In 1971, the myth of the Conquest of the West, of the eternal battle between pioneers moved by the hopes of greener grasses and brighter futures affronting the Natives who were selfishly keeping their lands, was already damaged by the effects of the New Hollywood period, the very era that put all the preconceived notions established by Hollywood Golden Age into a new and more thought-provoking perspective.
Indeed, the days of John Wayne were all over, it was the time where Sergio Leone depicted an Old West that civilization already reached, reducing the last remaining protagonists to the sordid roles of bounty hunters and greedy antiheroes, where duels were even more operatic because they consecrated the triumph of dirty characters who had no place whatsoever in the new order, already overpowered by technology, capitalism and progress. The New Western sealed the fate of the frontier spirit.
Leone's Man-With-No-Name, Altman's McCabe or Peckinpah's 'wild bunch' were the last lone wolves whose demise in blazes of glory or modest triumph were only the agonizing cries of a state of mind that no longer existed. And fittingly, this new kind of revisionist Western rehabilitated the Indians through the unforgettable "Little Big Man" while the "Conquest of the West"' fate was to be turned by derision by Mel Brooks as if Western became a parody of itself whether meant for tragic, comic and sometimes, tragicomic purposes, just like Peckinpah's unforgettable "Ballad of Cable Hogue".
And it's not a coincidence that the most memorable Westerns were then made by European directors, and not a hazard either that the film I'm reviewing, deprived from the cynicism my pompous introduction just described, is French. Only, in a European mind, the Western myth was still a subject of fascination. And it really shows in "Daisy Town", the adaptation of the adventures of Lucky Luke, the iconic cowboy who shoots faster than his shadow, and based on a new screenplay from René Goscinny, probably the least likely film to reconcile the old-school and new Western, "How the West was Won" and the Dollars trilogy, with humor as the common denominator.
The film opens with one of these widescreen shots that would have made John Ford proud, a caravan of pioneers halt at the sight of a daisy on the ground, where they decide to settle down, it's a moment of pure poetry that says a lot about the faith that inhabited pioneers' hearts in their quest for the Promised Land. Indeed, when men believe in destinies, isn't that natural that to believe in omens. The rest is a tribute to good old-fashioned Western, a city is built with the most basic elements: a saloon to welcome the thirstiest ones, a prison for the obligatory troublemakers, an undertaker, a stagecoach station, a school and so on and so forth. The town would naturally welcome the darker sides of the Far West and if it wasn't for the providential arrival of Lucky Luke, the poor lonesome cowboy, "Daisy Town" would have died in birth.
Lucky Luke is one of the most popular comic-books heroes of the French-Belgian school; he was 25 at the film's release but already a significant icon of European Pop-Culture. Created by Morris who spent his youth in America and was probably influenced by the great Western epics, he embodies this vision of the Old West that exceeded the limits of its original settings, and made all the European kids' childhood, whether they disguised as cowboys or Indians. And the contribution with René Goscinny, one of the best writers of his generation, gave the comic-book this zest of hilarity and zaniness mostly relying on spoof humor. Goscinny, who was also the creator of Astérix adapted in two movies before 1971, decided it was time to let Lucky Luke's star shine on the silver screen, needless to say, the film met with popular success.
But the star doesn't belong only to Lucky Luke, the series was also popular for Lucky Luke's archenemies: the four Dalton brothers whose heights were inversely proportional to their vileness and intelligence, making Joe, the smallest and leader, the most hateful and Averell, the most sympathetic of the bunch. Goscinny a unique talent to make stupid characters absolutely endearing and on that department, Averell totally steals the show, who can resist to his craving for a chicken while he's unplugging the feathers from his tar-covered brother? The Daltons have as much screen time as Lucky Luke, whose lines are often reduced to a laconic "yup" thus, a hilarious contrast of personalities and an unstoppable source of gags.
Lucky Luke is almost Eastwoodized for the sake of the story and it's not surprising that his confrontation with the Daltons reaches its climax during a duel, which is probably the greatest tribute to Leone from any cinematic source. And the film concludes with another mandatory archetype: the war between Indians and pioneers, and here again, Natives have never been so hilarious since "Little Big Man" or Goofy's "Calforny'er Bust" and by hilarious, I don't mean in a condescending way, just listen to the Chief's claims during the treaty and you'll get an idea. Joe Dalton's warning of the dangers of Civilization speaks almost like a eulogy to the Old West, powerless when money, gold and profit are a stakes, a sad fate foreshadowed by the bittersweet ending of "Daisy Town".
And what a finale! Claude Bolling's poignant "Poor Lonesome Cowboy" that would become one of the cowboy's trademarks and one of the most defining themes of my childhood, is the best swan song the West could ever have. And after all the laughs, all the thrilling battles, epic duels and jovial square dances, the ending of "Daisy Town" reaches an emotional state that even the cinematic adaptation starring Terrence Hill, didn't match, not to mention the horrendous English version, that sounded like an impersonation contest (with all due respect for Rich Little)
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