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. Making matters worse, Columbia TriStar adds insult to injury by slapping a hack and slash only transfer onto disc.
Facts of the Case
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 themselves cartoons (Toy Story), or based on a cartoon (Josie and the Pussycats), or even a mix of live action and cartoons (Who Framed Roger Rabbit). 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 (Cool Hand Luke, Slapshot), and Paul Lynde (Bewitched, Hollywood Squares) along with a certified Real Actor™ like Kirk Douglas (Lust for Life, Spartacus) and a to-be star like Arnold Schwarzenegger (Conan the Barbarian, True Lies). 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. Hal Needham (Smokey and the Bandit, Cannonball Run) and writer Robert G. Kane clearly didn't have a full gas tank when they put The Villain together.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
While I cannot imagine that The Villain was released due to popular demand, I would think that once the business decision is made that the production of the disc would facilitate sales. Looking at the result, I wonder if the release of The Villain is a cubicle-dweller's secret revenge, for why else go to the bother of a high-definition remaster of a little-known film and then only release a pan and scan transfer? It's not like this is a "family film" or one that caters to the easily irritated, and even then, if you release The Villain at all, why not include BOTH widescreen and pan and scan versions?
Aside from its reformatted butchery, the video starts out very badly. The opening credit sequence is horribly grainy and dirty, with pulsating colors, chroma noise, and a generally horrible picture. However, once the actual film starts with Chapter 2, The Villain becomes watchable. Sharpness and color saturation are average, digital artifacting present but limited, and blips and flecks are lightly sprinkled throughout. Still, an occasional flaw like the frame repeatedly jumping makes me wonder if this hack and slash job was worse than usual.
The audio is never clearly described on the box, but this is unmistakably an undistinguished mono track. A stereo track with some fidelity would have been preferable, seeing has how this was only made in 1979! Dialogue is understandable, but perhaps it is a blessing that the wretched music (most often singing about the on-screen characters) is not reproduced in full.
The only extras are trailers for Cat Ballou, Buck and the Preacher, and The Quick and the Dead. Normally, I might bitterly complain about the lack of content, but for this film, perhaps the least said the better. By the look of the trailer for Cat Ballou (starring Hanoi Jane Fonda!), apparently The Villain is not the only member of the "painfully lame Western farce" genre.
If you decide to rent The Villain, you are either so supremely desperate for entertainment that you are scraping the last dregs from the bottom of the comedy barrel, or you have decided to hold a bad movie night. Either way, I suggest you keep a defibrillator on hand in case your heart stops from boredom. The funniest aspect of The Villain is the decision by Columbia TriStar to overprice this abject disaster ($25 retail).
The Villain is first-class proof that some ideas deserve a merciless death before someone gets a chance to throw money at it and make a wider audience share the pain. Save your money, save your time, avoid this disc.
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