Showdown - (1973)
George Seaton’s last film falls into that category of 70’s westerns that acted as a dated counterpoint to the rough violent anti-westerns of its era (“Cheyenne Social Club”, “Chisum”, “Cahill U.S.Marshall”, “The Good Guys & The Bad Guys” and “Rio Lobo”). As well as that interesting list of last films during the 70’s of once popular directors of earlier eras (Hawk’s Rio Lobo, Wyler’s The Liberation of L.B. Jones, Jerry Lewis’ Which Way To the Front, George Stevens The Only Game In Town). However when it comes to that cluster of clunkers, “Showdown” is a very likable entry.
The story of this western is nothing new. Two former friends, Rock Hudson & Dean Martin, are pitted against each other when Martin robs a train, unaware that his old buddy Hudson has been elected sheriff. Since it’s Seaton’s follow up to his massive hit “Airport”, and his penchant for over ambitious projects (“The Hook”, “The Confederate Traitor” and “What’s So Bad About Feeling Good”), the slightness of the whole project is surprising. But along with the pairing of Hudson & Martin, who share the screen for the first time, it’s the films low-key modesty that ends up being one of its most charming features.
In my opinion of all the fifties He-man leading men that were still starring in movies in the seventies (Kirk Douglas, Burt Lancaster, Glenn Ford, Yul Brynner and Robert Mitchum), Rock Hudson was hands down the hippest (Tony Curtis with his paisley scarfs and new flamboyant attitude was second). Check out Hudson in Roger Vadim’s “Pretty Maids All In A Row” and Phil Karlson “Hornets Nest”. And while “Showdown” is defiantly anti hip, Hudson is touchingly solid in his role. Once Rock moved to TV to do “McMillan & Wife” he turned bland. But before that, in all of his 70’s movies, Maids, Nest, “Darling Lilli”, “Embryo” and the mini series “Wheels” (which paired him with Fred “The Hammer” Williamson) he’s terrific.
Dean Martin, on the other hand, by the time of “Showdown” had become a joke. After watching a drunk Dean stumble through the Matt Helm movies or leering at The Golddiggers on his TV show, you really couldn’t take him serious anymore. Making his performances, especially in westerns of that era, “5 Card Stud”, “Rough Night in Jericho”, “Bandolero!”, and “Something Big”, slightly ridiculous. However even though his performance is his usual light comic touch, Martin blends in better here then he does in those other westerns. Possibly because he’s too old for his role, there’s a touch of pathos in watching him try to pull off the same devil may care charm he coasted on for the last twenty years. But also there’s genuine sweetness in the chemistry between Hudson & Martin.
While “Showdown” is a light western, it’s not necessarily a comedy. Yet Seaton has always had a talent for injecting high comedy into his movies. And in “Showdown” a comedy scene smack dab in the middle between Martin & Hudson and a better then usual Susan Clark brings the whole film up to another level. And the way you feel about Hudson & Martin at the end might even raise it a touch higher then that. My review might be a touch generous. Yet Seaton, Hudson, Martin and the whole film possess a sweetness that inspires generosity.