Support Your Local Sheriff

Starring: James Garner (Jason McCullough), Joan Hackett, Walter Brennan, Harry Morgan, Jack Elam

Director: Burt Kennedy
Released: 1969

Mood: If you want to turn off your brain and tune in to a Western brimming with James Garner’s special brand of charm plus healthy doses of slapstick hilarity and witty banter.

You need to know how much I love James Garner. 

I love young James Garner. I love old James Garner. I love Maverick (the TV series) and Maverick (the movie). I loved him in Victor Victoria, and as Jim Rockford. 

I even have a Facebook memory that comes up every year on the anniversary of his passing, because I was so torn up about it. I think the only other celebrity deaths I’ve ever cried over were Robin Williams, Alan Rickman, and Tom Petty. 

I’m pretty sure Zane Cooper (Garner’s role in Maverick the movie) was my second old dude crush after years of having eyes only for Sam Elliott. Although, maybe it was a tie with James Coburn (also in Maverick)… The point is that if you want me to like you, throw on some James Garner

Support Your Local Sheriff is peak Garner. It would be hard to find anything wrong with this movie – and why would you try? What kind of miserable killjoy is poking holes in a delightful Western comedy starring James F*cking Garner? 

This movie (whose title is a parody of the ‘support your local police’ bumper stickers that were popular in the ’60s) isn’t a contender for best acting or cinematography, and it doesn’t need to be. It’s classic feel-good Western fare with tons of laughs, and oozing with that trademark Garner cheekiness.  

photo of the DVD  case for Support Your Local Sheriff

Support Your Local Sheriff opens on a funeral. As a relative stranger to town is being put into the ground, Prudy (Joan Hackett) spots gold in the dirt under the coffin. Proper funerary conduct flies out the window as every man and woman present resorts to fisticuffs to get their hands on a piece.

You get three massive brawls in the first five minutes of Support Your Local Sheriff – what’s not to love?! 

That burst of frantic energy and slapstick hilarity sets the tone for the rest of the movie. The premise is nothing new: a gold rush town suddenly overrun with scoundrels. One powerful family of white dudes is profiting from the chaos, and the other rich white dudes want some law and order. 

The problem is, their sheriffs keep getting themselves killed. 

Enter the charismatic and conveniently gifted marksman, Jason McCullough (Garner). He wanders into town all cool and collected amid the brawling buffoonery. He insists that he’s just passing through, but of course gets convinced to stick around as sheriff.

  • If you drink every time Garner says “I’m on my way to Australia”, you’ll get proper shitfaced

Every scene in Support Your Local Sheriff is funny. Every. Single. One. The dialogue is just SO GOOD. A lot of the humour comes from Garner’s straight delivery. The more practical and polite he is, the funnier the lines become. You can hear the playful smirk in his voice. 

Purdy (Hackett) literally comes out swinging. Her first scene is a mud pit brawl, and she’s in it to win it. Hackett immediately had me with her physical comedy. It feels like watching Gilda Radner or Jane Curtain, that early SNL level of commitment to pratfalls. She maintains this consistent level of hotheaded ridiculousness that complements Garner perfectly. 

The town jail has no bars. One of the Danby boys is so dim that he stays ‘locked up’ on threats alone – and even helps the sheriff install the bars when they arrive days later. And at one point a gunslinger is run out of town by Garner pelting him with rocks. It’s this level of silliness that makes Support Your Local Sheriff so great

If you want to laugh your ass off and escape crappy weather, crappy news, or anything else crappy in life, this is the movie for you. 

Support Your Local Sheriff bombed so badly in its first week that United Artists was about to pull it. According to ‘The Garner Files: A Memoir’, Garner challenged the production and put up funds to keep it in a single theatre for one more week. And because it’s SO AWESOME, word of mouth drove the movie to become the 20th most popular at the box office in 1969.

Literally the only downside to Support Your Local Sheriff is that they made the follow-up that turned out to be the only mistake of Garner’s life in my opinion.

I’m dreading writing my review of Support Your Local Gunfighter, because that movie is the reason I can’t say I love everything Garner ever did. But that’s another story…

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