Did you know that Arnold Schwarzenegger starred in an ill-fated 1979 Western comedy film called The Villain when he was first starting out as an actor? If you’re having trouble wrapping your head around this fact, then you’ll find yourself even more baffled over the fact that the movie unsuccessfully attempted to be a live-action Looney Tunes with its delivery, according to Collider.
Starring Kirk Douglas, Ann-Margret Olsson, and The Terminator himself, The Villain was both a critical and commercial flop despite its charismatic cast and ambitious concept.
The Villain Is The Roadrunner
The Villain has all of the beats that you’d find in a typical “Roadrunner” short, which on paper sounds like comedy gold, especially when you add a young Arnold Schwarzenegger into the mix. But the film got in its own way by trying to turn a 10 minute, single-joke concept into an 89-minute feature film.
In other words, some forms of comedy work better with the short-form, animated treatment, and The Villain proved this concept with its resounding failure.
Trying To Capture Looney Tunes Magic
While audiences are able to suspend a healthy amount of disbelief witnessing Wile E. Coyote repeatedly blowing himself up with his attempts to subdue the Roadrunner, the humor got lost in translation in this Hal Needham-directed film.
As for the plot, we have to give The Villain props for trying to capture some live-action Looney Tunes magic while borrowing a page from the Blazing Saddles playbook.
Needham was inspired to do something similar after performing stunts on the classic Mel Brooks film and wanted to further push the limit of physical comedy at the time of this film’s production.
Arnold Schwarzenegger Was A New Actor
Though Arnold Schwarzenegger has proven over the years that he’s quite capable of delivering the goods on this front, he was still a relatively new actor, and didn’t have his breakthrough yet.
The Villain centers on Ann-Margret Olsson’s Charming Jones character, who is accompanied by Arnold Schwarzenegger’s unnamed “Handsome Stranger.”
During their travels across the west, Kirk Douglas’ Cactus Jack Slade is hired by a villain named Avery Simpson (Jack Elam)to ambush Jones and Handsome Stranger, and steal the large sum of cash that was given to Jones by her father.
Humor Failed To Land
Using physical humor as its main storytelling mechanism, The Villain pretty much copied the classic “Roadrunner” cartoons. But the humor failed to capture the hearts and imaginations of its audience for a couple of reasons in this early Arnold Schwarzenegger film.
When people watch cartoons, the excessive violence tends to work because the sight gags are so far removed from reality with their absurdity. But when witnessing Kirk Douglas crash his carriage into a mountainside and get flattened like Wile E. Coyote like he does in The Villain, the visual punchline fails to deliver the same impact.
Arnold Schwarzenegger Needed Less Muscle
And given Arnold Schwarzenegger’s imposing stature, it’s safe to say that Needham could have benefited from letting the bodybuilder use a little more muscle.
It’s worth noting, however, that for 1979 the stunts were actually quite good, and in any other context, they would have had audiences hooting and hollering for more.
Though Arnold Schwarzenegger has always had a charismatic personality, his raw acting talent was underutilized while producing The Villain.
A substantial amount of the written dialogue involves Handsome Stranger’s complete lack of interest in Charming Jones, who hits on him aggressively the entire time.
Villain Identity Crisis
Had Arnold Schwarzenegger had a little more star power at the time of the film’s production, he could have punched up the script with some pithy, pun-based one-liners, and the humor could have been substantially elevated.
One more glaring issue that needs to be talked about is the fact that The Villain most certainly had an identity crisis.
With its cast full of established all-stars (Kirk Douglas) and up-and-comers (Arnold Schwarzenegger) alike, it’s reasonable to assume that most tickets would have been sold to a more mature audience who wanted to watch something that could very well have been the next Blazing Saddles.
But since the movie played out like a feature-length child’s cartoon, viewer expectations didn’t necessarily align with what was being presented.
Box Office And Critical Reception
Commercially speaking, The Villain raked in $9.8 million against its reported budget of $6 million. On the critical front, this Arnold Schwarzenegger experiment has a 0 percent critical score against a 38 percent audience score on Rotten Tomatoes.
To make matters worse, most of the negative reviews don’t even offer insight as to why they scored the film so poorly. It’s like they started to write a review and just gave up.
Though we appreciate the effort that went into this Western Comedy, it’s clear that Arnold Schwarzenegger, Kirk Douglas, and Ann-Margret Olsson simply couldn’t save the project, as it was doomed from the start. If you’re into bad movies, however, The Villain may very well be your new favorite movie.