Thursday 19 December 2013

El Western (2013)

Director: Ivan Malekin
Stars: Karl Beck and Leoni Leaver
This film was an official selection at the Filmstock Arizona 2013 round of the revolving Filmstock film festival. Here's an index to my reviews of all selections.
There's a moment early in El Western, an Australian riff on the sexual stereotypes in spaghetti westerns, that made me laugh so hard I nearly broke myself. El Bandito, a Mexican outlaw as feared as his generic name suggests, arrives in the frontier town of Rosebud. We know he's a dangerous hombre because he lights a cigar with a stick of dynamite and we know that he's an immoral one because he carefully steals an apple from a young boy, takes one bite and throws it away, just because he can. The rotter! Anyway, an elegantly dressed young lady sashays out of a wooden building and into the dirt road; as she catches sight of El Bandito, she drops her basket and shouts out his name, prompting everyone to scatter. And I do mean everyone. Including the boom operator, who looks as terrified as the rest of the townsfolk. I do hope this magic moment was a deliberate one, not an unnoticed goof, because it made the film for me, less than a minute in, while the opening credits are rolling. Everything that came after was just a bonus.

As you might expect, the story is built around the town figuring out how to get rid of their new outlaw, given that their sheriff promptly up and quits on them. I'm sure you won't be too shocked to find that they don't have a clue, especially if I point out that if the town elders had hired Roscoe P Coltrane in his stead, he'd have fit right in. The Dukes of Hazzard is certainly the source of some of the humour, but El Western borrows from Mel Brooks, Monty Python and the Carry On team too. The mayor is most natural in the setting, as a quintessential comic relief western sidekick, one upgraded to mayor to provide more opportunity to look idiotic on camera. While he's the brightest of the three elders, he can't tell that the cowboy he swears in as sheriff is his daughter, the very one who he just turned down for the same job five minutes earlier. Danielle just doffed a cowboy hat and lowered her voice; actress Leoni Leaver may not be a girly girl but she's feminine enough that this turn of affairs shifts us into pantomime territory.
And that's where it stays, as Sheriff Dan and El Bandito meet and promptly fall in lust. They're set up for a shootout the next day but that just leaves more time to struggle with their sexual urges, especially as both of them are supposed to be men. It's the humour that carries this, because the acting is not stellar, much of it deliberately. Leoni Leaver does what she's asked to do as Danielle/Sheriff Dan but she's stuck looking wistful for most of the film, rather than acting. It doesn't help that she fails badly in drag, clearly a good looking woman rather than a mildly feminine man. Karl Beck is clearly far too cuddly and nice to be the big bad El Bandito; I bet that more people run to him than run away from him. Everyone else is a caricature, with Tom McCathie's overblown mayor the best of the bunch. I wonder why he wasn't played in drag, with or without those terrible teeth, because he could easily have been this pantomime's dame and McCathie could have stolen even more of the show than he does.

Perhaps it's a little long at 26 minutes, but it could easily be spun out to an hour and a half pantomime performance on stage (for adults only) with a host of distractions thrown in to keep it all fresh. The only loss in that transition would be the location, which is a good one. El Western was shot on location at the Kattemingga Ranch outside of Melbourne, where Ponderosa, the Bonanza prequel series was shot. More tellingly, an Aussie TV show called Snowy River: The McGregor Saga was also shot there, complete with its very own overlooked character called Danni. I wonder whether that was a deliberate riff. After all, it was a successful show (it starred a young Guy Pearce, among others) that was based on a classic poem by Banjo Paterson, The Man from Snowy River, which is famous enough to feature on the $10 banknote down under. That sort of background feels right for this affectionately playful riff on history, standards and archetypes. This is Spaghetti Southern: The Adult Pantomime. All it needed was a song or two.


Anonymous said...

Yay, you got most of the gags.

And yes, the Boom Op is deliberate, but don't over look that young well dressed dame's appearance as the tavern waitress.

(yes, my name's in the credit roll,..)

Hal C. F. Astell said...

Is that Kathy Berketa the bargirl with the glorious, erm, beads? That's an interesting tongue action you have going on... and, you know, I can't really get away with that comment on most reviews!

Anonymous said...

Tom McCathie, who plays the Mayor pops up all over the place.