|I wasn't actually WORKING on this movie, but I
had a LOT of time to kill waiting for two assholes and one genuine
gentleman to have a few minutes for me here and there. I used this
"waiting" time effectively by lending a helping hand (some might say
"getting in the way") of the sound and grip departments. I also
apple box and sat around a lot. Anyway, it was a great
opportunity to learn (better yet, I was getting paid) and I must admit I
truly enjoyed watching the horse
Wrangler with his wonderfully trained animal. Put a star like
Kirk Douglas on a horse named Whiskey and have the horse walk right up
to the edge of a sheer drop into a canyon and the horse had BETTER be
well trained. Having seen the final movie, I think the horse was
as good a character actor as any of the humans.
Some of the shots they got of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Ann Margret riding along in a horse drawn carriage at the bottom of the canyon along a running stream were just great. But the Director and Director of Photography (what we in television call a cameraman...no fancy titles for us!) were on a crane over the side of the cliff to get the shot. Did NOT look like fun.
All this fun took place in 1979 out in the boondocks near Rio Rico as I was on assignment for a few days shooting some promos and interview footage for CBS with Hal Needham, Burt Reynolds and Kirk Douglas on the set of the comedy The Villain. Wonderfully beautiful scenery and a double handful of "name" actors made for a very pleasant time (not to mention I got to stay at a local resort with the crew!).
I managed to knock the muffler off the truck on the rough high desert terrain which made us very unpopular with the sound department until I got some stuff from the grips for a temporary fix.
In case you're wondering about the "asshole" comment, I was of course talking about Hal Needham, who was directing the film and Burt Reynolds who had even less to do there than I did. The Gentleman was, of course, Mr. Kirk Douglas.
One of the reasons I eventually retired from the industry was the assholes. They far outnumbered the gentlemen and women who were wonderful to work with, unassuming, kind and gracious. By the way, Schwarzenegger and Ann Margret were in the asshole category. Over on my theater page you'll see other assholes and gentle-people. I call them as I see them. Just my opinion.
I remember one day when it was getting a little late and the craft services people had been ready with dinner for quite awhile. One scene had just completed and one more scene had to be shot before they lost the sun. Then dinner. Then some night scenes with the horse sleeping with Kirk Douglas.
There was a wardrobe change between the scenes but the wardrobe truck was some distance away. Mr. Douglas had them bring his new wardrobe to him and he started walking toward me as I sat on a rock just watching things. I didn't know why and I could think of no place to go so I sat there. Mr. Douglas, who had seen me hanging around and talking to the director, Hal Needham, walked right up to me and asked if he could share my rock. You do NOT say no to a gentleman of that caliber, so he shared my rock, took off his boots, pants and shirt and changed into the wardrobe for the next scene. When done, he looked at me, smiled and walked away.
Movie Review #1
From the director of Smokey and the Bandit and The Cannonball Run…
…comes a Western comedy that forgets to be funny, making a mere eighty-nine minutes drag on interminably.
Parody Jones (Strother Martin) needs more money to exploit his successful silver mine. Desperate but wary, he sends his gorgeous daughter, Charming Jones (Ann Margret) to Snakes End to get the loan from his double-crossing partner, Avery Simpson (Jack Elam). Parody then arranges for an old friend, Handsome Stranger (Arnold Schwarzenegger) to escort Charming and the money back to his mine.
All would be well were it not for "Cactus Jack" Slater (Kirk Douglas), bad guy and all around criminal. Somewhat inept at robbing trains and robbing banks, Slater comes across Avery Simpson in the Cactus End Jail. Soon after, Simpson hires Slater to rob the oblivious Handsome Stranger and the lusty Charming Jones so that Parody Jones will be forced to hand over his mining operation. For the remainder of the film, Slater and his smarter half (his horse, Whiskey), endeavor by any means possible to carry out their mission, with the dubious aid of Chief Nervous Elk (Paul Lynde) and his braves.
Sometimes films are cartoons, or based on a cartoon, or even a mix of live action and cartoons. Though The Villain takes a while to make it clear, this film is really a live-action Wiley Coyote/Roadrunner cartoon masquerading as a Western farce. This is repeatedly hammered home with impossibly outlandish stunts, cartoon sound effects, and props boldly proclaiming their contents (such as "Glue" or "Blasting Powder"). All that is missing are enormous red rockets stamped ACME!
During the pitch session, this must have sounded like a terrific idea, particularly when you line up a cast of comedy veterans (and inexpensive has-beens) like Foster Brooks, Ruth Buzzi, Strother Martin and Paul Lynde along with a certified Real Actor like Kirk Douglas and a wanna-be star like Arnold Schwarzenegger. A cute shtick, a seemingly solid cast, it's can't-miss territory, right?
Sadly, the end result of The Villain is a pathetically limp, boring debacle. Telegraphed jokes, excessive corniness, actors phoning it in, an Al Gore-like Schwarzenegger, bad timing, and some truly awful, lame humor overwhelm the occasional bright spots. Mel Tills' stuttering telegraph agent actually got a smile from me and Ann Margret is as magnificent as ever. Sorry, Kirk, I know you tried really, really hard, but it's not enough. Director Hal Needham (Smokey and the Bandit, Cannonball Run) clearly didn't have a full gas tank when they put The Villain together.
Movie Review #2
Who would have guessed that the great Arnold Schwarzenegger actually worked
with Ann-Margret and Kirk Douglas back in 1979? I never knew. Did you? And to
add a whole lot of oddity to the entire thing, the film was directed by Hal
Needham. When was the last time that poor man had a hit? Still, the man who
directed "Smokey & the Bandit" and "Cannon Ball Run" directed Douglas, Margret and
What we have here with "The Villain" is a live version of the Roadrunner cartoons. Cactus Jack (Douglas) is the nice guy villain who wants to be bad, would love to be bad because it would make him rich and powerful, but he's a tad too goofy and inept to really be dangerous. Even his horse, Whiskey, gets the better of him by either laughing at his idiocy or helping to foil his dastardly schemes. And what's that book he constantly uses to help him set up traps or blow safes? Something about the "Bad Guy Handbook" or some such thing. It might as well have had "Acme" written on it.
Anyway, when Parody Jones (Strother Martin) (gotta love the character's name) sends his daughter, Charming Jones (Margret), to a nearby town to secure some money, the local banker there decides to hire Cactus Jack to steal the money back. Complicating matters, though, is the arrival of Handsome Stranger (Schwarzenegger). It seems he owes Parody a favor and agrees to accompany Charming back home and make sure the money and her body arrive in one piece. On top of everything else, the banker asks Chief Nervous Elk (Paul Lynde) to watch over Cactus Jack. Sound like a whole lot of double crossing going on to you?
Cactus uses every trick in the book and they all fail. There's the dynamite that blows up everything but what it's supposed to, the rope that doesn't stop the carriage and drags him along behind it, the boulder that falls on him instead of the intended victims and even the tar drawn entrance into a solid wall of rock that the good guys go right through and Cactus slams into when he tries. It's all there. Heck, even the Looney Tunes theme plays at the very end of the film, so any doubt as to the inspiration for this movie can safely put to rest and the lawsuits can begin.
The acting ranges from over-the-top to average. This is a film where you can't believe you're seeing THESE actors on the screen doing such odd moronic things. Could Arnold even understand English yet back then? At least he's not dubbed. What was Kirk Douglas doing in this? Paul Lynde has some very funny moments and I was glad to run across some comedy of his again. The ending isn't really much of an ending and it kind of leaves you thinking that they never really had an ending in mind at all.
I think you have to be in the right frame of mind to see "The Villain". It's by no means horrible and yet not exactly a classic in the "classic" sense. Yeah, you kind of have to prepare yourself for it. Mel Brooks is involved in the film, so maybe that helps explain some of the humor. In any case, "The Villain" was a fun little harmless romp.