Is there any other kind?
“We knew that surprise was coming.”
Is that really a surprise?
“We’ll have to get back to you on that one.”
(Note: Though I worked hard on “the exact number of dashes”, I am unsure of the result. You should just know that I tried.)
You think westerns aren’t funny? Not counting Blazing Saddles, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Paleface and Cat Ballou?
Lemme try that again.
You think westerns not intended to be funny are not occasionally funny nonetheless? (A lumpier sentence, though more accurately hitting the mark. “Art versus Precision” – an ongoing conundrum.)
Sad but researchable – most westerns are not funny. Happily, I found one recently that, for one startling moment, loped down the comedical trail.
I watched Black Bart last night. Black Bart is a “B” western, a struggling sub-genre, lacking the bucks and ambitions of “A” westerns. Truth be told, I often prefer “B” westerns to their loftier counterparts.
“The Unexpected Surprises.”
(Another Note, Off Topic, But More Interesting Than The Previous Note: I have learned more from inferior pictures than from well-made ones. Bad pictures expose the structural underpinnings good pictures artfully conceal, helping me learn the basics from their rudimentary approach. Of course, considering my failing track record, I may have learned to write bad pictures.)
Here’s why “B” pictures provide “Unexpected Surprises.”
The people who make them are indifferent to what’s in them, their sole concern being,
“Can we ‘ship it’ by Thursday?”
Of course, the “standard westerns trajectory” needed to be followed. “Bad guys do bad stuff.” “Bad guys finally get caught.” Besides that, to the “Money Men”, it was just “Blah-blah” and “Bang! Bang!”
Understanding these “realities”, bored-to-tears studio contract writers occasionally slipped stuff in they knew no one will catch ‘cause nobody’s paying attention. If the movie was the right length and right-side-up on the screen, off it went to film-hungry theaters.
“B” westerns were about “product” and “Names.” With Dan Duryea and Yvonne De Carlo, who cares about content?
I care about content. And here’s the “beaut” I discovered last night.
Two outlaws, headed for hanging. On the “ride to the rope”, “Black Bart” claims, “We’re not guilty!”
The accompanying sheriff retorts,
“‘Not guilty?’ You were caught leaving town with a kidnapped woman, riding stolen horses, and carrying moneybags from two banks!
To which “Black Bart” replies,
“You call that evidence?”
Pretty good, right?
They did not have to write anything. “Black Bart” could have said “We’re not guilty” and the sheriff could have scoffed derisively, and that’s it. But they didn’t.
They threw in a joke.
A traditionally-structured joke, it’s true. But in a “B” western? That’s finding gold in a horse stall.
Why did they bother?
Desperation. Knowing they could do better. Could be a long shot “stealth audition”, the lowly “B” westerns writers, hoping some studio “Big Wig”, catching their cleverness, promotes them to movies with ashtrays, rather than spittoons.
Grasping at straws, they said, “What the heck”, and they did it.
Sixty-one years later, a tickled blog writer heartily guffawed, and promptly gave them their due.
Wait, I didn’t!
Black Bart: Written by William Bowers, Jack Natteford and Luci Ward.
Now I did.
I wonder which one pitched the joke?