Best Supporting Bowers
Born 100 years ago yesterday, William Bowers (1916-1987) started out as a journalist but his reporter’s skills for generating a good story led him to Hollywood, where he worked as a scenarist/screenwriter for nearly 40 years. He dabbled in several genres, including some prime noir (Pitfall, Cry Danger, The Mob, Split Second, 5 Against the House), top Westerns (Black Bart, The Gunfighter, The Law and Jake Wade), musicals (Night and Day, The Best Things in Life Are Free) and collaborations with Jack Webb (-30-, The Last Time I Saw Archie). In 1958, he turned his knack for Westerns (he was already Oscar®-nominated for The Gunfighter along with Andre de Toth) on its ear for the acclaimed comedy Western The Sheepman, earning his second Oscar® nod alongside collaborator James Edward Grant. Directed by George Marshall and starring Glenn Ford, Shirley MacLaine and Leslie Neilsen, The Sheepman expertly juggled traditional rip-roaring, quick-triggered action with generous doses of sly humor and offbeat characters, making this yarn about a rancher who brings his herd of sheep into cow country, locking horns with a local cattle baron, a surprise hit. At the same time, James Garner was in the first year of his three-season TV series run as wily, violence-averse Wild West cardsharp Maverick. Could a Bowers-Garner collaboration be in the cards? Eleven years later came Support Your Local Sheriff! (1969), a lighthearted spoof starring Garner, written and produced by Bowers and directed by veteran Western hand Burt Kennedy, about a ramshackle town that rises up in the wake of a nearby gold strike and the wily, sharp-shooting (only when he needs to) stranger passing through who becomes its lawman (only out of financial necessity). With a choice ensemble in support (including Joan Hackett, Walter Brennan, Harry Morgan, Henry Jones, Kathleen Freeman and a sterling Jack Elam as a “town character” turned deputy and Bruce Dern as a dimwitted gunslinger), it became a refreshingly successful – and G-rated, to boot – box-office success. Such fun was had by all that they did it again: two years later came Support Your Local Gunfighter (1971), not a sequel, in which an even more Maverick-like conman/gambler Garner ambles into yet another disputatious gold-rush burg and winds up the middle man playing two warring factions against each other, with cliché-busting comedy abundant throughout, courtesy of Bowers’ The Sheepman collaborator Grant and encoring director Kennedy. Sheriff cast returnees, albeit in different roles, included Elam, Morgan, Jones and Freeman, joined by newcomers Suzanne Pleshette, Joan Blondell, Marie Windsor, Dub Taylor, John Dehner and Ellen Corby. The Old West proved fertile to the prolific Mr. Bowers, and Support Your Local Sheriff! and Support Your Local Gunfighter combine to make a double-barreled, doubly-delightful double-header on Twilight Time hi-def Blu-ray riding into town February 16. Preorders open February 3.