Support Your Local Sheriff!
|Support Your Local Sheriff!|
|Directed by||Burt Kennedy|
|Produced by||William Bowers
|Written by||William Bowers|
|Music by||Jeff Alexander|
|Cinematography||Harry Stradling Jr.|
|Edited by||George W. Brooks|
|Distributed by||United Artists|
|Box office||$5 million (US/ Canada rentals)|
Support Your Local Sheriff! (also known as The Sheriff) is a 1969 American comedy western film directed by Burt Kennedy and starring James Garner, Joan Hackett, Walter Brennan, Harry Morgan, Jack Elam and Bruce Dern. It was distributed by United Artists and produced by William Bowers (who also wrote the screenplay) and Bill Finnegan.
The film parodies the iconic story of the western hero who tames a lawless frontier town. Its title was derived from a popular 1960s campaign slogan “Support Your Local Police”.
The Old West town of Calendar, Colorado, springs up almost overnight when clumsy, hotheaded Prudy Perkins (Joan Hackett) notices gold in a freshly dug grave during a funeral. Her father Olly (Harry Morgan) becomes mayor of the new settlement. He and the other members of the town council bemoan the town’s descent into chaos and corruption, and are tired of the tolls exacted on their gold shipments by the Danbys, a family of near-outlaws who control the only shipping route out of town. The town has no sheriff, as most people are too busy prospecting, and the few who have taken the job have been run out of town or killed.
Jason McCullough (James Garner), a confident and exceptionally skilled gunfighter who says he is only passing through town on his way to Australia, sees Joe Danby (Bruce Dern) gun down a man in the town’s saloon. Needing money after encountering the town’s ruinous rate of inflation, McCullough takes the job of sheriff, impressing the mayor and council with his uncanny marksmanship. He breaks up a street brawl, and later at the Perkins house meets Prudy, despite her attempts to avoid him due to her embarrassing circumstances. McCullough arrests Joe and tosses him in the town’s unfinished jail, which lacks bars for the cell doors and windows, keeping the dimwitted Joe in his cell through tricks and psychology.
McCullough acquires a reluctant deputy in scruffy Jake (Jack Elam), previously known as the “town character”. Joe’s arrest infuriates his father, Pa Danby (Walter Brennan), who is not accustomed to his family being challenged. Pa Danby mounts various attempts to get Joe out of jail, and when those fail, sends in a string of hired guns, whom McCullough defeats with ease. Meanwhile, McCullough enlists Jake’s help in an unsuccessful attempt to prospect for gold, and spars romantically with Prudy.
After numerous failures to reassert himself over McCullough and the town, Pa Danby enlists a host of his relatives to launch an all-out assault. When the news reaches McCullough, he initially tells Prudy he has decided to simply leave town and resume his trip to Australia, but when she expresses her sincere approval of this sensible idea, he declares it to be cowardly and announces he is staying instead. The rest of the townsfolk officially vote to stay out of the conflict, and not help in any way. Thus, the Danby clan rides in faced only by McCullough, Jake, and Prudy. After a lengthy but unproductive gunfight, McCullough bluffs his way to victory using Joe as a hostage and the old cannon mounted in the center of town. As all the Danbys are marched off to jail, the supposedly unloaded cannon fires, smashing the town brothel and scattering the resident prostitutes and the four civic leaders who were inside.
Sheriff McCullough and Prudy get engaged. In a closing monologue, Jake breaks the film’s fourth wall and directly informs the audience that they get married and McCullough goes on to become governor of the state of Colorado, never making it to Australia (although he reads about it a lot), while Jake becomes sheriff and “one of the most beloved characters in western folklore”.
- James Garner as Jason McCullough
- Joan Hackett as Prudy Perkins
- Walter Brennan as Pa Danby
- Harry Morgan as Olly Perkins
- Jack Elam as Jake
- Henry Jones as Henry Jackson
- Bruce Dern as Joe Danby
- Willis Bouchey as Thomas Dever
- Kathleen Freeman as Mrs. Danvers
- Walter Burke as Fred Johnson
- Chubby Johnson as Brady
- Gene Evans as Tom Danby
- Dick Peabody as Luke Danby
- Dick Haynes as Bartender
Support Your Local Sheriff! was the first producing effort by Garner and his Cherokee production company, completed on a “shoestring” budget of $750,000. Early in pre-production, Paramount Pictures threatened a lawsuit as the studio contended that the first scene was “lifted” from their musical Paint Your Wagon (1969) where a similar gold mine discovery is featured. Eventually, Garner was able to show where the original screenplay had found its source material, and the lawsuit went away.
Support Your Local Sheriff was considered a “bomb” as it did not do any business in its first week, with United Artists clamouring to pull the film. Garner challenged them to match a $10,000 stake to keep the film in one theatre for a week. The result was impressive as “word of mouth” increased attendance until there were crowds around the theatre by the end of the engagement. Support Your Local Sheriff was the 20th most popular film at the U. S. box office in 1969.
In 1971 director Burt Kennedy re-teamed with James Garner, Harry Morgan, and Jack Elam to make another western comedy, Support Your Local Gunfighter, with different characters but a similar comedic tone. Many of the original supporting cast re-appeared as well.
- When the director and screenwriter struggled with the original working title, The Sheriff, Garner came up with the new title after seeing a police poster.
- “Big Rental Films of 1969”, Variety, 7 January 1970 p 15
- Garner and Winokur 2011, p. 189.
- Nixon, Rob. “Articles” Support Your Local Sheriff!’ Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved: April 21, 2016.
- “The World’s Top Twenty Films.” Sunday Times [London, England] September 27, 1970, p. 27.