Kirk’s last Western
Draw! was Kirk Douglas’s last Western. It was a TV movie made by Douglas’s own Bryna Productions (named for his mother) and directed by Steven H Stern, not really a Western expert – he only did this and three ‘Black Fox’ TV movies with Christopher Reeve. It was written by Stanley Mann, his only Western screenplay, though he also produced the pretty dreadful God’s Gun in 1972. It was first aired on HBO in July 1984.
It isn’t terribly good and it wasn’t really a fitting farewell to the fellow who had done Western work of the quality of Lonely Are the Brave. It’s watchable, and there are some strong points but overall it’s vin ordinaire.
It co-starred James Coburn in a colorful part that had been destined for Burt Lancaster but Burt was ailing at the time so it was recast. Coburn has a role a little similar to that of Lee Marvin in Cat Ballou; he is a drunk ex-gunfighter who cleans up to face one last challenge.
It’s a ‘geezer western’ in the sense that it is about two old-timers regretting the good old days. Kirk looked remarkably fit for his 68 years, even or especially when he takes his shirt off, but age is often referred to. A young boy in the first reel wonders why Kirk doesn’t go after a runaway stagecoach and says, “You ain’t that old,” and later Kirk pretends he is younger than he is and claims that Coburn’s character is older (actually, Kirk was born in 1916 and Jim in 1928).
It was shot in Canada, and director and writer were both Canadians. It wasn’t a zero-budget affair, though it hardly looks an expensive production either.
Kirk is former gunfighter Handsome Harry Holland, who has paid his dues with a 15-year stretch in the pen and is now trying to go straight. He does stop that stage, which is full of actors and has a woman driver (the professional driver quit over a paltry matter of not being paid) so no wonder it’s a runaway is the not terribly feminist message. During Harry’s brave action a double does the famous Yak Canutt stunt of going under the stage and back up on the boot.
He and the troupe get to the town of Bellville, pretty well owned by the rich Bell family, whose son Reggie (Derek McGrath) is an oily creep.
There Harry wins a substantial sum from Reggie in poker, including a promissory note, so of course Reggie is convinced he has been cheated, and wants revenge. He provokes a gunfight in which Harry is shot in the leg but accidentally shoots the sheriff, which, as you are aware, is a bit of a no-no, especially as said lawman then expires. Harry holes up in a hotel room with one of the actors, the fair Bess (Alexandra Bastedo, who is rather good actually).
None of the townsfolk, not even Deputy Wally Blodgett (Graham Jarvis) is willing to beard Harry in this lair and risk the life of Bess.
So they send for the famous Sam Starret (Coburn) a former lawman noted for his gunmanship, though now drunk as a skunk in some lowdown cantina. Starret used to try to catch Harry back in the day.
The newspaper editor in the town, who tries to negotiate with Harry, is named Lippert (Graham McPherson). I don’t know if that was a deliberate reference to low-budget Westerns.
Kirk takes a bath. Pretty standard in Westerns, especially ones of this type. Click for our seminal essay on the subject.
The language of the earthier characters has been toned down for family viewing. People say Goldarn it and You’re so full of spit and so on. Kirk and Alexandra do end up in bed, though.
Finally Harry agrees to stand trial when the circuit judge gets there, which Starret assures him will be a fair one, but unfortunately when his honor arrives in town it turns out to be a justice whom an irritated Harry shot in the throat some years ago. When said judge finds out the identity of the person he’s going to be trying, he announces a guilty verdict to the people in the saloon before the trial. So Harry and Starret have to cook up another solution. As you may imagine from the title, this solution involves a quick-draw showdown on Main Street, which Jeff will probably have to add to his Montaigne-like essay on the subject, Quick on the Draw.
Mind, I’m afraid I did rather see what they cooked up coming, a mile off. Still, it was quite amusing. In a way.
Coburn hammed it up a bit, though probably not s much as Burt would have done, but Kirk was actually quite restrained, I thought. For Kirk.
The automobile in the final scene symbolizes the passing of the old order and the coming of the new. Not exactly original but we get the message.
You might could give it a go.