- UK and Australia released as Cactus Jack
- Directed by Hal Needham
- July 27, 1979
An outlaw facing the noose is hired by a corrupt banker to steal a strongbox filled with money intended as a loan to keep a small mining operation open, but his own incompetence proves a bigger problem than the handsome stranger hired to protect it.
The Villain is not a terrible film, but it is also not a great film. One of the things it has going for it is the amount of talent of the era present in this film as well as containing an early role for Arnold Schwarzenegger as Handsome Stranger who would become one of the biggest stars of the 80s. We also have Kirk Douglas (Cactus Jack-The Villain), Ann-Margret (Charming Jones), Paul Lynde (Nervous Elk), Strother Martin (Parody Jones), Jack Elam (Avery Simpson), Mel Tillis (Telegraph Agent), Ruth Buzzi (Damsel in Distress), and Foster Brooks (Bank Clerk).
Unfortunately The Villain is just mediocre at its best points even with the present talent. Given that it is Hal Needham directing I would have expected something a little special. Smokey & the Bandit was a great film. It certainly has a great comedic cast for the time and a great lead with Kirk Douglas along with the talented Ann-Margaret, but nothing quite clicks.
There are plenty of funny moments. You will laugh. But for every funny moment there are two moments meant to be funny that just are not. Robert G. Kane, who wrote the script, worked for a time as a writer for Dean Martin’s “Celebrity Roast” and it shows. I have seen them and this film has the same type of jokes and innuendos you would have in Celebrity Roast. Kane used a high level of cartoon logic and humor in this story. From a painted tunnel that the good guys can pass through, but the villain cannot to the villain getting rolled over by a boulder this movie uses it all.
Cactus Jack is not a threat in a comedic universe. I am not expecting a psycho murderer, but I would like a character whose schemes might actually happen. Nobody takes him seriously. Not even his horse.
The pacing of the film is slow, and the setup of the jokes is long. You see them coming and you know the punchline before it hits. And the running gag of Handsome Stranger getting (literal) wood for the fire whenever Charming comes on to him is run into the ground. Running gags are fine but there can be too much of a good thing.
The plot of the film involves Avery Simpson loaning Parody Jones the money to keep his mine open. Afterwards he decides to hire Cactus Jack and his horse Whiskey to steal the money back in order to enact a clause in the loan to take the insignificant mine. Why? From a comedic perspective this looks pointless. It is not even humorously stupid.
This movie is more a series of gags strung together. Nothing much happens in the way of developing the narrative or the characters. What does the scene with Ruth Buzzi and Arnold Schwarzenegger have to do with the story? Handsome Stranger is dim? They beat you over the head throughout the film with that.
The Villain is a film that just misses the mark more often than not. I often say rather than remake good films they should take bad films and remake them as good films. This is one of them. There are quality comedic writers and directors who could polish the rough edges of the story and focus it a little more. This could have been something special in the right hands.
The Villain is an interesting idea with an interesting cast that just misses the mark. I watched it purely to see an early Schwarzenegger performance but other than that you can skip this. It is not a must see and it is not something that will add to your cinematic appreciation.