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    Production Support

    Posted by Mike Finnegan on

    “This is immodest, but I think Support Your Local Sheriff! (1969) is one of the better Western spoofs ever made.” The film’s star James Garner (1928-2014) made that gentlemanly assertion in his 2011 The Garner Files: A Memoir, written with Jon Winokur, about the comedy favorite that first opened 48 years ago this Sunday and marked his active producing debut. Garner reflected: “I’d noticed that, though actors make a lot of money, somebody has the money to pay them. Producers. I’d also noticed that producers weren’t smarter than me, they just made more money. I wanted to make more money. And have more control. So I formed Cherokee Productions.” Cherokee’s maiden effort as a full-bore production entity (Marlowe, Skin Game and the TV series Nichols and The Rockford Files would soon follow) was, in the words of Ronald Bergan in The United Artists Story, “an amusing spoof on the clichés of the [Western] genre. William Bowers’ screenplay included a stranger riding into town (James Garner), who is appointed sheriff, a drunken deputy (Jack Elam), an ineffectual mayor (Harry Morgan), his pretty daughter (Joan Hackett), and a mean pa (Walter Brennan) with three unruly cretinous sons (Bruce Dern, Dick Peabody and Gene Evans). Burt Kennedy directed with a fairly light hand, and Garner had fun sending up his TV Maverick image.” Garner also had fun as an executive producer, finding his responsibilities (“securing financing, commissioning a script, and hiring everybody else to make the picture”) also included devising a title. Garner recounted: “It was originally called The Sheriff. I was with Burt Kennedy and Bill Bowers in an office on the second floor at MGM. I told them I thought The Sheriff was too dull. But we couldn’t think of anything better. I left the meeting early because I had to go home, and as I walked downstairs, there was a time clock with a sign over it: ‘Support Your Local Police.’ I turned around, walked back up the stairs, poked my head in the office and said: ‘I’ve got it: Support Your Local Sheriff!” Didn’t even wait for a reaction. When I got home, there was a message from Burt: ‘Great title!’” Moreover, in true Maverick tradition, gambling was involved, and Garner went all in. “People had warned me that comedy Westerns weren’t commercial, but I went ahead and made it anyway, for $750,000, which was nothing even then. It opened for a week and didn’t do any business. The studio wanted to shelve it. I said: ‘Tell you what: You put up $10,000 and I’ll put up $10,000, and we’ll run it in one theater.’ We put it on Wilshire Boulevard for a month and they lined up. We rereleased it and it did great business everywhere. I’m still getting checks.” Support Your Local Sheriff! is still cheering fans, particularly in its Twilight Time hi-def Blu-ray double-feature disc that features a detailed Audio Commentary from the Cinema Retro team of historians Lee Pfeiffer and Paul Scrabo and the Cherokee-Garner-Kennedy follow-up Support Your Local Gunfighter (1971). Saddle up with the title during TT’s MGM March Madness Promotion and get 50% off the original list price through March 31, all in support of sure-shooting, star-packed classic comedy.