Director Burt Kennedy's "The Good Guys & the Bad Guys" lacks the inspired hilarity of his early outing with James Garner in "Support Your Local Sheriff." Mind you, this glossy, lavishly-produced twentieth century spoof of horse operas boasts its share of moments, but the storyline does an inferior job of blending comedy with drama. More often than not, the drama overshadows the comedy. The theme of this outdoors yarn is age versus youth.
Traditionally, westerns espouse conservative values, and one value is respect for your elders. When should somebody be put out to pasture because they are past their prime and no longer useful to society? In Don Siegel's superlative western "Death of a Gunfighter," Richard Widmark played a town-taming lawman who refused to quit his job long after the dust had settled and the townspeople took it upon themselves to finish him off. In "The Good Guys & the Bad Guys," Robert Mitchum plays Marshal James Flagg of Progress. When our hero discovers a plot afoot to rob the town bank of a bundle of money, he alerts smarmy Mayor Randolph Wilker (Martin Balsam of "The Anderson Tapes") that a notorious outlaw, 'Big' John McKay (George Kennedy of "Bandolero!"), is in the territory to rob the Progress Bank.
Initially, Mayor Wilker doesn't know who McKay is until Flagg loses credibility in the mayor's eyes and reveals McKay was an infamous bank robber back in the days of Jesse James. Indeed, everybody thought McKay had been dead for years. Moreover, the fact that Flagg found out about McKay from an old hermit in the hills, Grundy (Douglas Fowley of "Bandido"), weakens his case. Flagg insists the mayor assemble a posse immediately, but the mayor dismisses Flagg's paranoia. Nevertheless, Flagg wants to round-up a posse and ride these varmints down. Wilker is thinking about his next election and doesn't want anything to jeopardize his chances, especially hysteria about a bank robber who is reportedly dead. If Flagg's outcry turned out to be a false alarm, Wilker fears he will lose face and the next election. Consequently, Wilker hosts a retirement party for Flagg, takes his badge, and commemorates his many years of duty with a gold watch.
Despite the advice of his pretty landlord (Lois Nettleton), Flagg sets out to capture McKay. He sneaks up on McKay's camp, scatters their horses, and gets the drop on McKay long enough to collapse under the weight of a gun barrel slammed against his noggin. When he awakens, Flagg learns McKay isn't the head of his old gang anymore. Instead, Waco (David Carradine of "Kill Bill") has assumed dominance of the gang. Waco and the boys recover their horses, and he leaves McKay with Flagg. McKay still wants to accompany his old gang, but Waco tells him to kill Flagg. The gang ride off, and McKay considers killing Flagg long enough for Grundy—who Flagg had tried to dissuade from following him—sneaks up and disarms McKay. When he brings in McKay, Flagg catches the ambitious but concupiscent Wilker humping a beautiful married woman, Mrs. Carmel Flannagan (Tina Louise of "Gilligan's Island") because her husband neglects her. Of course, Wilker is taken completely by surprise at Flagg's sudden appearance. Eventually, Flagg convinces the mayor about the predicament they are in, but not before one of Waco's ruffians, Deuce (John Davis Chandler of "The Outlaw Josey Wales") shoots Grundy in the back in the street. Waco defuses the crisis by helping the idiot who replaced Flagg, Deputy Marshal Howard Boyle (Dick Peabody of "Combat!" where he played 'Little John'), to escort Deuce to jail. They lock Boyle up and wait for the train to arrive.
Now that Mayor Wilker believes Flagg hasn't cried 'wolf,' he tries to figure out a way to keep Waco and his hellions from robbing the bank and destroying his opportunity for re-election. Initially, he wants to accompany Flagg and McKay who plan to board the train and force it to bypass Progress. The running gag at this point is Wilker took away Flagg's badge and he has a difficult time proving he is the local custodian of justice. It happened the first time that he met McKay and got captured by Waco's men and the lack of a badge comes back to haunt him when McKay and he board the train, only to find to conductor with guns aimed at them. Desperately, Flagg explains the situation, but the conductors, one of whom is John Carradine of "The Grapes of Wrath," imprison them in the privy. Naturally, our heroes escape, take over the train, and run it through Progress without stopping at the depot. Waco and his bunch light out after the train while Mayor Wilker finally does assemble a posse.
"The Good Guys & the Bad Guys" is one of those modern-day, turn-of-the-century westerns with automobile, motorcycles, and indoor toilets. Unfortunately, the script is neither agile nor antic enough, and none of the characters is memorable. Martin Balsam is good as the Mayor, but he plays him as an object of scorn. Robert Mitchum acts as if he were in a comedy, while George Kennedy just acts. Moments of sentimentality—the scenes with Lois Nettleton—fall flat because there is no chemistry between her and Flagg.
The period recreation is admirable and the production values, especially Harry Stradling's widescreen cinematography, are up to snuff. The miniatures in the train crash are none-too-convincing, but the scenery is fabulous. There is no equivalent to the finger-in-the-gun barrel from Kennedy's earlier and more successful "Support Your Local Sheriff." Ultimately, "The Good Guys & the Bad Guys" is just fair to middling, though the title ballad of Marshal Flagg sung by Glen Yarbrough is terrific.
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