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Bumbling bank-robber Cactus Jack Slade (Kirk Douglas) rides into Snakes End on Whiskey, his untrustworthy steed, and bungles another bank job. Behind bars, Cactus is made an offer he can’t refuse by local schemer Avery Simpson (Jack Elam). He is to waylay Charming Jones (Ann-Margret) and her dim-witted escort Handsome Stranger (Arnold Schwarzenegger) while on their way to Denver and steal the money that Simpson has promised to Charming’s dad - his partner in a silver mine. With the help and hindrance of old Indian buddy Nervous Elk (Paul Lynde) and the mischievous Whiskey, Cactus makes a cock-up of every dirty trick he tries, while the busty, lusty Charming can’t turn a trick with the pure-hearted hunk she hankers for. 

Review by Keith Lofthouse: 
Evil Roy Slade was a 1972 made-for-TV western spoof (with John Astin, of The Addams Family fame, Mickey Rooney and Milton Berle) that relatively few people have seen and most have never heard of. And yet, sometime in the late-80s, it beat all-comers when voted Most Popular Film in the prestige Melbourne broadsheet, The Age. We suspect that fans rigged the poll by submitting multiple entries, but that at least signalled the effort some diehards will go to see their favorite films recognised. Evil Roy Slade is, in fact, an uproariously funny film with big screen values and enough belly laughs to blast better-known contemporaries Cat Ballou and Blazing Saddles into oblivion. I only mention it because Cactus Jack Slade, who is “the villain” of the American title (in Britain it was released as Cactus Jack) was probably influenced by, or could even be the son of Evil Roy. 

Directed by Smokey And The Bandit’s Hal Needham and co-written by Happy Days creator Garry Marshall, it isn’t as funny, we hasten to add, but it has a dedicated cult following, due to its inspiration - the ever-popular Warner Brothers Road Runner cartoons in which Wile E. Coyote was the perennial loser in his bid to capture that scrawny, fleet-footed bird for dinner. Desperate to stop Charming and Handsome in their tracks and make off with the loot, Cactus (the two-legged form of Coyote) paints glue onto a railway crossing thinking that either the horses or the wagon will stick. When the wagon passes without incident, the frustrated Cactus tries out the glue and inevitably, becomes stuck, just as a locomotive steams towards the crossing. 

This is one example of all the typical Road Runner stunts (even that famous Looney Tunes theme song gets into the act) that always fail to nab the bird, and so the accent is on cartoon-style slapstick, with Cactus Jack repeatedly biting the dust and relying on Whiskey, his unreliable Wonder Horse to save him from his own ineptitude. The three main characters all have theme songs, sung by country and western legend Mel Tillis, that waft in and out of the action. Cactus is “ornery and mean, a snake with a scheme; Mr Unclean, big as life.” 

Garbed in bad boy black and sporting an evil moustache, Kirk Douglas is not known for his comedic skills, but works wonders with a Cactus cackle and a sneer and runs rings around his lackluster co-stars. Ann Margret (“She came to town with her head held high; cowboys smile when she walks by”) reveals her limitations with a one dimensional performance, a vapid vamp who drools incessantly over Arnie’s muscles, while Schwarzenegger bedecked in tight, bulge-hugging light-blue (before Conan, in only his third film) at least convinces playing dumb. 

Former stuntman Needham directs at a lively pace, makes a grand spectacle of his Utah and Arizona locations but uses that same fake boulder (grey plastic stretched over a wire frame) at least once too often. He has more success with bit players doing their usual “thing” … the aforementioned Tillis as a stuttering telegraph agent (a real life stutterer, he can only master the problem when he sings), Foster Brooks, who built a Las Vegas comedy act around his “Loveable Lush” routine, is an inebriated bank clerk and the unforgettable Paul Lynde, with his camp carry on and catty delivery is a joy (in his final film) as a perfectly unnatural Chief Nervous Elk. Comedy spoofs are, by definition hit and miss affairs. Some people can’t see the sublime subtlety in Silverado; some can’t understand why the baked beans sequence in Blazing Saddles isn’t a blast to everyone. But The Villain, alias Cactus Jack, can do worse than be related to Evil Roy Slade. Those who have endured Paul Hogan as Lightning Jack will know what I mean.

Published June 17, 2004

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(US, 1979)

CAST: Kirk Douglas, Ann-Margret, Arnold Schwarzenegger

DIRECTOR: Hal Needham

SCRIPT: Robert G. Kane

RUNNING TIME: 85 minutes

PRESENTATION: Widescreen (1.85:1/16:9 Enhanced)


DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Columbia-Tristar Entertainment

DVD RELEASE: February 25, 2004

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