The Villain

Starring: Kirk Douglas, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Ann-Margret, Jack Elam

Director: Hal Needham
Released: 1979

Mood: If you’re like “I wish I could afford a gym membership or at least feel motivated to do crunches on my own time but the floor is too hard” and want a free ab workout from laughing your f*cking ass off at a Western.

There’s an ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER WESTERN?!?! 

You should have seen my face when I first discovered this movie’s existence. I absolutely f*cking love when a Western has a juicy added bonus. Like, I would watch any Western, any time, but some of them pack a quirk or reward that’s unexpectedly delightful. 

For example:

  • The people’s leading good guy Chris Pratt, who I’m so over seeing on movie posters, makes a frightening villain in The Kid
  • Bill Pullman’s outstanding performance as a hapless, bumbling old dude out for justice in The Ballad of Lefty Brown
  • The discovery that Keith Carradine, who I found confusingly attractive in Dexter, is fantastic in Westerns (The Long Riders, Dead Man’s Walk, Deadwood, Cowboys & Aliens)

But even though I watched The Villain to see Arnie juxtaposed into the Wild West, the unexpected delight turned out to be twofold. Kirk Douglas immersed himself in the most ridiculously hilarious Western bad guy role ever written, and it’s SO GOOD

And to top it all off, Whiskey (a horse named Ott who’s so f*cking talented he has his own IMDB page) somehow still managed to steal every scene opposite the legendary Douglas. 

DVD of The Villain

The Villain’s plot is more of a loose framework for Cactus Jack Slade (Douglas) to run amok. He’s up for a hangin’ when the greedy Avery Simpson (Jack Elam) hires him to chase down buxom heiress Charming Jones (Ann Margret) and steal her fortune. 

Charming and her inheritance are being escorted across the country by Handsome Stranger (Schwarzenegger). It shouldn’t be difficult to rob them, given that the dude in charge of security is wearing a white f*cking onesie through which you can frequently see his Schwarz n’ Eggs.

But Cactus Jack is a bad villain. I don’t mean bad as in he’s super scary or mean. He’s really bad at his job. In his first scene, we see him attempt to leap onto a train for a robbery, and instead he splats in the middle of the tracks. Almost immediately afterward he gets bucked off his horse, Whiskey. 

And to top it all off, he’s constantly consulting ‘Badmen of the West’, the ‘70s version of ‘Villainy for Dummies’. 

Douglas is everything in his live-action Wile E. Coyote personification. His Cactus Jack has that same burning desire to be bad, and the totally pitiful ineptitude. Douglas rocked the physical comedy, the deadpan one-liners, the adorable old-married-couple relationship with Whiskey  – he held nothing back, and I’m SO HERE FOR IT.

Yet Whiskey earned just as many laughs, if not more. Watch this roundup of scenes and then name a more iconic Western duo than Cactus Jack and Whiskey. I’ll wait.  

I can’t remember the last time I laughed so hard and so genuinely through an entire movie – and that was all Kirk Douglas and Ott. Douglas had an insane career, with 95 movies since 1946, many of which were Westerns. His last movie was in 2008, at which point he was 90 f*cking years old. This dude was an icon. 

illustration of a fancy moustache

The rest of the cast is good too. 

Sex-bomb Ann Margret is all cleavage and innuendo as Charming Jones. She spends the entire movie trying to get into Arnie’s hideous romper, only to be thwarted repeatedly by his naïvety (drink every time one of them offers to “get some wood”). If Cactus Jack is Wile E. Coyote, Charming is The Villain’s hopeless, amorous Pepé Le Pew. 

Arnie is a classic good guy, and classic young Arnie. He’s sweet, he smiles a lot, and he seems like he’s only getting about 65% of what everyone is saying. He narrates one entire scene, and it’s gloriously bad. 

The only problem with The Villain is Nervous Elk (Paul Lynde) and the rest of the ‘Native Americans’ (many of which are played by white people). They’re cringe-worthy stereotypes that the movie would have been better off without. 

I *think* they were going for an anti-stereotype – instead of portraying all Natives as great horsemen, they can’t ride for shit, that kind of thing. And Nervous Elk is a non-traditional chief, super flamboyant in pink feathers and an excessive amount of bling that seems to multiply in each scene. But it’s not enough to counter how uncomfortable those scenes are to watch.

I did get a kick out of seeing both Lynde (who BenDeLaCreme impersonated on RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars Season 3) and Bob Mackie (guest judge on Drag Race seasons 1, 5, and 6) in the opening credits. Mackie did Ann Margret’s costumes. 

illustration of a fancy moustache

The Villain is comedy gold. I literally didn’t stop laughing from start to finish (including the surprise ending). It’s filled with silly songs that narrate the action, Looney Tunes slapstick hilarity, and that damn onesie that has to be the worst costume in Western history. 

Critics hated The Villain and said it was a ripoff of cartoons. That’s like saying Weird Al’s ‘Amish Paradise’ is a ripoff of ‘Gangsta’s Paradise’ – it’s obviously a parody, and you sound like an idiot. My dad and my boyfriend’s parents have all watched it, and they all agree with me – it’s hilarious and Whiskey steals the show.

If you love cartoons and grew up rooting for Wile E. to catch that obnoxious f*cking Roadrunner, you’ll LOVE The Villain. Now I have to get back to trying to teach my lazy horse how to do tricks.

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