Sam Whiskey (1969)
“Don’t mix with “Sam Whiskey” – It’s risky!”
Director: Arnold Laven
Cast: Burt Reynolds, Angie Dickinson, Clint Walker
Synopsis: Sam Whiskey is an all-round talent, but when the attractive widow Laura offers him a job, he hesitates: he shall salvage gold bars, which Laura’s dead husband stole recently, from a sunken ship
Sam Whiskey was one of Burt Reynolds’ first starring roles as well as an early comic part and, given the quality of both, it’s something of a minor miracle that he ever had a movie career to speak of. In the 1970s and 80s he was a particularly charismatic light leading man, something of a throwback to Hollywood’s golden age, but here the good ol’ boy persona is muted, leaving him without the personality needed to carry the picture – and if ever a picture needed a strong personality to get it through, this was it.
Reynolds plays Whiskey, a freewheeling rogue who is persuaded by the sexually liberated Laura Breckenridge (Angie Dickinson) to retrieve a cache of gold bars that were stolen from the Denver mint by her late husband from their resting place in a sunken steamboat. Breckenridge wants the gold bars returned to the mint before the theft is discovered in order to save her family name. Against his better judgment, Whiskey agrees, and hires a blacksmith (Ossie Davis) and an inventor to help him with his plan to return the loot without getting caught. However, unbeknownst to Whiskey, he is being watched by a mysterious figure sporting the thickest spectacles in cinematic history (Rick Davis), who plans to nab the gold for himself.
Although it’s set during the years immediately after the US civil war, Sam Whiskey isn’t really a Western – the plot could quite easily have been transplanted to any time period in the twentieth century – and plays more like a heist movie, even though nothing is actually stolen by Whiskey and his cohorts. It’s also supposed to be a comedy, but the humour’s pretty thin. In many comedies the humour often allows the writers to get away with little depth to their characters, but because Sam Whiskey’s humour is almost non-existent, the weakness of the characters here is also painfully apparent, and the film resolutely fails to generate any tension, even when Whiskey and his pals are skulking around the mint as they carry out their madcap scheme. In fact, the ’heist’ didn’t really feel like a finale at all, and I was fully expecting some kind of double-cross to follow, so the ending – although welcome – seemed kind of abrupt, like a review that suddenly
(Reviewed 16th May 2012)