'The Villain (Cactus Jack)' Review: A Live Action Cartoon
The first written review I have for our Salute to Westerns is called The Villain, or Cactus Jack, a film made in 1979. I had never seen the film before now, and the fact that it starred Arnold Schwarzenegger was a serious draw when I was scheduling the month. It's an obvious parody of the western genre, with a clear inspiration from the classic American cartoons like the Looney Tunes shows. The opening music and shots are clearly designed to force the recall of westerns that came before, with an upbeat and fast paced chorus full of snare drums, as well as extreme long shots of a single rider crossing vast open tracts of land. Once the film actually starts though, it has little in common with the classical westerns of John Wayne and other stars.
The titular villain, Cactus Jack, played by Kirk Douglas, wears all black and is introduced while attempting to rob a train by jumping off a rock and on to the roof. The film starts its comedy right away, with his attempt at boarding a train failing when he misses and lands on the tracks behind it. He also tells his horse that it may end up holding a broken chair together when it angers him. Jack carries a handy dandy manual called "Badmen of the West" that tells him how to do all of his criminal deeds. When Cactus Jack botches a bank job in a small, town he gets arrested. Meanwhile, Arnold, playing a man literally named Handsome Stranger, wanders in to the same town and gets hired to escort a charming young woman named Charming Jones during a business deal.
Jack Elam, the iconic "That Guy" of western cinema, fulfills the roll of the brains of the bad guy operation. We'll be seeing a lot of him this month. He hires Cactus Jack to steal Charming's money so that he can own the mine that her father is currently in possession of. As Handsome takes Charming back to her home, oblivious to her sexual advances, Cactus Jack makes all manner of ill-fated attempts at waylaying their stage. It's similar to a live action Wiley Coyote cartoon. At one point the villain even falls off a cliff, but not before taking the time to look down and then straight at the camera. The ending of the film literally features the theme from the Looney Toons, despite the fact that this movie was produced by Columbia Motion Pictures and not Warner Brothers.
The performances are standard for an old school parody with no real substance, and the jokes are acceptable, with some even ranging into the truly funny. The music is, in and of itself, a joke, as each of the three primary characters have their own western style theme. Unfortunately there is little to no tension, with just a little to much time between jokes to keep the pacing of the comedy at a steady speed. It is an interesting example of 1970s parody, and with the inclusion of Arnold Schwarzenegger as the star, it's also a decent watch simply to see his acting abilities evolve between his first film, Hercules in New York, and his later features in which he actually had speaking roles instead of just being a giant wall of muscle. The Villain also features a number of one liners from Mr. Universe that function as a precursor to his future action movie personas. If you're ever in the mood for an easy comedy to put on in the background, or really want to see Arnie in a big white cowboy hate, check out The Villain.
Final Say: Watch It