When I was fourteen, I saw the funniest western of my life—Maverick, starring Mel Gibson as a cowardly poker player who “runs away to live another day” from any kind of serious conflict, Jodie Foster as a con woman who provides a hilarious foil for him when she’s not picking his pocket, and James Garner as… well, something more than he pretends to be.

When a movie starts out with Maverick sitting on the back of a horse, a noose around his neck, and a bag of rattlers making noise nearby, and then flashes back to the start of the week with the voice-over that says, “It had been a sh—y week from the beginning…” you know you are for a fun ride.

Maverick has been trying to collect twenty-five grand to enter a high stakes poker championship, and somebody doesn’t want him there. So while he engages in seriously not-politically correct methods to get enough of his money off his “so-called-friends” to enter his bet, massive hijacks unfold, from Indians resentful of a stupid Russian duke who “wants to hear the war drums all the time,” to trick bows, to “everybody’s got a gun!” to Annabelle and Mavericks’ frequent insults. It’s funny, it has lovable characters, and it left me and the other girls at the sleepover in such stitches, we rewound the tape and played it again. Several times. It’s still one of my favorites.

They based Maverick off a television series starring James Garner from the age of black and white westerns. And the original series is nothing like the remake. While the former is flat out funny, the latter is high stakes drama. Each episode follows one of the Maverick brothers—Bret (Garner) or Bart (Jack Kelly)—getting in and out of “trouble.” They wind up in jail or on the run, get accused of murder, transport doe-eyed women across dangerous territory, fall in and out of love, dig into a community to find the truth of a ghostly encounter, outsmart the police, make enemies, wind up trekking through the desert after their horses get stolen, etc.

Both brothers are professional gamblers who would “prefer not to do a lick of work in their life.” Bret is mild-mannered until you push his buttons, then he evens the score (usually by rallying people against wicked fellows of some sort, the most memorable being a corrupt mining baron). Bart is far colder, more ruthless, and wants “what’s his,” so he’ll follow a thousand stolen bucks across the desert to “get back his score.” Neither of them are cowards, though both get “taken” by the same girl, likely the inspiration for the new Annabelle, a charming and beautiful con artist / poker player.

The series is… amazing. I say that as a girl who never has taken a particular shine to westerns. (Growing up on a ranch, I don’t have romantic ideas about cowboys or cattle or horses, since mine tried more than once to take a sizeable chunk out of my hide, and I spent several hours one day trying in vain to convince a bull to leave the middle of a pond and go into the corral.) The hour-long episodes play out like novels, with twists and turns and love stories. The boys throw thousand dollar bills around like you would not believe, and gamble for tens of thousands (the movie makes these tallies a little more believable for the 1880s—where Bart and Bret carry thousand dollar bills pinned inside their clothes for “a rainy day,” the new Bret only has a $100 bill; and Annabelle is always calling him Bart, both to get his goat and because she can’t be bothered to remember his name).

The original Bret was one of my mother’s favorite television characters when she was growing up, and it’s easy to see why—mild-mannered, charming, and soft-spoken, he will often stay out of a fight until someone brings it to him, then outsmart them. But I’m also partial to his brother Bart, who takes things on with a more aggressive, smarter, proactive stance. A few episodes even showcase them together, which is tremendous fun.

If you’ve never been into westerns, I recommend the Maverick show as your gateway drug. They are witty, well-written adventures, full of high-stakes peril and stolen horses/bank notes, stagecoach drama, outlaw gangs, and beautiful women (whom the boys should never trust… but they do). And if you want to laugh until your ribs hurt while Bret gets dragged behind a runaway stage, gets cheated by his friends, fakes his own death, has panic attacks, and don’t mind some profanity, violence, and sensuality (PG), I recommend the remake. Both hold a special place in my heart.

I wrote this post for the Legends of Western Cinema Week, hosted by Hamlette and Along the Brandywine. Click the photo for more entries!

~ Legends of Western Cinema Week Tag 2020 ~

1) What’s the last western you watched? A Maverick episode where Bret wound up toting around a bunch of in-denial, prissy English people through the desert after a gang of outlaws stole their stuff.

2) A western of any stripe (happy or tragic) where you were highly satisfied by the ending? The end of The Magnificent Seven remake, because it was deeper and more interesting than I expected.

3) The funniest western you’ve seen? Maverick. 😉

4) What similar elements/themes show up in your favorite westerns? Smart women doing something about the injustices dealt out to their families and/or being sassy and opinionated about what they want (I’m looking at you, Maureen O’Hara!).

5) Favorite actress who made one or more westerns? Maureen O’Hara.

6) Favorite western hero/sidekick pairing? I’m kind of partial to the Lone Ranger and Tonto, though I haven’t seen too many of the original episodes.

7) Scariest villain/antagonist in a western? The villain in The Missing. That was one whacked-out, scary black magic-spewing dude.

8) Favorite romance in a western? Annabelle and Maverick, because it’s love-hate, and most of the westerns I’ve seen weren’t romances. Ha, ha.

9) Three of your favorite westerns? 3:10 to Yuma (remake), The Magnificent Seven (remake), and Maverick (either the show or the movie)

10) Share one (or several!) of your favorite quotes from a western.

From the moment I slapped eyes on this hombre, I smelled trouble. And re-fried beans.” – Maverick