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THE SHERIFF OF FRACTURED JAW
DVD. Odeon.

The Sheriff of Fractured JawWhile the combination of Kenneth More and Jayne Mansfield isn’t quite the oddest in cinema history (the combination of Marlon Brando and Thora Hird in The Nightcomers takes some beating), they do make a rather strange romantic pairing in this wholesome comedy western from 1958. Throw Sid James, King Kong’s Bruce Cabot and The Werewolf of London himself Henry Hull into the mix, and you have a rather peculiar, but thoroughly entertaining effort from genre specialist Raoul Walsh.

More plays Jonathan Tibbs, a rather feckless fellow who agrees to join the family gunsmith business, and hits on the great idea of heading to the American West, where he’s heard there is a great demand for guns. Through a series of misunderstandings and his unflappable Englishness, he acquires a reputation as a top gunslinger on arrival in the violent town of Fractured Jaw, home to two feuding ranches and some aggressive Indians, and finds himself appointed Sheriff. The only problem is, he doesn’t know how to shoot a gun. Luckily, saloon owner Miss Kate (Mansfield) takes him under her wing and begins to teach him – but with both feuding sides out to get him, will he have enough time?

This is very much the sort of charmingly inconsequential film that you used to find turning up on Sunday afternoon TV, where you could sit and be thoroughly entertained without having to think too much. Shot in Spain (on locations that would later be used for Sergio Leone’s Dollars trilogy), the film has a strongly authentic western feel, no doubt thanks to the efforts of Walsh, who had shot plenty of the things – while very much a comedy (albeit a gentle one), the film doesn’t skimp on the wild west elements and visually, could easily be played straight.

More is effortlessly charming, much as you might expect, and Mansfield acquits herself well in a role where her usual sex-bomb image is dialled down to zero – a couple of unnecessary musical numbers aside (with Connie Francis providing the vocals), she remains covered from head to foot in a chaste role that Doris Day would be happy with. She also manages a passable Southern accent, and it’s good to see her doing something different from the usual (much as I love the usual…). And if she and More don’t quite convince as a romantic pairing, it’s not for want of trying.

This isn’t a bust-a-gut comedy – the humour is gentle, underplayed and good-natured – but it’s a lot of fun nevertheless. If you miss those lazy days relaxing in front of stuff like this on TV, this new release should be an ideal way of recreating them.

DAVID FLINT

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