City Slickers (1991, Billy Crystal, Daniel Stern)

City Slickers

Gags fly thicker than bullets in a Leone movie in comedy western City Slickers, starring Billy Crystal (on whose story the screenplay was based), Daniel Stern and Bruno Kirby as Mitch, Phil and Ed, three urban buddies who seek to exorcise their mid-life crises by spending their annual two-week holiday on a cattle drive from New Mexico to Colorado. At the dude ranch, they team up with an assortment of other holidaymakers, including Bonnie (Helen Slater), under the guidance of leathery trail boss Curly (Jack Palance).

When the drive starts, the city slickers are inept drovers – Mitch sets off a stampede with his portable coffee grinder – but gradually Curly begins to teach them how to appreciate life and to believe in old western values. But when Curly dies suddenly, Phil and Ed intend to abort the mission. However, Mitch insists that they continue with the drive and, as they progress, he realises the value of his marriage and family. Womaniser Ed admits he really loves his wife and newly-divorced Phil starts a relationship with Bonnie. Finally Mitch leads the group as they successfully help the cattle to ford a raging river and deliver the herd to the Colorado ranch.

“I call this my ‘coming of middle age movie’, said Crystal, who passed his plot notes to Mandel and Ganz, who “supplied me with a very funny script that remained faithful to the storyline”. The sharply observed, often moving screenplay gives the film genuine realism, making it more than simply a comic, gag-filled western in the tradition of, say, Paleface . The characters are credible and driving direction by Ron Underwood never loses sight of the key characters or abandons them in favour of a smart joke. Palance creates a character who brilliantly and believably embodies the beliefs and behaviour of the old west and, as a result, was rightly rewarded with the Academy Award as Best Supporting Actor.

USA / 1991

Director: Ron Underwood
Writers: Lowell Ganz, Babaloo Mandell, from a story by Billy Crystal

Cast: Billy Crystal, Daniel Stern, Bruno Kirby, Jack Palance, Patricia Wettig, Helen Slater, Josh Mostel, David Paynter, Tracey Walter