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A stranger in a Western cattle-town behaves with remarkable self-assurance, establishing himself as a man to be reckoned with. The reason appears with his stock: a herd of sheep, which he intends to graze on the range. The horrified inhabitants decide to run him out at all costs. Written by
David Levene <D.S.Levene@durham.ac.uk>
Although "The Sheepman" is full of comic moments, none of them could quite be considered to be of the parody or even the self-reflexive variety. George Marshall's 1958 western was produced a few years before the genre began imitating television westerns by moving in that direction with films like "Cat Ballou" and "Support Your Local Sheriff". Most of this film's humor comes from the off-kilter nature of Glenn Ford's cowboy hero Jason Sweet. He is my all-time favorite Ford character, alternating between standard western hero and detached manipulator. His scenes with Mickey Shaughnessy (as town bully Jumbo) are funny because they totally break genre conventions. The Coen Brothers have used a similar technique in many of their films, writing dialogue totally mismatched with what one expects from a particular movie stereotyped character. The effectiveness of the device (and its novelty in 1958) led to William Bowers & James Edward Grant receiving an Oscar nomination for the screenplay.
The story gets moving right away as the title character (Sweet) hits the town of Powder Valley, seemingly on a mission to alienate every citizen with whom he comes into contact. This also serves as a quick introduction to most of the supporting cast as he insults the railroad station master (Percy Helton), gives unsolicited advice to a young lady (Shirley MacLaine), tricks the livery stable owner (Edgar Buchanan of "Petticoat Junction" fame); and gets the better of the general store proprietor (Harry Harvey). He then picks a fight with Jumbo (Shaughnessy) and ends the day by announcing his intention to graze sheep on the nearby public lands. This puts him into conflict with a local cattleman named "The Colonel" (a very young and uncharacteristically serious Leslie Neilsen).
MacLaine's often exasperated heroine would serve as inspiration for the Suzanne Pleshette and Joan Hackett characters in "Support Your Local Gunfighter" and "Support Your Local Sheriff".
"The Sheepman" is refreshingly different; witty, unpredictable, and extremely entertaining.
Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.
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