Paramount // 1967 // 95 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Russell Engebretson (Retired) // June 14th, 2005
It's the code of the West, to your own self be true -- do unto others before they do it unto you.
Waterhole #3 -- a farcical take on Sergio Leone's man-with-no-name Westerns -- provides a few laughs, a few winces, and the chance to see the comic acting chops of several actors who have shuffled off this mortal coil.
The film opens to the strains of Roger Miller singing, "I'll tell you a story that's never been told -- of rapin' and killin' and government gold" as a mule-drawn army wagon laden with a shipment of gold bars is delivered into the hands of larcenous Master Sergeant Henry J. Foggers (Claude Akins, The Devil's Brigade). The gold is hidden (in waterhole #3, naturally) by Doc Quinlen (Roy Jenson, Chinatown) -- one of Foggers's other two accomplices -- and the three thieves are to meet in the town of Dolores, Arizona to divvy up the loot. However, the truculent Quinlen has a fatal encounter with card shark Lewton Cole (James Coburn, In Like Flint) in a less than fair gunfight on the main street of Dolores. Cole uses the map that was drawn on one of Quinlen's twenty-dollar bills to lead him to the hidden gold.
When Foggers and surviving accomplice Hilb (Timothy Carey, Minnie and Moskowitz) discover that Cole has absconded with the stolen gold, they follow in mad pursuit. In the meantime, Cole imprisons Sheriff John H. Copperud (Carroll O'Connor, All in the Family) and his deputy (Bruce Dern, Smile) in their own jail, and makes his way to Copperud's homestead to steal the sheriff's horse. He encounters the sheriff's daughter, with whom he enjoys a roll in the hay. The rest of the movie is a series of chases and gunfights (one big shootout takes place in and around a bordello) as most of the cast succumbs to gold fever; only Captain Shipley (James Whitemore, The Shawshank Redemption) remains steadfast and true, a straight-arrow character on a mission to recover the gold and bring the thieves to justice.
* The Good
It's a hoot to watch Carroll O'Connor doing a broadly comic role as the corrupt sheriff, displaying his spot-on comic timing several years before the Archie Bunker role that made him famous; Bruce Dern's cameo as the sardonic deputy is a nicely understated part, and James Coburn plays his usual shtick: the strutting, charismatic rogue with the impish, pearly grin. Roger Miller's long ballad that narrates, expands on, and explicates events might be a good or bad thing, depending on one's opinion of his music. When he starts doing his hillbilly scat vocals (imagine a deranged chimp stoked on amyl nitrate chased through the room by Beavis and Butthead), some viewers may feel an overpowering urge to lunge for the volume control. Still, Miller's extended ballad is fun most of the time, and it lends the movie a considerable amount of its charm.
The laid-back comic interactions between O'Connor and Coburn work to good effect in the majority of the scenes, and the story has enough plot twists to keep it all lightly amusing.
* The Bad
Margaret Blye as the sheriff's daughter is outgunned by a group of seasoned pros; her barely passable acting is rendered even more vapid in contrast to the skills of her fellow performers -- though her ample girlish assets are pleasingly displayed in a PG-rated manner.
The big gun battle scene, which goes on too long, might have benefited from a more judicious edit. Likewise, the finale is drawn out and only intermittently funny. Throwing all the characters together (including a cavalry regiment) for a final chase sequence is as contrived and unwieldy as a slapstick pie fight. Even Blazing Saddles had a problem with its everything-but-the-kitchen-sink ending; and Waterhole #3 compares to Blazing Saddles as a sodbuster compares to a seasoned cowpoke.
* The Ugly
Cole's sexual assault of the sheriff's daughter conjured up a question I would never have thought to ask: Should rape be portrayed as a jocular activity, or even as a subject of satire? Sure, Billee Copperud seemed willing enough to submit to Lewton Cole's advances after a perfunctory struggle; but the whole thing leaves a bad aftertaste, and it becomes a running gag throughout the rest of the film. For example, Billee's father is more concerned about the theft of his prized horse than about his daughter's complaint of rape, and Cole cracks wise about his conquest to sheriff Copperud, whose attitude seems to be "boys will be boys." In answer to my own question: The subject might be suitable for a black comedy, but it doesn't work here.
* The Disc
There are no extras, not even a trailer. The sound is clearly presented in all its original monophonic glory from the center channel. The 2.35:1 anamorphic DVD transfer is spectacular for a 38-year-old picture, with no artifacts except for very minor edge enhancement. There are no significant blemishes of any kind, and the color is gorgeous (a beautiful Technicolor print). Watch the breathtaking scene in which Cole on horseback is silhouetted against an archetypical Western sunset, deep black against blood red. I loved the filmic appearance of the movie, complete with natural film grain left intact. I like extra material, but would gladly trade it all for this kind of top-notch transfer.
No one will mistake this comedic oater for Blazing Saddles, but the script does display some occasional wicked humor, and the odd comic pairing of Carroll O'Connor and James Coburn actually works.
The court finds the movie not guilty. The screenwriters are reprimanded for a singularly grotesque subplot.
Review content copyright © 2005 Russell Engebretson; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 95 Minutes
Release Year: 1967
MPAA Rating: Not Rated