A throwback to the days when my parents would treat me with a trip to the movie theater. Their reason for choosing this one? I suspect it had a lot to do with the Disney brand and Don Knotts featured prominently on the movie poster and the film’s trailer. Yes we were a household that had a love affair with Don. From Dad and Mom right down to my sister and I. I should think that his Barney Fife and a succession of family fun comedies in the 1960’s had a lot to do with that. The Ghost and Mr. Chicken being the best example of those comedy hits.
Set in the old west and directed by Robert Butler, Hot Lead and Cold Feet, proves to be just another live action ninety minute family “B” flick that Disney had a habit of cranking out in the 1970’s. Quite often with Don Knotts along for the ride. This time he’s minus his Apple Dumpling Gang cohort, Tim Conway, but he picks up an arch enemy suitably portrayed by western favorite Jack Elam, who by this point had made a habit of lampooning his earlier screen typecasting as a villain.
While Knotts may have been the selling feature of the film, he and Elam are secondary characters serving as comic relief to leading man Jim Dale who is playing not two but three roles! It all starts with Dale as a fragile old timer in the mold of a Gabby Hayes who just happens to own a frontier town and all the lands surrounding it. He’s got a rattlesnake mean son also played by Dale who looks as if he’s just walking in from a Spaghetti western shoot.
Truthfully, I was waiting for the dubbed dialogue to not match his lip movement but no it’s really Dale speaking. He’s fast on the draw and takes pleasure in tormenting others. He figures to inherit all the riches when his old man kicks the bucket. And kick it he does when he falls off a canyon rockface to his supposed death below.
Supposed being the key word.
Time for the shifty town mayor and no stranger to movie goers of the day, Darren McGavin, to read the will and hand over the inheritance. Shockingly it turns out that there’s a twin brother to evil Dale played by …. Dale of course. Only this son is a gentle soul preaching God’s word and singing gospel songs on the street as a Missionary. He’s quickly tagged as a tambourine whacker. In tow he has the customary two children that are a must in all Disney scripts of the era. He’ll receive his letter and he’s off to the wild west to claim his portion of the inheritance bringing the two orphaned children along on this great adventure.
Where’s Don Knotts fit into all this? He’s the trembling town sheriff. Yes he’s had a promotion from his days as Deputy Fife in Mayberry. He’ll give us the classic Knotts’ tough guy look with the jutting lower lip when he crosses paths with Elam’s outlaw on several occasions over the course of the film’s running time. Somehow their gun draws in the middle of the street turn into slapstick laughs for the whole family. Neither with the guts to really chance pulling their weapon. None better then when they tangle on a stormy night trying to navigate their steps in what has become a huge mudhole of a street where a cowboy can lose his boots in the struggle.
Evil Dale isn’t exactly overjoyed to have Tambourine Dale as a twin brother while McGavin tampers with the will to show a contest is in order to decide who gets the whole inheritance. Don’t be surprised if the former Carl Kolchak devises a plan to have both brothers “accidently” killed during the contest which involves a great race like adventure in order that all the riches go to the executor of the will. Meaning himself.
And the twins are off and running for their lives over the course of the relay race with the orphans and Karen Valentine cheering on Tambourine Dale. Turns out Miss Valentine is the town’s school teacher and available. Yeah I think I see a happy ending heading our way.
The 1970’s saw Don Knotts in a variety of Disney features, one of which also had McGavin as well, No Deposit, No Return released in 1976. Don’s other roles for the studio came in the two Apple Dumpling Gang features, Gus and Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo. Jack Elam can also be found in the second Apple Dumpling feature. As for leading man, Jim Dale, I associate him with the Carry On series of films out of England that my family frequently tuned into when they appeared on television and I’ve been looking forward to revisiting.
As a matter of fact, here in Canada we frequently had both movies and TV shows from England playing on our local channels regularly if memory serves. Dale also starred in Disney’s Pete’s Dragon and The Unidentified Flying Oddball before the decade came to a close.
If you’re a Don Knotts fan and haven’t seen this one, it’s available in a DVD 4 pack of Don’s Disney adventures. Had they made it a 6 pack you’d have all his Disney titles in one set. Hmmmm … might there be a marketing job available to me at the famed studio Uncle Walt built?