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Evil Roy Slade
(1971)
 

Director: Jerry Paris                       
Cast:
John Astin, Mickey Rooney, Dom DeLuise


For the first two-thirds of its running time, Evil Roy Slade shapes itself to become possibly be the funniest comedy of all time. I'm serious. Previously, I had heard how it was much beloved by its small but loyal cult, but I had just thought it would be another of those typically very He's evil, I tell you! Evil! funny movies. Not long after I started to watch it, I knew this was not one of those other movies - this was instead one of those all too rare hysterical, hilarious, enthusiastic, pedal to the metal funny dumb movies. I was amazed that not only did the movie get me to laugh hard, but laugh hard again and again and again. The number of gags that work beautifully is astonishing. Oh, I admit at around the two-thirds mark it basically runs out of gas, but the good feelings it generates keeps it buoyant right to the end. So while I can't say it's the funniest comedy of all time, I can say it's one of the funniest comedies of all time.

Though the title song tells us that Evil Roy Slade "...made fun of old people... scared little children to see how they'd run", he actually did more than that back in the days of the wild wild west. We first see him orphaned as a baby, with neither the Indians nor the wolves wanting to adopt him, and subsequently having only his diaper and teddy bear with him while growing up. He grows into the meanest, baddest, most evil man the west had ever seen, forming a gang that helps him to pull off countless robberies from various properties owned by railroad tycoon Nelson L. Stool (Rooney), who is determined to catch this mastermind bandit by any means possible.

Actually, when we see Evil Roy Slade in action, it seems he has been coasting on an incredible streak of good luck rather than smarts. For one thing, we learn that during a robbery of a train, he also stole the train's steam whistle because he liked the, "toot toot" sound. Later, when he does the self-proclaimed, "kissing part of the robbery" during a bank hold-up (ignoring one ugly woman's eagerly puckering lips), he complains that the lips of the woman he kissed taste, "like prairie dust". It turns out Slade forgot to take off the bandana mask that was covering his face.

Gags like that sound really obvious when presented on the written page, and I can understand why you might not have been laughing reading that above paragraph. I'm not going to make an O.J. reference here But it's amazing how funny they appear when you see these gags happening in front of you. It's proof that it's not necessarily what the gag is, but how it's presented. And much of that credit in Evil Roy Slade must go to John Astin, who is so funny, he manages to make you laugh simply by being silent and bulging his eyes when his character gets into a fit of greed or insanity. And that is the comic vein Astin wisely goes for in this goofy comic western - he plays Evil Roy Slade as completely crackers, but the business-like way he handles his evil scheming creates a facade on the outside that hides his insanity - almost.

He's insane, yet his actions come across as being natural; when Evil Roy Slade does something like walk up to a card table and violently toss one of his sidekicks out of a chair so he himself can play, we would only be surprised if he didn't do it at all. The casual attitude Astin puts in depicting someone so psychotic is hilarious, yet you also at the same time believe that this character could exist, at least in this context. Later in the movie, after his first glance at pretty schoolteacher Betsy Potter, something comes over him that he can't explain, telling her subsequently, "I don't know what 'nice' is... but that felt different!" In this world, it sounds silly - but hearing Evil Roy Slade in this movie, we are convinced by his bewilderment. Evil Roy Slade has other great one-liners, one right after the other, so I don't think I'll be spoiling the movie if I tell you two more of them. Betsy feels that the black dressed Evil Roy Slade must have some good in him, uttering a possible double entendre: "Under that black exterior, I could find something good." Slade later tells Betsy, "You've got a good head on those shoulders - and a good body under those shoulders."

The humor in this movie isn't just consisted of one-liners - there are a number of outrageous sight gags (such as the sight of Evil Roy Slade riding a special kind of horse someone gave him in To his horror, Evil Roy Slade finds out his lady friend likes to swing both ways exchange for his life) that predate the kind that the Zucker/Abrahams team later popularized in Airplane! and their other movies. There are also some priceless verbal exchanges that predate the kind that you'd find in a typical episode of The Simpsons. When Evil Roy Slade forces his accountant to change the $0 in the books to $50,000, then seconds later practically accuses the accountant of embezzlement when the money can't be produced, it had me wondering if the writers behind Homer Simpson had their slant on humor influenced by this movie.

As I said earlier, Evil Roy Slade is an exercise in non-stop hilarity up to the two-thirds mark, then it more or less died on me. Why? To tell the truth, I was surprised myself when the laughs suddenly stopped for me. I wouldn't call the last third awful - for one thing, this is when Dick Shawn enters the movie, playing "Bing Bell", a singing cowboy called out of retirement. It's always a treat to see Shawn, and his lampoon of those hideously dressed singing cowboys is fun to see. Still, he wasn't enough to save this part of the movie, and it took me a few minutes to figure out what was wrong.

It then dawned on me that the movie had suddenly backtracked; before this part of the movie, Evil Roy Slade and Betsy had run off to Boston to start a new and crime-free life. The movie was still very funny, with Milton Berle (as Betsy's reluctant Evil Roy Slade's mode of transportation has low horse power cousin who gives Evil Roy Slade a job) and Dom DeLuise (as a psychiatrist) going above and beyond the call of duty to reform this desperado. But when this part of the movie ends, it more or less goes back to the position it was before Boston - and then doesn't move forward that much subsequently. With nothing much new happening to the characters, it soon got tiring, and I even started to get tired of E.R.S. (as much as I am of typing those three words over and over.) But I also wondered that, maybe after being tickled by one outrageous gag after another, I was then dead set on the movie topping itself further by then. Maybe I was expecting too much - who knows?

Another problem I had with the movie may also be a little unfair to point out. This movie was actually made as a proposed TV pilot. As a result, there are a few issues that arI don't want to know if this guy rides anything besides a horse...en't really resolved, and some of the characters at the end practically announce what parts they will play in the series (which never got green-lit, by the way.) This somewhat of a non-ending is a bit frustrating, especially after just previously sitting through a large part of the movie that was more or less dead in the water.

There is at least one good thing about this movie having an origin from 1971 television - you know it will be safe for the  kids to watch. Kids will probably be a lot more forgiving of the movie's flaws, and they will be rolling on the floor. Best of all, even though grown-ups might shuffle a little in their seats during the last part of the movie, they too will find a lot to laugh about before then, much more than enough to make up for the dead patch. Evil Roy Slade can then not just be considered a hilarious comedy, but a good family film - since it's a movie kids and adults will find funny.

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See also: Fire Sale, The Last Remake Of Beau Geste, Let It Ride

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