Friday, September 21, 2012

Well Drawn: "Draw!" (1984)

This 1984 made for cable western was one of, if not the first, shown exclusively on HBO first before a Canadian theatrical release. It is a light, entertaining film buoyed by its two leading men.

Kirk Douglas is Handsome Harry Holland, a retired gunfighter who pops into a small town long enough to win some money in a poker game from the local spoiled rich brat. Holland tries to collect his winnings and leave, but kills the town sheriff in self defense after getting a bullet in the leg, and holds a traveling Shakespearean actress Alexandra Bastedo hostage in her hotel room. The town panics, and deputy Graham Jarvis leaves to get legendary lawman Sam Starret, played by James Coburn. The years have not been kind to Coburn, who is a raging alcoholic.

As Douglas and Bastedo fall in love, Jarvis literally drags an incoherent Coburn back to town. Douglas and Coburn have a friendly history, when they were not trying to kill each other, and Douglas almost agrees to Coburn's plea to surrender. Enter the circuit court judge, a man who Douglas maimed years ago. He makes no bones about his desire to hang Douglas, and Coburn and Douglas are forced to face off in a final showdown.

While a small film, "Draw!" is very funny. Hearing Douglas injuring himself while saving a runaway stagecoach in the opening minutes is good, as is Coburn's constant efforts to get inebriated.

Coburn and Douglas are great together, looking aged but not decrepit and still carrying an old time movie star magic that lights up the screen every time they appear.

Douglas' scenes in the hotel room do get a little claustrophobic after a while. I wish he could have had more time away from the same four walls. Coburn is great, but he is not onscreen until over a third of the way through the film. While his part is the more comical of the two, once he is on, you wish he had brought his deadpan delivery into play earlier. The final twist ending, which you can see coming down the Chisholm Trail, is fun but predictable. Alexandra Bastedo is good, if not a little vacuous, as the love interest who really just needs to stand around and look pretty. Graham Jarvis, a well known character actor, is very funny as the exasperated deputy. His scene where he shouts down some Mexican banditos is hilarious.

All things considered, this is just a plain, fun film. The director keeps things going, letting his two stars take the screen, and not trying to draw attention to himself with fancy camera work. Another quibble: why do we have to see Kirk's puckered bare butt in most of his later films? And why has son Michael continued the tradition?

Those rhetorical questions aside, I highly recommend "Draw!" (* * * *) out of five stars.