle drive to Colorado led by razor-tough Jack Palance who won an Academy Award for best supporting actor. There are many endearing scenes, like Curly (Palance) and Mitch (Billy Crystal) delivering a pregnant cow's calf and crossing a treacherous river. An unnecessary and bland sequel followed three years later. Trivia: Originally Palance had to back out because of another commitment and the role was offered to Charles Bronson who allegedly balked at the idea of the character dying.

 

Rango (2011)

A chameleon (Johnny Depp) becomes stranded in the Mojave Desertand faces almost certain death until he accidentally knocks down an empty water tower that crushes a hawk who’d been terrorizing a local town. Now calling himself Rango, he becomes the sheriff. But with the dangerous bird of prey out of the way, many of the inhabitants worry the gunslinger Rattlesnake Jake (Bill Nighy) will return. One of those animation films, this one from Nickelodeon, that adults can enjoy just as much as (or more than) the kids.

 

Those are a few of my picks. I’m always looking for a good laugh and I know I’ve only touched the tip of the iceberg. Maybe you can name for me some Western comedies that you’ve enjoyed.


Under the pen name of Edward A. Grainger, David Cranmer writes the continuing adventures of Cash Laramie and Gideon Miles. He is also the editor/publisher of the BEAT to a PULP webzine and books.

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32 comments
1. randal120
Randy Johnson here,

Seen eight of them.
Edward A. Grainger
2. EdwardAGrainger
Randy, I'm thinking I've selected ten fairly popular films. Would love to know some other titles I may have missed seeing.
Teddy Pierson
3. TeddyP
I am not sure if any western could beat Blazing Saddles. It is still just as funny as the first time I watched it.
Edward A. Grainger
4. EdwardAGrainger
Agreed, Teddy. I re-watched Blazing Saddles before writing this article and was chuckling along with the very well known jokes. Ageless film.
5. Oscar Case
Saw the first seven on the list. Gary Cooper was in a funny western, but I can't recall the name of it. Destry?
Edward A. Grainger
6. EdwardAGrainger
Destry Rides Again was made into films starring Tom Mix and Jimmy Stewart. I'm a huge fan of Jimmy's version. Good pick, Oscar.
Edward A. Grainger
7. EdwardAGrainger
Gary Cooper did make a 1945 Western comedy named Along Came Jones but I've never scene that film.
8. J. Darden
You forgot 'Goin' South' with Jack Nicholson!
9. JKZittle
I've always been partial to The Frisco Kid with Gene Wilder and Harrison Ford
Edward A. Grainger
10. EdwardAGrainger
J. Darden, Hard to believe but I have missed this film and am a card carrying Jack Nicholson fan. I've added to my watch list. Thanks,

JKZittle, You just have to love the hilarious adventure of the Polish rabbi in the Old West. Good choice.
11. RobinC
When I was very young, my mom was a stay-at-home mom. She was very popular with the other kids and parents because twice a month she would take all the other kids with us to the movies. She loved musicals and grew up on all the old Westerns, so she saw no problems in taking all us kids to see the double feature of "Hello, Dolly!" and "Cheyenne Social Club". Apparently, it took my naive, sheltered young mom a little while to figure out what was going on in the second movie. I was only 5, so all I really remember is being hustled out of the theater and my mom being really red in the face as she drove us all to play in the park instead. To this day, she still blushes when that movie is mentioned. She only ever took us all to Disney movies after that day.
Edward A. Grainger
12. EdwardAGrainger
RobinC, Ha! Thanks for sharing your story. Too funny. Something tells me your mom wasn't the only parent to make that mistake. Folks seeing the name Jimmy Stewart were thinking Harvey and It's a Wonderful Life.
Edward A. Grainger
13. EdwardAGrainger
And, come to think of it, just a few years before Henry Fonda made the family film Yours, Mine and Ours with Lucille Ball.
14. Dmr412
Great list! I think I'll have a marathon tonight :). Absolutely loved Blazing Saddles. Another fun film with Henry Fonda and Joanne Woodward called "A Big Hand for the Little Lady". It's a poker film, but fun and surprising at the end.
Edward A. Grainger
15. EdwardAGrainger
Dmr412, I had forgotten about A Big Hand for the Little Lady and remember liking it quite a bit in the day. Superb cast with Joanne Woodward stealing the show. Thanks for the reminder!
16. Ron Scheer
This may sound nuts, but I don't enjoy most western comedies. For me, they make too much of an effort to get a laugh. Having said that, I do like Destry Rides Again. Buster Keaton, of course, was always brilliant. Though I'm fond of Don Knotts, I'd also give the nod to Bob Hope's Paleface. You forgot to mention that the original version also stars Jane Russell as Calamity Jane.
Edward A. Grainger
17. EdwardAGrainger
I see your point, Ron. Much of the humor is very broad in nature. Yeah, I'm just not a fan of The Paleface with Hope and Russell. Its an acknowleged comedy classic but for whatever reason Mr. Hope just doesn't make me laugh like Knotts.
18. Prashant C. Trikannad
David, RANGO is the only one I have seen. I'm surely going to try and see some of the others. While I watch a lot of serious westerns, I seldom think of watching comedy westerns. The ones I have seen in the past are THREE AMIGOS (Steve Martin, Chevy Chase, Martin Short), THEY CALL ME TRINITY and TRINITY IS STILL MY NAME (the very funny duo of Terence Hill-Bud Spencer), and the more recent SHANGHAI NOON and SHANGHAI KNIGHTS (Jackie Chan, Owen Wilson) and WILD WILD WEST (Will Smith, Kevin Kline).
Edward A. Grainger
19. EdwardAGrainger
Prashant, Excellent choices! In particular, I very much like the Terence Hill-Bud Spencer films. One of my favorite lines in Trinity is they will be "stiff before they hit the ground." One should always beware the Left Hand of the Devil! And I enjoyed Shanghai Noon especially the play on famous names like John Wayne and Wyatt Earp and "I don't know karate, but I know crazy." I'm fairly certain you would enjoy My Name is Nobody.
20. Prashant C. Trikannad
David, I have seen every single film of the Italian duo of Terence Hill and Bud Spencer, and continue to see them whenever I can. Their earlier films were more hilarious than the ones that came later. I'm a sucker for slapstick comedy. I can't get over the fact that all Spencer does is use his fat, hairy fist in most of the movies.
Edward A. Grainger
21. EdwardAGrainger
Prashant, Just looking at a Hill/Spencer photo makes me chuckle. A goofy, goofy duo! Have to admit I'm not as familiar with their earlier films but would never pass up an opportunity to watch them. And just checking Wikipedia I have quite a few hours of viewing ahead of me.
Brian Greene
22. BrianGreene
Nicely done, David. Good roundup. I was especially glad to see My Name is Nobody, a personal favorite, mentioned. I also have a soft spot for The Shakiest Gun in the West. Good work.
Edward A. Grainger
23. EdwardAGrainger
Thanks, Brian. I remember you mentioning My Name is Nobody and I gotta say it may be my favorite film on this list. So many classic scenes and Fonda and Hill played off each other nicely.
24. sandra seamans
I love Gary Cooper's quiet humor in Along Came Jones. Another Lee Marvin movie that you might have missed is The Great Scout and Cathouse Thursday. It's been a long time since I've seen it, but there are certain scenes that stick with me. I actually prefer this one to Cat Ballou.
Edward A. Grainger
25. EdwardAGrainger
Sandra, I've never seen The Great Scout and Cathouse Thursday. Funnier than Cat Ballou? Wow! I will definitely have to check it out. Just checking Wikipedia I can appreciate that supporting cast of Oliver Reed, Elizabeth Ashley, and Strother Martin. A few of my favorites. Thanks for the suggestion!
26. tc
IMHO, the best comedy Westerns were self-parodies: Along Came Jones with Gary Cooper, The Sheepman with Glenn Ford, Support Your Local Sheriff with James Garner. In the latter, Walter Brennan played a parody of his own performance from My Darling Clementine. Brennan, Chill Wills, and Edgar Buchanan also made two minor but entertaining tongue-in-cheek TV movies, The Over the Hill Gang and The Over the Hill Gang Rides Again.
I also liked The Cheyenne Social Club; it seemed risque' at the time, but would probably raise very few eyebrows now. And, for some reason, I also liked The Shakiest Gun in the West better than The Paleface. "Paleface" was not bad, and it spawned a sequel, Son of Paleface, with Roy Rogers. But my favorite comedy western with Hope is Alias Jesse James, with the cameos by all those TV western stars.
The Rounders was also very good, with great interplay between Ford and Fonda. And there was Advance to the Rear, with Ford and Stella Stevens. It may have inspired F-Troop.
Terance Hill fans may enjoy My Name is Nobody, but they should be warned that it doesn't have anywhere near as much comedy as the Trinity films.
Maverick is the all-time #1 TV comedy Western. It even did episodes ("Gun Shy" and "Three Queens Full") that were parodies of Gunsmoke and Bonanza.
Edward A. Grainger
27. EdwardAGrainger
tc, so many superb suggestions. Thank you. I have not seen
The Rounders and will add it to my list. Yes, Maverick was the finest TV Western hands down. RIP, James Garner. Btw did you like the film version with Mel Gibson and Garner? I thought it was fairly good and it almost made my list here.
28. Steve Hockensmith
A great list, as usual! The comedies I would've added -- Destry Rides Again and Along Came Jones -- were mentioned by others...so I guess I shouldn't be mentioning them now? Oh, wait -- I thought of one that wasn't mentioned: The Westerner. It's not a comedy, but there's some great black humor in it thanks to Walter Brennan as Judge Roy Bean. Though I enjoy light-hearted Westerns, I agree that some (Cat Ballou and McLintock! for two) try too hard for my taste. I usually like it better when the slapstick's dialed down and the humor grows naturally out of the characters and situations. Howard Hawks was a great comedy director, so it's worth noting that his Westerns (Red River aside) usually have some very funny moments.
Edward A. Grainger
29. EdwardAGrainger
Steve, An offbeat choice of The Westerner and I wish I had thought of it. A favorite of mine. Trivia: Just checking Wikipedia I see that Brennan won an Academy Award for that role which surprises me. He was good but an Oscar?! And I hear you on the over the top humor but Lee Marvin makes me laugh out loud in Cat Ballou and Sandra (above comment) has me searching for The Great Scout and Cathouse Thursday.
30. Chris La Tray
I loved Shanghai Noon when it came out, but the sequel not so much.
Edward A. Grainger
31. EdwardAGrainger
Hi, Chris! Yeah, I couldn't finish the second film but the first was comedy gold.
32. JR Belcher, Jr
McLintock! and Maverick are two of my favorites, but I like most of your list. The Cheyenne Social Club may be the best of all time.
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