FRONTIERADO IS COMING UP ON FRIDAY, AUGUST 7th! As always the Frontierado holiday (now celebrated on 6 continents) is about the myth of the Wild West, not the grinding reality. It’s just like the way medieval festivals celebrate the era’s romantic aspects, not “the violence inherent in the system” (for my fellow Monty Python fans). Here’s another Balladeer’s Blog review of a seasonal movie.
MAVERICK (1994) – Richard Donner directed and Mel Gibson starred in this excellent tribute to the 1950s and 1980s Maverick television series. The original series starred James Garner as slick-talking gambler/ gunslinger Bret Maverick AND, in old-age makeup, as “Pappy” Beauregard Maverick, the gambler and con-man patriarch of that family of rogues. (No relation to the real-life Maverick family of Texas, for whom “maverick” cattle were named.)
Maverick was just as often comedic as dramatic and nicely anticipated the many deconstructions of Old West mythology that were to come in the decades ahead. Sometimes the program was daringly farcical as in episodes like Gun-Shy, a spoof of Gunsmoke, and Three Queens Full, a Bonanza parody set on the Sub-Rosa Ranch (as opposed to Bonanza‘s PONDErosa). The storyline featured Maverick encountering a Ben Cartwright-styled rancher and his three less-than-straight sons, hence the episode’s title.
The original series centered on Garner’s Bret Maverick (and later other Maverick family members) vying in cardplaying and con-games with assorted rival gamblers, gunslingers and con-men. Efrem Zimbalist Jr – in his pre-FBI years – played Dandy Jim, one of the recurring members of Maverick’s Rogue’s Gallery of foes.
Elaborate schemes and multiple double-crosses often kept viewers guessing who would come out on top til the very end, since Bret sometimes ended up on the losing side.
The constant betrayals and double-crosses were part of the charm of the television series and were perfectly captured by the 1994 big-screen adaptation of Maverick. This thoroughly enjoyable film is often dismissed as just another of the pointless movie adaptations of tv shows that began to flood theaters back then, but that is far from the truth.
Mel Gibson portrays Bret Maverick since by 1994 James Garner was too old for the role. Jodie Foster co-stars as rival gambler Annabelle Bransford and the iconic James Garner provides memorable support as a lawman.
NECESSARY SPOILER: Many people that I’ve discussed this movie with said they avoided it or stopped watching it once they realized Garner was not portraying a member of the Maverick family. In reality – as we learn near the very end – he IS. He may have been too old to play Bret this time around but he reprised his role of Pappy Beauregard from the original series. Pappy is just POSING as a lawman and his son Bret obligingly plays along without blowing his Pappy’s cover.
Jodie Foster is so perfect as Annabelle Bransford that she might as well have stepped right out of one of the 1950s television episodes. She fills the screen as well as Gibson and Garner do, and is just as deft at the comedic bits as they are, which is no small accomplishment. Her character’s phony and never-quite-right southern accent is played for considerable humor throughout the film.
The movie’s main storyline involves Bret and Annabelle trying to make their way east to Saint Louis for a high-stakes poker game on a riverboat. Garner’s “lawman” Zane Cooper is supposedly going to provide security for the event. James Coburn plays Commodore Duvall, the man hosting the poker tournament.
Along the way Graham Greene shows up as Joseph, a Native American con artist friend of Bret’s, Alfred Molina plays a Mexican bandit out to waylay our hero and Danny Glover has a cameo as a bank-robber for the then-obligatory nod to his and Gibson’s Lethal Weapon characters.
The creative team behind the film clearly had a great love for the original Maverick series and for James Garner as well, with countless references, cameos and walk-ons from his many television shows of the past. Even Margot Kidder from Garner’s short-lived western Nichols shows up! In addition many beloved supporting figures from wild west cinema can be spotted in the background.
The poker tournament in Saint Louis explodes into an all-out orgy of guest appearances by many, many, MANY stars and starlets from old westerns. Along for the ride are plenty of Country Western singers, including Clint Black, who sang Good Run of Bad Luck for the movie.
Considering the wall-to-wall nostalgia I was disappointed that they didn’t slip in some fragments of the original Maverick theme song or the song from the 1980s revival. I’m not greedy, just have some saloon band playing those tunes in the background of a few scenes and I’d have been happy.
Okay, maybe I AM greedy, since I was also a bit let down that they didn’t call Paul Smith’s Russian Archduke character Zlotov the Russian, as a shoutout to Maverick trivia. And the guy playing John Wesley Hardin at the first poker game in the movie looked – and DRESSED – like Bret Maverick’s archenemy Ramsey Bass, so I was bummed out that he was instead Hardin.
On the plus side this film DOES adjust an aspect of Maverick trivia that has long annoyed picky types like me: Bret Maverick, his brothers Bart and Brent plus their British cousin Beau (Roger Moore!) always had a hidden Thousand Dollar Bill pinned inside their coats for emergencies.
Hell, in the days of the Old West $1,000.00 was an enormous amount of money. Too enormous for an emergency reserve fund for an itinerant gambler. Even in the show’s 1950s broadcast era $1,000.00 would pay for almost TWO cars! The short-lived 70s series Young Maverick, featuring Beau’s son Ben, still retained the outrageous Thousand Dollar Bill element. Finally, the 1994 movie adjusted that down to $100.00
I don’t want to spoil any more jokes or twists for new viewers. Suffice it to say that, like the best episodes of the television show Maverick, the double-crosses and surprises don’t let up until literally the final minute.
The scenery is spectacular and the script is nearly flawless. And I give a lot of credit to Mel Gibson for not just trying to imitate James Garner’s portrayal of Bret Maverick. He threw in plenty of Garneresque elements but incorporated them into a goofier yet still charming rendition that I think will please even the most demanding Maverick fans without alienating newcomers to the franchise. +++
FOR THE NUMBER ONE FRONTIERADO FILM CLICK HERE: https://glitternight.com/2011/07/06/the-top-four-frontierado-movies-number-one-silverado-1985/
FOR FOUR NEGLECTED REAL-LIFE WESTERN FIGURES CLICK HERE: https://glitternight.com/2011/08/02/frontierado-week-four-neglected-wild-west-figures/
DON’T FORGET – FRONTIERADO IS FRIDAY AUGUST 7th.