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
I loved Maverick, the film, but have not managed to see the original series yet. That will be one of my winter projects! 😉
Haha! It’s totally a gateway drug to westerns. I love that.
I haven’t seen the Gibson film in a lot of years. I had it on VHS when I was in college, but I think I traded it to a roommate for something else, as she liked it even better than I did. I should scare up a copy again sometime.
Yeah, I had a lot to do with cattle for a number of years (and while I do miss their personalities and I love a good ranch) I don’t really miss the daily messing around while they make up their minds to finally agree to something. (Definitely have a couple exciting bull stories up my sleeve though, so I guess that makes for a good icebreaker when needed. ;D)
I haven’t seen the Maverick TV show, but (with the few content provisos you mentioned) the Maverick movie is SO funny! I wanna rewatch it soon, just didn’t get to it before LOWC Week. (But I mean, any movie that starts out with a scene like that…. XD)
Cows and bulls never do what one wants them to do, huh? 😉
I might try the Maverick show. Most of my knowledge of Western tropes comes from reading them, not watching them, but I am curious to learn more about the peculiarities of the Western-on-screen genre.
No, bulls are especially “NOPE” even if they are mild-mannered. We had an old red Angus bull for years named Billy who would never hurt anybody, but he was about 1200 pounds and one time didn’t want corralled, so he tossed his head at mom — she scaled a six foot fence in a single bound just in case he decided to charge. This one, Sam, just stood in the pond for half an hour, until Dad rode his horse into it to shoo him out.
Maverick is a good show. It’s a lot of fun to watch. Hope you can find and enjoy the episodes — make sure to watch the 60s ones and not the 80s ones, the earlier ones are best.
I can believe that!! After seeing some of the bulls at y’all’s ranch, I have a very healthy respect for their potentially lethal qualities 😉
Sounds good! I’ll make sure to look for those!
Maverick is one of my dad’s favorite movies and he’s been trying to get me to watch it for years, but I never have. I don’t know why. I like James Garner! Now I should check it out sometime.
You should. The ending twist is … well, hilarious. And James Garner obviously had a lot of fun with the script.