Color, 1979, 88 mins. 57 secs.
Directed by Hal Needham
Starring Kirk Douglas, Ann-Margret, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Foster Brooks, Mel Tillis, Ruth Buzzi, Paul Lynde, Jack Elam
Cinestrange Extreme (Blu-ray & DVD) (Germany RB HD), Sony (DVD) (Worldwide) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)

After scoring his biggest hit with The Villain1978's Smokey and the Bandit, legendary The Villainstunt man turned director Hal Needham took some odd detours in between his high-profile Burt Reynolds vehicles-- such as the made-for-TV action-horror hybrid Death Car on the Freeway or the indescribable Megaforce. The silliest of these one-offs is easily 1979's The Villain, an affectionate homage to and spoof of classic stunt-filled westerns with an attitude reminiscent of Blake Edwards' The Great Race crossed with Looney Tunes and a few Terence Hill and Bud Spencer comedies. A box office disappoint rather than an outright flop, the film doesn't get brought up very often but has remained steadily available on home video with occasional TV airings that have earned it a minor cult following. Given the cast involved, it should still find a wider audience someday.

A dastardly outlaw with more persistence than luck or smarts, Cactus Jack Slade (Douglas), has hit work cut out for him when he's hired by the unscrupulous Avery Simpson (Elam). The target: beautiful Charming Jones (Ann-Margret), who's crossing the desert with nice guy cowboy Handsome Stranger The Villain(Schwarzenegger) and a hefty amount of cash from her father, Parody (Martin). Cactus Jack's repeated plans to intercept the duo The Villainkeep backfiring on him spectacularly, and in desperation he turns to the local Native American tribe headed by Nervous Elk (Lynde). Meanwhile, Charming puts the moves on her gallant escort but proves to be just as unsuccessful as the villain trying to stop them.

A bright, goofy diversion, this film was clearly meant to be a tonic of sorts after the wave of violent revisionist westerns from the previous decade. More genteel spoofs like this and The Frisco Kid were the order of the day, though the muted reception meant that these would become an endangered species with only a handful like Rustler's Rhapsody coming down the pike in the '80s. The spectacle of Lynde in his final feature role hamming it up in a headdress is really something to behold, for better or worse, while Ruth Buzzi pops up in an extended cameo doing her feisty townsperson routine that she'd reprise in later projects like Doc West. This being a Needham film, it's far from politically correct by today's standards and comes loaded with stunts including performed by Douglas himself with an exaggerated cartoonish bent that becomes more exaggerated as the film chugs along. His co-stars are in the right spirit as well, with the always welcome Ann-Margret making for an unexpected pairing with a pre-Conan Schwarzenegger.

The VillainWidely circulated on DVD from Sony throughout the format's history, this was circulated in most territories The Villainoutside the U.S. as Cactus Jack given the bland original title's apparent marketing issues. For what appears to be the title's global Blu-ray debut, Germay's Cinestrange Extreme has provided no less than five different mediabook options containing both a Blu-ray and DVD. The Sony-supplied HD scan looks excellent and typical of their catalog work with natural film grain and very punchy colors; the original English and German-dubbed DTS-HD MA 5.1 tracks have some most separation but are largely similar to the original mono theatrical mixes. Optional German subtitles are provided, while extras include a trailer (probably a TV spot since it's 30 seconds long) and a 1m49s gallery. The package also comes with a 32-page, German-language booklet featuring a Patrick Winkler essay and various ephemera from the Arnold Schwarzenegger Museum.

Reviewed on December 4, 2022.