Starring: James Garner
Director: Vic Morrow
Mood: If you’re mad at all of your friends but you know deep down that the reason is your own fault so you want to watch a Western about a guy who treats his posse like crap but it has to be bad so that you’re also quietly punishing yourself.
Lately I keep stumbling upon Western flops starring talented actors (looking at you, Molly and Lawless John). And make no doubt about it – A Man Called Sledge is a flop.
Even the incomparable James Garner himself doesn’t know why he made A Man Called Sledge.
- Fun Fact: At different times in his memoirs and interviews Garner called this movie “A Man Called Sludge”, a “turkey” that’s “not suitable for consumption”, and said he didn’t know how he was talked into it.
If that right there doesn’t convince you to halt any plans to watch it, I guess I’ll keep going.
A Man Called Sledge is a half-baked attempt at a Spaghetti Western starring a bunch of Americans playing characters with no redeeming qualities. It’s also a Revisionist Western because the story is focused around bad guys – but since they’re literally just awful people, they aren’t even proper antiheroes.
It’s like the people making this movie saw Clint Eastwood and Sergio Leone’s success with the Dollars trilogy, and figured they could do even better at the genre with more budget, more action, and MOAR AMERICANS!
They were wrong.
It kicks off with a stagecoach robbery, and then the bad guys led by Sledge (James Garner) hole up in a saloon. The Old Man (John Marley) recognizes the notorious Sledge but says nothing. The robbers’ careless behaviour results in one getting killed and the rest fleeing town, with the Old Man following Sledge at a distance.
Turns out he knows about a gold shipment, and wants to partner with Sledge to steal it. So Sledge assembles a gang, and they set about trying to pull it off. The entire time, Sledge is being a dick to everyone including the Old Man, without whom he wouldn’t even know about the gold.
You don’t care though, because everyone is rude and selfish. And you aren’t really wondering if they’ll pull it off, either, because you don’t care. They don’t deserve the gold. They’re all shitty people, the end.
It’s hard to feel putt off by James Garner, yet here I am.
Oh, he’s still a damn fine piece of man meat, even with a scowl on his face. But Sledge is such a thin, miserable character that it’s hard to stay focused on the movie.
He’s also inconsistently written. In an early scene, he indicates feeling bad about one of the stagecoach men accidentally getting killed by dropping his own gun. Yet he constantly threatens or sells out (or shoots) his own men.
His feelings for Ria (Laura Antonelli) are even more confusing, because these two have a TOTAL lack of chemistry, are only shown together twice, and yet we’re supposed to buy that this career-professional robber would give up gold for her? As if.
Antonelli’s acting is so bad that Garner deserves a nod just for getting through those scenes. I swear, when they’re supposed to be lustily making out it looks like he was just kind of rubbing his face on her but couldn’t even bring himself to fake kiss her.
Nobody makes any kind of impression in this movie, the performances are hollow, and the story itself somehow manages to be both terribly predictable and uniquely pointless.
A Man Called Sledge really was blatantly trying SO F*CKING HARD to be the next Dollars-style hit. It has lots of dusty chases through dustier Italian landscapes, cheesy music, tight closeups on the grumpy, grizzly faces of the bad guys, and a character simply called Old Man.
But where Leone used cinematography and storytelling to draw a story out of a low-budget set, an untried lead actor, and badly dubbed lines, resulting in something unique, Sledge director Vic Morrow misunderstood the assignment completely.
He seemed to think that what Spaghetti Westerns were missing were big names and ‘modern’ cinematography effects like spinning cameras to simulate a character’s dizziness. Instead of a bigger, badder Spaghetti Western, what he made was an incredibly flat Western set against the wrong scenery.
If I’m being honest, though, I didn’t like A Fistful of Dollars anyway; if I had nothing else to watch but these two movies and I wasn’t allowed to opt out of watching a movie at all, I’d pick A Man Called Sledge.
But that’s not a vote in its favour. The cinematography is bad, the writing is awful, and it makes no sense why Garner would do this, coming off the success of 1969’s Support Your Local Sheriff (which had only JUST made up for 1967’s Hour of the Gun, in my opinion). He should have pumped the brakes, rather than making this mess – and then Support Your Local Gunfighter, which isn’t much better.
Wait. Am I totally wrong about James Garner? Did he actually made a bunch of bad movies? I love him so hard in the Maverick TV series and in Maverick (the movie). And in all kinds of non-Western stuff, too. I’m such a fan, I even have an annual calendar reminder of his birthday.
Nah. He’s still one of my favourites. We all make mistakes – and A Man Called Sledge was a big ol’ mistake.