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A Man Called Sledge (1970)

by on 2011/06/24

“I thought you’d never show up.”

* * *

I bring you yet another true confession of true courage from Grushenka Geusebach.

I love James Garner.

Platonically. But deeply.

I grew up on James Garner as Jim Rockford in the legendary TV series The Rockford Files. In the TV and film-packed kaleidoscope that is my brain, he’s my charming uncle – funny, flawed and relentlessly charming.

In A Man Called Sledge, Garner is rakish anti-hero Luther Sledge. Saloon girls love him. Men fear him. He’s a dead shot, heavy drinker and inveterate thief.

James Garner is so cool as Sledge that he even looks good reeling around drunkenly in badly buttoned red-orange long johns. (I haven’t seen an act of sartorial bravery this remarkable since Sean Connery wore a blue terrycloth romper in Goldfinger). James Garner even looks cool when he strangles a man with his burly Garner thighs.

When Sledge runs into a smelly, starving old man, named “Old Man” (John Marley), raving about a shipment of $300,000 of gold – “enough for a man to die on” Sledge loses his signature cool and hatches a plan to steal the shipment.

His fellow thieves-in-law include another famous TV detective, McCloud’s Dennis Weaver as Erwin Ward and  Claude Akins as Hooker. Ward and Hooker aren’t so convinced that Sledge isn’t as senile and delirious as his informant.

The real kicker is the gold is not only guarded by 40 well-trained, well-armed men but it is stored in a maximum security prison at night. Impossible. Crazy. A suicide mission.

Blind with gold lust, Sledge hatches an impossible, crazy, suicide-mission-type plan. Thanks to his acts of criminal infamy, Sledge is pretty sure the fortress prison warden won’t want to pass up locking Sledge up tight in the maximum security wing, right by the gold. Erwin (Weaver) poses as a marshal bent on turning in his wanted man for a hefty reward.

Both are fortunately concealing keys, weapons and nasty criminal intent all over their persons.

A Man Called Sledge delivers an entertaining prison break, a compelling heist and enough horse-riding, shoot-em-up action to satisfy any western fan.

There’s also the romantic subplot between Sledge and his true lady-love Ria (Laura Antonelli). These two actors deliver some steamy on-screen chemistry and one of the screen’s most face-mashingest kisses ever.

If I had one qualm about this movie, it would be the absolutely ridiculous theme song “Other Men’s Gold.” The lyrics describe not only key plot points but at times, on-screen action. “Seven men gambled on the turn of a card, gambling their gold away and losing came hard.” And yup, there they were gambling. Sigh.

This theme song was described video for the tone-deaf and tasteless.

Otherwise, James Garner is all that James Garners. And therefore, this western was mighty fine.

* * *

93 minutes

Rated R for violence, sexuality and Garner’s rakish charm

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